How important was the traditional bread baker role in the community?

The bread baker wasn’t just highly prized in the neighborhood …

bread baker

Baker Jim Tillman in New Ulm, Minnesota. CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia

He was essential. The bread baker could be anyone from a mother dedicated to providing her children with freshly-made bread to the man that owned the neighborhood bakery. And every neighborhood typically had a bakery. Just one, there was no competition.

Picture this scene:

At 6 a.m. every morning, old Italian men, immigrants, walked to their bakery in the peaceful dawn. There, they fired up the ovens and started kneading the dough that rose throughout the morning, ready to be purchased by the Italian grandmothers that stood calmly in line, chatting, waiting their turn for the freshest bread in their area. Bread in hand, they clutched the bags tightly to keep the warmth in and hurried home. If the timing was perfect on a Sunday, people would be getting home right at 1 o’clock and they could sit down to eat with warm bread.

Have we moved away from bread as a society?

People have begun limiting their intake of bread (or at the very least, trying). It’s got too many carbs! We try to remove it from sandwiches by wrapping them in lettuce instead, or just making a salad, and while health is very important, the act of baking your own bread can bring you closer to your family and provide insights into the way you live. Instead of buying bread at the store, consider picking up a recipe book and trying it for yourself.

We love bread. Consider the slang that’s evolved out of the simple food. “Dough” means money. That’s how important we consider it! And what about, “The greatest thing since sliced bread”? That phrase isn’t going away anytime soon.

Looking deeper into bread, through religious and cultural histories, will reveal the way bread has shaped our daily lives, language and customs since the first time we took two very basic ingredients: flour and water, and mixed them together.

For bread recipes and more bread history, check out Lynne Golodner’s The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

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