Week 6 Exercise 3: After Ponge
Unlit it is a heavy lump, a block, assertively asymmetrical. It changes shape with use and age, casting off white grains like salty skin cells. Such grains litter the surface of the table on which it stands, white cubic dandruff. Each cube maintains its salty taste, its essence.
Its lumpiness stands on a brown ring, perfectly circular but for an indent which permits the passage of a thin white electric cable. This ring mediates between the rock in its ruggedness, its deliquescence and the oaken smoothness of my table beneath. The cable brings my rock into present times, connecting it to the grid, the electrified universe.
Touching it, I feel its coldness, the cave from which it has been hacked. Its surface is uneven, a miniature landscape of crags and undulations, jagged peaks in miniature. I feel the marks of the hands that tore it from the rock face, the axe that scarred its future life .Today it feels dry to the touch, at other times the cold atmosphere of my room brings a liquid film to its surface as though it had been raining within. At these times it feels smoother, less powerful somehow, tamed by atmospheric water.
Once lit my lamp becomes powerful, its influence extending beyond its mass. Its colour intensifies, moving from pale pink salmon colour to a transformative orange light, visible through my window as a cold fire, a warming energy. Streaked lines of its surface shine out like rivers between its salty crags, a world within itself. I heat myself from its coldness, rejoicing in its light.
Brown Soda Bread
Neither disc, sphere nor hemisphere, it is rounded, yet craggy. Its flattened base reverberates hollow like a drum, when struck to test if it is fully cooked. When struck it scatters yellowed flour dust like wheaten snow. Its upper surface is raised and hollowed, pockmarked like a earthen moon. Or you could look at it as a mini-world surface, four roads leading from edge to centre to form a cross. A crossroads in bread an almost-division to allow each quadrisphere to rise to its own level without let or hindrance. To touch it is rough and craggy, a thin rocky surface protecting the cushiony bread within.
The dough is mixed and moulded by hand, encouraged from the edge of the bowl by gentle hands, a globe flattened to a disc as it is laid on the baking tray. Marked with a cross, by knife or hand edge, it is doubly bisected before going to its transformation under fire.
While mixing the bread is a matter of minutes, it embodies the work of aeons. Grains of wheat and oats are milled by stones which have been shaped over centuries, the milling perhaps powered by rivers, skills leading back towards the dawn of time. Flattened to acquiescence the grains retain their strength in their husks, share the tenderness of their kernels.
Sour milk or buttermilk moistens the grain to unify its molecules and give it new form. Salt brings its flavour to life. Bicarbonate of soda, the final ingredient, allies with the buttermilk to create a transformative explosion within the dough. It pushes its own boundaries, rises above itself and protects its tender inside with external crustiness.
Baking completed, the bread leans against the wall or stove, a stationery wagon wheel until held securely in two hands it may be broken, its quarters separated for different journeys. It is strong enough to survive rough travel.
Opened we can see the world beneath the crust, the speckled brown and creamy green of the interior, feel its cushiony texture, firm enough to hold support, soft enough to sustain and comfort the eater. Buttered and bitten it reveals its crumbly perfection.