New Spring Story 1

Do you know what the Clyde is cooking?



The doors opened slowly at the bakery. Fred was there at 4:00 am, just like he did every day since he was sixteen and began powering up the baking ovens. He went into his refrigerator units and hauled out big tubs of risen dough and looked at the listing of this morning's baking list. The first demand on his attention was to cut and dust four dozen loaves of bread and while it was the less complicated task, it was the one which he enjoyed the most. As all bakers, each one had their favorite creations and as such, their interests usually formed the foundation of their bakery. Some places were known for their wedding cakes, others for their pies and Fred's Bakery was known for a wide variety of breads.

Fred was a competent cake baker and he had created many wedding cakes and birthday cakes during his career but he felt a cake was a lot of work for the ultimate payout. Most cakes were attacked, whether by a young child or by a relieved bride. That demise was usually an afterthought and he felt cakes kind of got a raw deal by the inherent timing: when it was time to enjoy the cake, no one really cared. No one usually cared about the subtle flavorings or aesthetic presentation, they just wanted a slice (which was usually just picked at) and the destination was significantly less important that most things. Bread was the staff of life and was something, if created right, lasted for several days and served many masters. Whether one wanted a simple sandwich or toast, a complimentary side dish to a bowl of soup or just something to gnaw on, a well-baked loaf of bread was a joy forever.

The smells and sounds of a bakery are both grinding and nurturing. The vibration and sensation of large, commercial mixers played nicely with the ever-present fragrance of baked breads and pastries. Fred believed the true taste was in the "naked goods," items unadorned and fresh, relying on nothing other than their taste, smell and texture. A freshly produced baguette stood proudly on its own merits: no frosting to rely on to carry the day, no jellies or filling to draw the attention away from the real goods. Fred spent the early morning getting a nice selection of fresh bread, rolls and breakfast cakes ready for the regulars; nothing too outlandish was on the menu. Sometimes in the summer, he would receive lavender and lemon balm from friends and he would create one of a kind cookies and pie crusts with the flavors which quickly disappear in the mouths of his most loyal customers. If several bunches of lavender was seen in his shop by a customer, the rumor mill would announce, through its variety of communicative methods, a high probability of something new for the next day.

Fred knew, as anyone who had Home Economics class, that cooking is an art but baking is a science. He sold two types of baked goods: commodity and special. The commodity products were still of outstanding quality but were churned about everyday with the main motivation based in commerce. Many of his breads were made from straight dough: all mixed inside his Hobart and allowed to rise as a single blended item. The majority of his work was commodity based but it was the special stuff which got him out of bed in the morning. While special efforts allow for some latitude, all foundational work embraced the common baker's formulation of 100-60-1-2-1 and while you could play very carefully around those ratios, Fred learned many years ago to riff on top of those percentages instead of assuming the ancient bakers had missed something because they hadn't made a mistake yet. Fred had been making less mistakes once he realized what baking tangents he could go off on and which tenants were to be embraced with both dusty hands.

Once he had figured out what he shouldn't do, Fred opened himself up to a wide variety of fascinating adventures all literally springing out of his bread dough. The special stuff also got special treatment: the innovative use of his precious stashes of starter to a wide variety of unique concoctions of breads laced with local herbs or scones infused with once-a-year flavors which would not be available again for a long time. The famous lavender cookies were the first products of his imagination but Fred always took sufficient time to experiment with flavors, textures and custom yeasts to see what he could create. He would have an assortment of containers, ranging from standard Lexan to locally thrown clay, all incubating ideas. Each one was well-documented, supervised and nurtured depending on the circumstances and Fred would steal time in the morning, between finishing the day's commodity work and opening the doors to see what nature had produced. There were many failures; Fred viewed those as exciting clues towards an unknown goal and it was a common scene seeing him wash out a container which had recently held an honest but failed attempt at something different. He had tops blow off from too much or too fast fermentation, he had walked into his basement laboratory to be slapped across the face by some foul, nasty stench coming from one of his containers and of course, he had also seen the genesis of many noble creations which were still talked about years afterwards, appear before him as little yeast-fueled wonders.

Fred also knew the importance of writing this down. He learned as a young man that it was impossible to keep everything straight which rolled around in his head and as such, created a cryptic formula which allowed him to quickly see what was going on within that container. He made a point to also document things he didn't do; sometimes success came to him once by keeping things simple and allowed to experiment by one variable at a time. When younger and prideful, when relying exclusively on his memory, he obfuscated many of his journeys by assuming he would remember the sequences and/or clues which would appear as part of the adventure. After finding himself in unexplained dead-ends or confusing culinary puzzles, he made the point to write down the important steps, ingredients, issues which became invaluable in re-creating his final products. Fred rarely showed his work until he could repeat it and the infamous one-offs were only handed out as special favors to his inner circle of friends and tasters with the caveat of confidentiality and an open mind. He further refined his methods due to a three-hitch run in the Navy. When he had graduated from high school, he felt it was time to learn a craft and with his legitimate experience as a cook and baker, the Navy took him and taught him the science of the job.

During the start of his work day, Fred rarely engaged in long conversations and his staff knew to pull out only critical information early because he was concentrating on getting out the goods. His assistants, all veterans of many years in the flour, knew how to compliment him with timely prep work and stayed out of his little lab. While the bakery relied on standard baker's yeast to move the product, Fred spent a lot of time with his own micro-batches of custom cultures to push the baked goods into new and exciting direction. Some of his starter cultures had been with him for decades; each one treated like royalty with sufficient back-ups in case of unforeseen circumstances including power loss or flooding. When on vacation, Fred would enlist only completely trusted lieutenants with the supervision of his starters, each one with their own care and feeding instructions. The balance of growth and leavening, the ability to compliment flavors and textures once formed, the historical legacy of the starter and the resulting progenies were looked on with the same eye of a horse breeder, all seeking thoroughbreds to deliver future excellence.

Fred was always a fan of allowing his special creations to rise several times as longer and repeated rising always resulted in more genuine flavor and the decades of kneading, punching and feeding his creations left him incredibly strong and kind of top-heavy. His skinny, pale legs would contrast with his thick, powerful upper body and when added with dusty flour which permeated his kitchen, would give an optical illusion of a little planet spinning around with no visible support. When he was locked on a project, he had a tendency to lose track of time and priority especially when he was playing around with different variations and combinations of his stash of pâte fermentées. There were other methods, including pouliche and biga, but the pâte fermentée was the major leagues of baking and Fred was an all-star.

Since he and everyone at the bakery knew his tendencies to drift off, Fred's afternoon schedule was kept wide open with no obligations or expectations. Most of the entire town and all the staff kept everyone out except for his dog, his long-time friends and the woman who he loved (however, to date, she was not aware of that particular status). While the sight of a dog would send most educated people running to the local health inspector, folks in the know were secure in the knowledge that this dog was a long-term fixture of the bakery, the foodstuffs were protected from all living beings (not just from his dog) and the town didn't have a health inspector or a health department. The closest alternative was the town combination Firefighter/ Fire Inspector and she was not aware of any applicable laws, didn't care one way or another if the dog was in and out of the bakery or was she aware that Fred was floury head over cloggy chef clogs in love with her.

Fred's skill with the opposite sex was kindly described as watching a drunk man cross an icy street: unsure, uncomfortable and without thought. This was in odd counterbalance to his commitment to managing and nurturing several hundred batches of starter, successfully producing hundreds of perfect baked goods daily and displaying a once-in-a-generation skill with flair and compassion. When it came to women, it was unfortunately a well-meaning but outwardly different story. He had a current crush on the local fire gal, whom seemed like a lot of fun and always waved enthusiastically when she walked by the shop, but he never had learned the fine art of the closing the deal when it came to actually asking someone out on a date. He had the time to do it right but was always afraid the take the chance and run the risk of major rejection. It was time to talk to Malts, he always had good ideas. Fred wasn't too sure of his motivations but when asked a specific question, Malts was very wise and complete in this thoughts.

Business was very good; thanks to Fred's insistence in using local products and his ability to combine new flavors while using a variety of traditional and non-traditional methods. At first blush, Fred was a Navy taught baker and any deviation from the specifications was high crime. Everything in the armed forces is founded on MILSPECS and the standard Navy Mess Manual and Cookbook was one of specific expectations. Fred quickly memorized the structure and moved up even more quickly in the Navy's ranks. Within six months of basic training, Fred was supervising ten thousand person Mess Halls, banging out almost thirty thousand meals a day. Needless to say, these days had more opportunity for quiet, contemplative thought.

The whole process of creating something desired paced his work ethic; he knew if he would bake like crazy, eventually his customers would be satisfied and content. But with contentment would come his demise. Fred never knowingly withheld his wares but he was smart enough to portion them out at a pace which build loyalty but did not establish tired satisfaction. If he doubled his output, everyone in town would be able to walk in at anytime and order to their heart's content but within a week or two, the magic of his magic would diminish. He wanted to make just enough product to give everyone hope but not too much that the special feeling which came with the scarcity of his abilities would fade. He made enough to keep the enthusiastic and early risers content and just enough for everyone else to feel lucky. Sometimes he would place a few loafs of bread and some extra pies in the back on a warming rack and bring them out quietly mid-morning; these discoveries would reverberate through Main Street and add to a legend which was already looming large enough.

I think "I will see if when I believe it" is a far better motto than "I will believe it when I see it."

Remember, this is just my imagination....running away with meh.

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