Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bread-Eaters - Ralph Hetherington

"There was once a miller who ground the most beautiful flour and every baker in the land came to his mill to buy his flour. Each baker had his own way of baking bread. Some added salt, sugar and yeast and water and made a dough which the turned into simple loaves. Other bakers added seeds or nuts or currants or malt and many other things. Sometimes when the baking became too elaborate people demanded a return to plain bread. Many people however liked the rich loaves and thrived on them. In the early days there was not much contact between the various villages and people were brought up to like the loaves their own bakers sold. Sometimes a new baker would try out a new kind of loaf which sold well for a bit but by and large people tended to go on with the loaves they were used to.

However as the years went by there was more coming and going between the villages, and travellers returned to their own homes with tales of the extraordinary bread that was eaten in other places. Then some of the bakers began to feel sorry for the people in other villages, thinking how much better off they would be if they ate bread baked in the proper way. So they mounted expeditions to other places and offered their loaves for sale to the people there. Sometimes their loaves were enjoyed but often they were rejected because the people were not used to them.


Some bakers now began to think that they were the only ones who baked bread with the miller’s flour and suspected that other bakers were growing their own corn and milling their own flour. So they tried to stop other bakers selling bread and tried to make everyone eat the loaves they baked. This led to quarrels and even to persecution, torture and wars. It was a long time before the bakers began to realise that they all got their flour from the same source. Then they thought it might be a good idea if they got together and agreed on a common recipe for bread which they could all use and so get out of the difficulty of competition. However when they did this the loaves they produced were so dull and tasteless that no one would buy them. So it was not long before they returned to baking their own traditional loaves and even to trying out some new recipes.

However there was a little group of bread-eaters who found that they did not like much of the bread that the bakers supplied. They decided to go to the miller themselves and buy their own flour, although this was something that the bakers had always discouraged. They made a habit of meeting once a week and going to the mill together. They were thus able to bake the sort of loaves that suited them best, constantly trying to improve their recipes. They would often have discussions about bread-making and would try out each other’s loaves. But what they specially liked was the weekly visit to the miller."

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