On Monday 26 June I held a bread class for 3 volunteers from iPro. iPro stands for ‘involvement project’. iPro is formed of a group of young people who volunteer to act as a focus group for Herts Young Homeless to help improve the charity and make a difference to youth homelessness.
These young volunteers have all been homeless themselves and often came from chaotic, dysfunctional families where living at home was not an option.
Suffering from various problems, drug, alcohol, physical and sexual abuse to neglect, learning difficulties and mental health issues, they ended up on the streets.
My 3 students (should’ve been 4, but one had to cry off as his epilepsy was becoming increasingly frequent) were incredibly polite, witty, intelligent and very politically astute.
The first student to arrive was originally from Uganda and has been here since he was five. He came here with his father and 2 of his brothers, whereas his mother and the rest of his extended family preferred to stay in Uganda. Handsome, funny and very philosophical, I learned a lot from his opinions on the issues of today and the injustices young, disadvantaged people suffer. He was horrified that I wouldn’t let him tidy and wash up. Having been reunited with his father, his favourite activity was cooking for his family and making chapattis. You could see that in his method of rolling out pizza dough! He hopes to go back to university and continue his engineering studies.
Another student came originally from South Yorkshire. Her extended family included 17 brothers (3 killed in the Gulf War) and 5 sisters. I particularly warmed to her as she was very spiky, wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and was obviously admired by her peers. She had various physical issues which strongly suggested physical injuries rather than conditions she was born with. She admitted to past drug abuse and mental health issues. She was concerned that she wasn’t always sure whether she had taken her medication or not which led to uncertainty about her long term condition. She was also funny and very forward with her opinions. Her favourite occupations where cooking (her knowledge of cooking terms and ingredients was impressive) and creative writing. Her genre was slasher/horror, so everyone thought it hilarious when I gave her a very large machete type implement to cut up the pizzas.
Student 3 was a very reserved individual and only spoke when spoken to and refused to be photographed. It was suggested by the others that he was thrown out when his parents discovered he was gay. He was the volunteer for iPro that went into schools and clubs to talk about the causes and issues of homelessness and generally supported the more vulnerable volunteers.
I had a fantastic day with these young people and we made some amazing bread. Definitely the best pizzas made in any class I’ve taken despite toppings of every description including the kitchen sink.
Our group hug, when I dropped them off at the station, brought tears to my eyes. It is so tragic that every child isn’t valued and brought to their full potential. These young people, through various awful circumstances early in life, have had their potential stifled. My hope is that it’s just a temporary ‘blip’ in their lives and with the help of hyh they can lead fulfilled lives in the future.
Freshly baked bread ‘crackles’ when it emerges in its’ crusty, golden splendour from the oven. It is just the sound of the loaf contracting as it cools, but to a baker, it’s a heavenly choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus.
There are many predictable comments from students baking real, honest bread for the first time during the introduction to my Bread Making Classes. ‘The flour is so silky’. ‘Wow, this dough feels beautiful, nothing like my attempts’. ‘OMG, look at my bread rising’ (this is from the little crowd, Bake Off style, crammed round the door of the oven). But the most momentous moment is when they hear their loaves ‘singing’.
Imagine George Clooney or Angelina Jolie walking into the room. Shrieks, fainting (OK, exaggerating a bit here), hugs and high fives. Amazing reactions to a freshly baked loaf of bread!
If you’ve watched the American baker Paul Reinhart on the TED talks (really worth a watch), he talks about the life, death, life, death cycle of bread. Wheat, is planted and grows – life. The wheat is harvested – death. Water is added to the ground wheat and made into dough – life. The dough is baked in the oven – death. I love to think that when my loaves sing, it’s their last opportunity to celebrate humanities oldest, most miraculous, life-sustaining foods.
I tried recording the bread singing on my iPhone but the sound was too faint, so I borrowed a half decent sound recorder and had another go...so take a listen at my amateur attempt** at recording the amazing sound of 'Singing Bread'. Please turn your volume up...
** for the audio nerds out here, it is worth noting that even with the sound recorder held closely to the loaves, I had to increase the gain to ensure you could hear the audio nicely. Unfortunately increasing the gain has increased the supposed silence of Aston Parish Bakery's kitchen! At least the sound of the wall clock is comforting - just like my Honest Bread :-)