Hope is the thing with feathers

Sunday, February 17, 2013
"Hope is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me."

- Emily Dickinson, "Hope is the Thing with Feathers"

Why does so much great poetry come from humble images?  Bread is one of the earliest and simplest forms of nutrition, but it's the basis of many poems, including this one by Emily Dickinson ("asked a crumb of me").  Dickinson was actually an accomplished baker, and her loaves of bread once placed second in a local baking contest (although it must be noted that her sister was one of the judges).  She took on the daily task of baking bread for the family when their housekeeper quit, and kept it up after they hired a new housekeeper because her father preferred her bread.  And although she rarely left her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, she often sent baking to the homes of the bereaved and ill.

Upon further reflection, baking is a natural subject for literature.  As a writer, I often find myself baking, whether it's bread or something sweet.  There's something about the process of stirring, mixing and blending that sets my mind free and lets it wander around whatever manuscript I'm working on at the moment.  (And how is my writing going right now?  Pretty slowly, but "hope is the thing with feathers...")



Information on Emily Dickinson provided by PBS.

Easy Oat Bread
(from Kneadlessly Simple, by Nancy Baggett)

5 1/2 cups unbleached white bread flour or all-purpose white flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking (not instant) oats, plus 4 Tbsp for garnish
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
Scant 2 3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp instant, fast-rising, or bread machine yeast
1/4 cup clover honey
1/4 cup corn oil or canola oil, plus extra for coating dough top and baking pans
2 1/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp ice water, plus more if needed

First rise:  In a very large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, oats, sugar, salt and yeast.  In a medium bowl or measuring cup, thoroughly whisk the honey and oil into the water.  Stir the water mixture into the larger bowl, scraping down the sides until the ingredients are thoroughly blended.  Brush the top with oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours; if convenient, vigorously stir once during the rise.

Second rise:  Vigorously stir the dough.  Generously oil two 9" x 5" loaf pans.  Sprinkle a tablespoon of oats in each; tip the pans back and forth to spread the oats over the bottom and sides.  Use well-oiled kitchen shears or a serrated knife to cut the dough into two equal portions.  Put the portions in the pans and brush the tops with oil.  Press and smooth the dough evenly into the pans.  Spread a tablespoon of oats over each loaf and press down to embed.  Make a 1/2 inch deep slash lengthwise down the centre of each loaf.  Tightly cover the pans with plastic wrap.

Let rise:  For a 2- to 3-hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature.  (Alternatively, for a 45 minute to 2-hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water.)  Continue the rise until the dough nears the plastic, then remove it and continue until the dough extends 1/2 inch above the pan rims.

Baking:  15 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the tops are well-browned.  Cover the tops with foil.  Then bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few particles clinging to the bottom.  Bake for 5 minutes longer to be sure the centres are done.  Let cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes.  Turn out the loaves onto racks and cool thoroughly.

32 comments:

Kitchen Riffs said...

Nice, no-knead bread. I always enjoy bread that contains oats. And it certainly is easy! Emily Dickinson is a wonderful poet - one of the giants of the 19th century (I'd argue that she and Whitman were the two best American poets of that time). I've read that poem, but its been years. Thanks for the reminder (and the recipe!).

Nas said...

Thanks for the recipe, it sounds easy to make. I'm going to try. And also looks yummy!

Thanks for the lovely poem as well! Loved it!

Monet said...

Could I love this post anymore? Poetry, bread, and true reflections. Thank you for sharing another delectable creation. I hope you are having a restful Sunday afternoon, and I hope you have an even better week. Hugs and love!

Bonnie said...

Oh what can be more comforting than a slice of bread just out of the oven. Yum!

Bread and poetry... life' s sustenance.

Valerie said...

Well, no wonder I've always felt a kinship with Emily Dickinson. :)

I could use a few slices of this delicious loaf bread to help finish off some raspberry jam!

Food Gal said...

I think a lot of inspiration has its roots in humble beginnings. After all, those set of circumstances can't help but provide a lot of food for thought (pun intended). ;)

artofnaturalliving.com said...

I never knew that Emily Dickinson was a baker. I'd like to believe it means I could have a hidden talent for poetry...

Liz Berg said...

Honey oatmeal bread is my absolute favorite!! Thanks for sharing your recipe...hope to bake it soon.

Gloria said...

look delicious Beth, I would like to make!

bakewithjill.com said...

Oh yummy. This sounds perfect!

Joanne said...

There is definitely something poetic about the bare necessities of life, with bread absolutely being one of them! Gorgeous loaf!

Belinda said...

Kind of lovely and romantic, no?

Elaine said...

I love this post, Beth. Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets. Your bread looks wonderful. What a beautiful tribute to Emily!

Guru Uru said...

Mmmm your bread looks brilliant my friend :)
romantic poetry and soft fluffy bread!

Cheers
Choc Chip Uru

The Café Sucré Farine said...

Your bread looks delicious, I think if you shared a loaf with me I could probably write a poem! :)

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful poetry is like homemade bread: it's perfect! :)

Katerina said...

Making bread has something therapeutic in it. I would definitely want to try this one, look scrumptious!

Julie said...

Nothing better than fresh baked bread on a cold winter day. This would be perfect with tea!

amy (fearless homemaker) said...

I had no idea that Emily Dickinson was such a baker! And your bread looks just wonderful - hearty, homestyle, and comforting. I could go for a slice toasted with butter right now!

yummychunklet said...

Oh, I've been itching to bake a bread because of my cleanse last week. I'll have to make this one!

nancy at good food matters said...

Hi Beth, You and Barbara (moveable feasts)both have posted beautiful (and different!) loaves of bread this week. I love the Dickinson poem, and your thoughts about opening up the creative process. I hope that your writing is going well. Nancy

Beth said...

Nancy, I saw Barbara's post too and I thought her loaf looked excellent!

CakeWhiz said...

I wasn't aware of the fact that Ms.Dickinson was a great baker! She was a ONE talented lady :D

And you are walking into her steps too... great writing and great baking :)

-abeer @ www.cakewhiz.com

Barbara said...

Always have loved Emily Dickinson. I had no idea she was a baker....and had to smile when you added her sister was a judge in the contest. Not to say her breads weren't good, I bet they were.
Your oat bread looks marvelous, Beth. I don't bake a lot of bread anymore, probably because my family is grown, but every once in a while I try something that interests me.

Andrea_TheKitchenLioness said...

Beth, this recipe for Easy Oat Bread looks so wonderful - I love oats and bread baking is always special and the poem ties in so perfectly with your post. I really enjoyed reading it and looking at the lovely pictures of your bread!
Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Angie's Recipes said...

Yes to homeamde bread! Your loaf looks beautifully golden brown and soft...just perfect, Beth.

Nik Sharma said...

That is a beautiful homemade bread. I love PBS and Emily Dickinson and also had no idea that she was a baker. What a great story too!

Claire Davis said...

Really interesting story about Emily Dickinson! Your bread looks yummy! I would say one of my biggest struggles in the kitchen is baking bread. I am so bad at it. I even tried using a bread oven and of course it caught on fire. One day I'll master it :)

grace said...

i had no idea emily was an amateur baker--what a nice piece of trivia! lovely loaf, beth. :)

Kathy said...

I never knew Emily Dickinson was a baker…so much talent in one person!! I really enjoyed your beautiful post! And your very lovely bread!

Sue said...

What a beautiful loaf, and beautiful poem; it touched me.

Anne@FromMySweetHeart said...

Beth...what a lovely post! I am a huge fan of classic literature and poetry. And bread! When I really need to get in or out of my own head...I go straight to baking bread. It's such a soulful process to me. Your easy oat bread turned out beautifully. And I really enjoyed the poem! : )

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