It may not always come across when I’m writing, but I’m acutely aware that it’s one thing to play at a profession from days of yore, and it is another thing entirely to actually attempt to perform a trade at a professional level of production, not to mention quality.
|The baker’s got big ol’ pants, oh yeah…|
It seems unavoidable that to do a single project or even a series of projects that touch on the tools and skills of a profession and then move on to something else imparts only a surface understanding of the real daily existence of the craftsman working night and day just to keep food on the table. I’m just one guy with one life to live. How different is it to brew five gallons of weak ale compared to brewing thousands of gallons of strong ale to meet demand and fill orders outstanding? Thimbles, pins, barrels, furniture, bread, tools, hats… all of these trade goods take on a different dimension when viewed from the perspective of mass production instead of one-off projects.
This past weekend, I found myself trying to really do this thing and it just might be my favorite thing I’ve done so far.
Awhile back I mentioned that a group I founded had been hired to create renaissance cooking and baking demonstrations at the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire. Originally we wanted to do a full-on historical cooking show, but it quickly became clear that was putting the cart before the horse. So it is that over the course of the last three weeks, I’ve been laboring to build another oven on the WMRF site and then this past weekend we used it to produce a lot of bread.
Eventually, I would still like this to grow into a full-on live cooking show. Sort of an Elizabethan version of Good Eats that delves into the what, why, and how of renaissance fare. At the moment, though, we have enough to do just coming to grips with the logistics and obstacles of cooking in a period manner in a period setting.
No lights no phones, no motor cars, not a single luxury…
It is pretty rustic, though. This is a picture of me
warming a cup of beer to a temperature that I
hope won’t kill the yeast… with a hot tent stake.
Okay, that’s a lie; it’s a renaissance faire, not a desert island. This is Seattle — there’s a parking lot full of cars and you can’t throw a bun without hitting an iPhone. But we’re still baking bread with the heat from a fire while wearing silly clothes in the middle of a hay field.
This past weekend (after a slow start owing to an oven that hadn’t sufficiently dried out yet to really go into production) the Engineer and I produced fifty loaves of bread. The Engineer made eight loaves of the loveliest rosemary herbed bread and and our compatriot Becky made a lovely apple tart.
I don’t know how that stacks up to the output of a professional bakery. Small beer, I’d wager, but nevertheless I don’t personally know anyone outside of the baking profession that walks out into the middle of a field one day and decides to build an oven and bake fifty-odd loaves of bread all in one go…
I have to admit that it hurt a little bit. Monday morning, my hands and forearms ached like nobody’s business. A friend of mine who used to be a baker before giving it all up for the exciting world of certified accountancy laughed and said “Where do you think I got my Popeyes?” (I always wondered why his forearms were so big… I didn’t ask about the anchor tattoos.) The skin on my hands is raw and feels callused from the heat and abrasion of the whole wheat and barley flour we were using. I have tiny blisters from burns I didn’t even notice until I got home and my head is still full of the smell of woodsmoke.
And I loved every minute of it. I can’t wait to go out there this weekend and do it all over again. Awhile back I said that coopering was the only job so far that I could picture myself doing as a vocation. Baking now officially tops that list.