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Slow Walking Bread

24 November 2002

Two truths, universally to be acknowledged: one, that good books are indeed better; two, that no man shall call himself a good cook until or unless he is a good pastrycook.

I once heard Marghanita Laski on the radio dividing all of fiction into two camps, literature and trash. I was, necessarily, outraged; what I do is neither the one thing nor, I hope, the other. The same holds true, by and large, for what I read. I seldom touch the classics; those are my father's territory, and old news from my schooldays. I do read what I suppose has to be called contemporary literature, the stuff that gets reviewed in the TLS and discussed in universities, but much more of my reading-time goes to genre fiction. It's not necessarily less highbrow, but it is certainly less high-minded. I'm always happier getting down & dirty in the gutter, whether or not I'm looking at the stars.

Every now and then, though, a book will startle me out of all comfort. In the library last week I picked up Patricia Duncker's The Deadly Space Between. Dreadful title, marvellous book. It may yet turn out to be a ghost story of sorts - it's busily playing with some of the archetypical themes: Freud, Faust, Frankenstein - but if not, no matter. It doesn't have to make the genre choices in order to make me happy. It's a wonderful novel, light-footed and various, disturbing, profound.

And meantime I go on baking. It's Sunday, and Gail's having a birthday tea this afternoon. The slow walking bread is in the oven (well, all right: that's the Yorkshire name for a fruit tea loaf, but how gorgeous can you get?), and the almond slices are in the bin. I've never been a good pastrycook, so I tend not to do it; I have never done it before in this cooker, and the third truth of the day is that you really do have to get to know your oven(s) and their individual temperaments, or indeed temperatures. The almonds on the top were toasted, the almond-and-vanilla filling was lovely, the pastry underneath was really not cooked at all. It needed a greater space beneath,I think; I was using the bottom of the small oven, and next time I'll try the middle of the big one. There will be a next time. I am going to get this right. I don't do good failure on the micro level, it worries me. The macro, of course, the grand sweep of things, that's a different matter. Out there in the world I expect to fail, I have a history of it; here in my kitchen I do not. Grrr.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.