The Surprising Gift of Well-Baked Bread

by John Kraus · April 14, 2021

I met Ruth about 7 years ago.  She visited the bakery each week to pick up six loaves of our Levain and always preferred those baked on the darker side.  (In our trade, that’s known as ‘kissed with fire.’)  One day, I felt compelled to ask her, “Why so dark?”  I thought I was the only one who appreciated dark, well-baked bread.  Her response still lingers in my mind: Ruth told me that her husband Nathan was homebound and that as a European, he found comfort in our well-baked bread.  He lived with Parkinson’s but allowed himself one or two slices of well-toasted bread each day as a momentary diversion, a form of simple salvation.

Fast forward to this past year…  I have had a weekly ritual of driving to their home throughout the pandemic to deliver the “kissed with fire” bread.  At one point, our European friend contracted Covid, but continued to claim that the bread sustained him, so we did not stop delivering it.  I kept in touch with Ruth, who worried it was an inconvenience for me to drop off a bag of bread. I assured her that it most definitely was not.  Being a part of her husband’s wholehearted enjoyment had been of value to me. I would not let him down.  If it’s our bread he wants, well then are honored to deliver it.  I was aware that there are plenty of options for bread, and yet he chose us. There were times when I felt that I had let him down; the bread wasn’t dark enough. At one point our miller had changed the flour (and Ruth’s husband knew it!).  Yet, Nathan loved our bread, which meant to him much more than a slice of toast. Nathan and I shared something, our connection to sensory memories that can be evoked through food– one bite of bread could momentarily transcend any hardship or spark a childhood memory, both reminders of the vibrancy of life that still exists.

All of this has prompted me to reflect on the value that a baker brings to the table, mostly unknowingly–we act as though it’s just what we do. For many years, I felt that we were not doing much to benefit society, but now it is clear to me, and I know that our work has value and impact.  As bakers, we have a community that has tasked us with something important–being a part of daily life, and also being there for special occasions. Bread is how we deliver pleasure and satisfaction in everyday life.  Bread is sustenance.  It’s a part of gathering for a family meal, whether with a baguette or with a croissant at breakfast.  Our minds may eventually forget about the croissant, but we won’t forget the time spent with our family.  That is the importance of a baker.  We begin our workday as others go to sleep in order to ensure that the table has bread. Therein lies our value and our subtle yet tangible contribution to society.  Even as our own families sit at the table during the holidays, we are getting ready for the next day and the next delivery. It’s just how we’re wired.

I woke this morning to a text from Ruth stating that Nathan had passed. It happened shortly after eating lunch, when he slipped away peacefully while still seated at the table.  She thanked me for what we had done and told me to cancel any further deliveries, as Nathan had been the household’s primary bread consumer.  That delivery, a simple 15-minute drive on a Saturday, had become something of a lifeline for me this past year. I took seriously my duty to ensure that Nathan had his toast.  I’ll miss my weekly delivery, but I will never forget this beautiful reminder of my purpose, which made me newly aware of my trade’s quiet importance. So, while you are sleeping, I will keep on baking. We bakers have a role to play. I have a renewed passion for my long-held occupation.

From our hearts to your hands, we thank you for inviting us to your table.