we will remember how to make good bread again

the day after the first day

During opening day of the White Rock Farmers Market, I had barely enough time to post. I snapped a quick pic of the sign (thanks, Dad!), announced we were open, and then traffic was steady until close. Lanes were made for physical distancing, and the customers did a pretty good job of managing themselves in the space. I might have liked to see a few more masks (and heard fewer conspiracy theories), but I was impressed by the outcome, despite the (unprecedented) pandemic and the (oh so typical) rain.

“But how were the sales, Jess?!?”

UH-mazing. I brought 18 loaves, braids, and flatbreads; I sold out by 11am. By the time we packed up at 2pm, I had one package of sourdough starter left. My modest goal was to make $100; I made that three time over.

It was the first day of a new venture, in an ongoing crisis, and I already know what’s going to change for next week. But that’s why I made the commitment to 13 markets this summer. I want to learn and iterate, keep trying and asking, to figure out the best interpretation of my tiny shop.

This morning, in Instagram Stories, I created a countdown to the next market, next Sunday, May 10th. The quote in my profile was from a Sloan song: “She just knows that it’s not what it seems.” I thought I’d see if I could find a good one about bread, and Wikiquote had a few from M.F.K. Fisher, the food writer born in 1908. This one, from a book published in 1954, sounds all too relevant in 2020:

Perhaps this war will make it simpler for us to go back to some of the old ways we knew before we came over to this land and made the Big Money. Perhaps, even, we will remember how to make good bread again.

She must’ve been writing about World War II, a time of saving and rationing to ensure our resources lasted us through one more day. But it was also a time of massive food production—just not in the way we’re used to thinking about in the 20th century.

My favourite experimental archaeology team—Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands, and Peter Ginn (who worked the Victorian Farm I mentioned in my last letter)—worked a Southampton farm during each year of the Second World War. The story of England in the 1940s is often about London and the bombings. But for the people out in the country, it was about farming, producing tons of food to make up for the shortage caused by the blocked supply chains.

We’re having the same supply chain problems right now. We have enough food in North America to feed our population. But the lines of distribution are broken, non-existent, and/or being willfully ignored for the sake of profit. I had always planned for this business to be future-proof; bread will never go out of style. But suddenly I find my product “essential.” If I was only making zines and attending zinefests, as I was doing last year, I wouldn’t be allowed to sell.

In January, when I wrote the instructional zine to go with my sourdough starter, I wrote up my regular bread recipe. I always have yeast in my freezer, so I always add it. It doesn’t hurt the wild yeasts in sourdough and helps the rise besides. But now yeast is a scarce commodity. Many people bought my starter yesterday because they can’t find yeast to buy anywhere. I had an email from a customer this morning, asking about this seeming contradiction.

Everything happens so much. The sourdough zine will have to be my first iteration for next Sunday. I already know I can make twice as much bread, and I probably don’t need to start baking as early as I did last week. I’m learning a lot, and I’m only on week two.

Imagine what the rest of 2020 will bring.

Write soon,

Jess


Hey there! 👋 I’m Jessica Driscoll, a baker, teacher, and writer, living on the unceded territory of the Semiahmoo Nation in a beach town outside Vancouver, BC. I’ve documented my creative experiments online since 2002, and I sell the products of those experiments at markets around the Pacific Northwest. This newsletter helps people keep track of my wandering attention span and follow along as I figure out what works. Currently, I bake on Instagram and sell at the White Rock Farmers Market, as well as online at ALL DAY BREAKFAST.