My daughter Molly once mentioned the fascinating concept that we can trace human history through grain, and I have been somewhat obsessed ever since.
For instance, all that sourdough bread baked during this past year carries with it both the angst and the genuine desire to soothe we’ve each experienced as we have made our way through this pandemic. Every sourdough starter attracts spores of human experience, unique hands mold each batch of dough and each loaf rises to new ranges of challenge and hope.
As one baker shares his or her starter with the next, the depth of flavor and empathy builds. Who knows how far back the lineage of that piece of toast you munch in the morning stretches? There’s real comfort in that type of food.
I thought about that this week as I unhooked the loaf of sourdough bread our friend Amy had hung on our door. It’s not enough that Amy and her husband Aaron are two gifted and beloved high school teachers, they also have been outstanding neighbors and friends.
Then, they brought two of the cutest boys you’ll ever meet into this world, and now they’re baking and sharing bread.
It’s an embarrassment of riches to know the Ramponi family, that’s what it is.
Now, about that bread.
Aaron made it, among a hundred other he’s baked in the past several months, using a sourdough technique he learned from one of his former students, Julia Lammers. Julia spent a lot of time early in the pandemic baking gorgeous loaves of sourdough bread that she sold to raise money for the Freedom Center Food Pantry.
Julia got her sourdough starter from Gabe Peterson, a high school friend of hers. I don’t know how many loaves of bread Gabe baked (or if he baked any at all) but I do know he got his sourdough starter from his dad, Tim, who grew it from scratch.
And that’s just the first layer of this particular loaf’s anthropology.
Aaron, who grew the hops he uses for his sourdough in his backyard garden, has been baking bread since his father taught him a long time ago. Aaron’s parents met working in a bakery back in the 1970’s, so the baking gene runs deep in the Ramponi family. All of that love and nurturing gets kneaded into the loaves Aaron bakes each week.
“The whole process of making it can take about 24 hours. Starting with feeding the starter to prime it, letting it rest and rise, to shaping and scoring, and finishing with taking a loaf from the oven,” he texted when I asked him about the bread. “It is baked in a hot, moist oven on a baking stone or in a Dutch oven.”
“Each loaf is unique.”
Each loaf is also delicious and, when you consider how the hops grew with tender care, and the technique passed from student to teacher, and the spores gathered, and the baker fed the starter, and the loaves formed, and the family shared…well, it’s a mouthful of meaning, isn’t it?
Just think of all those baby sourdough starters born in the midst of a pandemic and the stories they’ll tell of resilience and generosity as they make their way into loaves in the coming years!