bakehouse days

(NaPoWriMo, day 17: ‘move backwards in time away from such modern contrivances as podcasts. … write a poem that features forgotten technology’. This is my second poem this month featuring our local bakehouse, but this time alongside the backes (backhaus) that my grandparents wrote about in their childhood memories. I like the fact that alongside these words, even the names of the two places share a common origin – both -royd and -rath refer to places where woodland was cleared to make space for human settlements. The technologies and techniques here may be more timeless than forgotten, but I haven’t seen anyone knead with their feet, and there certainly aren’t as many bakehouses per head in Mytholmroyd as there were in Edelrath…)

bakehouse/backhaus/backes  (noun):

1. mytholmroyd, england, 2020. what my sons might remember: the corner shop a few minutes from our house. the smells the tastes the textures of freshly baked cragg vale crusts focaccia cinnamon swirls and chocolate cardamom buns in brown paper bags. bakehouse days: wednesdays and fridays. the time the bakehouse was closed and we went back or forward to baking our own – not just on wednesdays and fridays but every day, or almost. the sourdough passed up the street and across and the flour in brown paper bags. sticky bowls and surfaces and air-kneading hands. the times spent waiting for the dough to rise to fold to prove to bake. the round wooden board on which we might cut the bread, inherited from my grandparents. what good slow bread tastes like.

2. edelrath, germany, 1920s. what my grandparents remembered: twelve bakehouses or so, roughly half a one per family. the wooden trough in which my great-grandfather’s feet would knead the dough. the grain he carried on his back to the mill in the valley and back up as flour. the clay pot in which the sourdough was kept between bakehouse days: one every three or four weeks. the kindling and beech logs that heated the oven and the wet whisp of straw that swept away ashes and made space for bread – first the black then the white. the taste of the bread. the joy when, for a change, bread was bought from a bakery.

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