I wanna make a gigantic one,
I wanna make a folded one,
I wanna make a small one;
Morphed years later into:
I want black olives on mine.
I want only ham and pineapple.
I want raw onions!
Beneath the layers of topping choices lays a chance encounter.
Rushing down the thread barren carpet of university student residences years ago, a laundry bag slung over one hip and a nine month old son on the other, I bumped into a willowy elegant woman similarly burdened. Laughing, she joined me on our mutual trek to the sole laundromat. Although our stiff polite conversation about struggling finances and being first time mothers seemed prototypical, the friendship that arose was not.
Soft-spoken and quietly reserved, Patricia was well-versed in the crafts of sewing, homemaking and herb gathering. Listening to the sounds of the cold autumn rain splash against our ceiling to floor glass windows one morning, she taught me how to make bread. Stilled one year old boys peered with eager anticipation into sugar spiked warmed bowls sprinkled with yeast. Enthused boys clapped their hands as the smell of bursting yeast penetrated the damp room. My washed warmed hands mimicked her motions with spoon and flour, as I plunged into my own bowl.
Essential bread making tips threaded her running commentary:
Feel the dough come together.
Don’t prod. Don’t poke.
Let your touch and senses guide you.
Autumn days passed baking a myriad of bread while listening to the increasing volume and recognizable language from our chatty toddlers. Struggling with the insistent and constant questions about the ‘best’ and ‘right’ way to be a mother, we soon smoothed bread and temper tantrums with equal ease. As bonds of gluten formed within the dough, bonds of friendship equally responded to a gentle touch, staying sensitive, as we munched on freshly baked rolls drizzled with warmed honey, from her own kept bees.
Over the years, pizza from scratch soon became the most requested family food for celebrations. Each son was introduced to bread making as soon as he could stand on a chair. Every toddler thrilled to the amazing reaction of yeast rising in warm water. Just as Patricia had taught me, each child was given a piece of bread dough in order to feel its texture. Eventually, they received a bowl to make their own dough.
“Always remember,” I said, “ touch carefully, turn and gently knead. You must not prod or poke. Take your warm hand and be patient. Learn to be sensitive to what you feel.” While their skills in light touch and patience took longer to acquire than mine, they soon were making pizza from scratch with their own chosen toppings.
Even Thanksgiving brings the request: Mom, can you make pizza? I still use my gifted steel bowl, hand engraved with MOM, large enough to make ten pizzas. Measuring dry yeast into the warmed water, layers of memories of each son’s first made-alone pizza bonds with memories of eating my first made-alone bread on a cold damp autumn morning at Patricia’s.
Her teaching hands taught not only how to make beautiful bread, but how to foster friendships with a gentle touch.
Be gentle, stay sensitive and push only just a very little.
The memories of her friendship are bonded to my life-time of family memories, which makes every pizza feast nourishment for both body and spirit.