"I'm young, four, home from nursery school because of snow. Young enough to think my mother is most beautiful when she wears her apron; the pink and brown flowered cotton flares at the wait and ruffles around the shoulders. I wish I had an apron, but instead she ties a tea towel around my neck . . . Mother pushes a chair to the counter and I stand on it, sturdy pine, rubbed shiny with age. . . Mother adds flour and yeast to the antique dough trough. Salt. Water. Stirs with a wooden spoon. I want to help, I say." (p. 11 STONES FOR BREAD)
Such is the opening scene from Christa Parrish's book STONES FOR BREAD as Liesl McNamara begins to tell readers through flashbacks and historical/Biblical tidbits the story of her deep connection to bread and its almost miraculous properties. This beginning reminiscence was enough to capture my attention as my own memories floated to the surface. This, I thought, is a book I can connect with. Images of the snow days when I helped my mom bake bread, a tradition I carried on into adulthood, although like thousands of bakers I began to take the easy way out when bread machines hit the market. Never as a child did I think that our old bread dough bowl had its own name - "bread trough" and that it would be an object I would remember fondly. Memories of the first time I baked with our own children and now our grandchildren follow those older childhood ones. I know the grandkids cherish those baking times - I can tell by their smiles and the fact they are always asking if we can make something.
For Liesl, however, breadmaking and its early memories are more than reminiscences. They are an almost spiritual connection she has forged with the grandmother who has died and then her mother who took her own life when Liesl was only 12. While her father turned simultaneously to religion and alcohol to cover his grief, Liesl withdraws into a smaller and smaller world. As she tells it, for a while she cannot even tend the precious sourdough starters her mother and grandmother had tended. It is not until she tires of her successful, but stagnant job in the IT world, that Liesl returns to the world of bread. Her bakery is known for its authentic sourdoughs and artisan breads but she is still living in a very restrained world of her own creation when a reality cooking show offers her a challenge. Then comes a phone call that will shake Liesl's understanding of self to the very core. Is her bread, what she felt was a gift, really "stones"?
Parrish has managed to blend a fascinating history of bread -- what we too often consider an afterthought with a story of self discovery a midst the challenges of hard word and new relationships,
As Liesl learns even facing the worst of the past brings opportunities to see God's blessings and the love that others have for us. I especially liked the recipes, historical perspectives and the strong secondary characters of this book. Each adds another layer to the story.
I found my copy of STONES FOR BREAD through our library system.