May 7, 2017
Sometimes, your bread does not rise.
After you mill the rye berries into fine flour in a hand-powered mill until your arms are tired; after you feed the sourdough starter fresh rye flour and water, and let it ferment overnight; after you get up in the morning and mix the tangy-smelling starter with white flour, water, caraway seed, and sea salt in a 40-quart bowl, enough dough for 24 or 36 loaves; after kneading this mass by hand until you're tired and sweating; after waiting for the dough to rise, forming it into loaves, and waiting for them to rise again; after baking the loaves, sometimes, nothing happens.
They did not rise. They're dense, gummy, inedible. Sometimes, you try this whole process several times, changing different variables, and still it fails. Dozens of loaves go to compost, or to feed pigs. You check and re-check the recipe. You call the baker who gave you the recipe for advice. You pray. And still, nothing.
And then you give up.
You learn, that sometimes to progress you must stop, give up your assumptions, 'empty your cup', throw the recipe out of the window. You create an empty space, and see a new way emerge from nothing. You find a new recipe that uses the same ingredients but with a different process. You try it, and the dough rises, and the bread is good, and then you understand what you did wrong in the first place. You understand that time is an ingredient, that progress is not always a straight line, and that perseverance is not stubbornness. To persevere is to gladly accept obstacles in the way as a gift.
(J. Jones is a former student of Brooklyn Aikikai, a baker, and now lives in Vermont.)