Bread – back to basics


Written by contributing writer Jacqueline Twa

As we sailed slowly into the small harbour, I noticed someone on the hillside making their way down the steep slope. This person had a giant load of what I guess you could call brush on their back; a huge pile of gnarly twigs and small pieces of assorted types of wood. It was quite a load – the person looked almost bent over double with the large pile on their back.

Finally we got the sailboat docked and made our way slowly up to the restaurant, hoping they had ice to fill the glasses of our desperately needed gin and tonics. As we were quick to learn, ice is a commodity in these small harbours in southern Turkey.

We were part of a group of 12 nearest and dearest who had sailed from Greece through the islands into the South Western area and the small ports of Mediterranean Turkey. Small rocky ports with magical names like Datcha and Bodrum and Maramis, the area they call the Turquoise Coast where the Aegean and Mediterranean meet and mingle.

Paradise.

Hundreds of thousands of authors at one time or another have tried to describe the perfect blue of these waters and nothing ever really does it justice. I’m not even going to try. The ports themselves are rocky outcroppings that look like little mountaintops surrounded by blue water, where the planet decided to split itself open allowing the water to fill the valleys below. Time has made the peaks round with wind and sun. There is not a ton of fresh water, so the land is quite arid and scrubby plant life and knobbly trees cover the hillside. Perfect fuel for a fire.

As we walked towards the restaurant that was imbedded into the rocky hillside I immediately noticed a huge outdoor oven. It looked like it was well used and as we came up next to it I could still feel the gentle heat coming off the sides. This was a working and well-used oven. I was immediately excited – wondering what was cooked in there and how.

It was nearly night.

We went up to the restaurant and rejoiced in the fact that they had a very small icemaker, and sat down to enjoy a cold drink as we soaked in the view overlooking the amazing harbour. There are few places on the planet that could rival this place for its rugged beauty.

You know how when you are on vacation that drinks somehow just taste better?!

Now I must stress this is a very small place. Probably eight boats tied up and a small dock, outdoor restaurant, bar with about ten tables, all of which was overlooking the water. The family that lives on this small island occupy a house above and behind the restaurant, which terraced into the rock.

As we sat there and chatted with the owner’s sons who were working front of house, I enquired as to who used the wonderful oven we had passed on the terrace below leading up to the stairs of the restaurant. They told me their mother made bread in that oven every day. She would get up before dawn. They proudly procured a loaf and I marvelled at its lovely round shape and colour. We ate some with olives and it was bliss.

They told me their Mom would be down later in the evening to run the dinner service and they would introduce me. I asked if they thought she would mind if I watched her make bread the next morning. They kind of looked at me like I was a crazy tourist.

The next day I saw a light moving on shore and scampered down the now steep plank and up the rocky stairs to meet my future bread guru. I think she was a bit surprised to see me. Nonetheless, she immediately said “come” and we were off.

She had a huge bag of flour – probably 100 kilos. In a plastic tub (I hate to admit that it reminded of a tub for pedicures) was approximately 10 kilos of flour. The flour was self-rising but as far as I could tell there was no other ingredient. There may have been salt, but I wasn’t sure.

The woman then went into the kitchen and came out with a big plastic container filled with warm water. She gave me a nudge and poured a few cups of water into the tub and we got started. We stood there side by side, not saying anything, with gummy dough up to our elbows mixing the water into the flour. Occasionally she would add more water. We kept mixing.

Let me tell you – it was hard work! The mix was dense and heavy and quickly became increasingly stiff and hard to push around. I could only imagine how much longer it takes her when she is by herself.

To watch her efficient movement was truly a marvel. She had placed the tub on this rickety old wooden table that had one leg a good half inch higher than the other three, so it made the whole process kind of comical! She didn’t even have to think about what she was doing; her movements were natural and innate. She would lean over and put her physical weight into the mixing. She knew the exact texture she was looking for by rote. I was inspired.

The woman kept adding water and we just kept grunting away kneading this now enormous ball of dough. My arms felt like they were lead by the time she finally gestured that we were done. She then grabbed the big dough filled tub and moved away from the rickety table.

In the end a total of 24 loaves of bread were produced as we sat in the ever-brightening morning light.

Watching the natural rhythm behind each of her movements, I knew this was not a skill learned later in life. Her inherent movements were a result of a lifetime of making bread this way. Your mother needs to teach you this skill the same way she teaches you to have manners and make your bed. Her movements were supple and skilled. Her hand was so light and sure, yet controlling and unyielding. Watching her work was similar to observing a piece of art slowly unfold before your eyes.

7 comments on “Bread – back to basics

  1. Stay-At-Home-Chef on said:

    Bread is something I have NEVER had success with before. Perhaps there really is a gene that ensures success?! Beautiful post Jax :)

  2. Great experience.. The staple of every culture and every culture has their magic in the creation… Yummy xo

  3. Beautifully written.

  4. An amazing story. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us — I look forward to every post.

  5. Aimee @ Food, Je t'A on said:

    There is really nothing quite like food to cross cultural and linguistic lines. My best memories from travelling always revolve around food! This story made me feel so nostalgic for a memory that isn’t even mine; beautifully told :) What an honour it must have been to spend those hours with this woman!

  6. A simple lovely story – thank you for sharing this experience. Di

  7. Neat! There is always something interesting to learn about other cultures.

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