Teach a man to bake…

One day, Jeanine was walking out of her house with a basket full of home-made breads, pastries and jams.  She was heading off to a local potluck that was happening a short walk away, where many of her friends would attend.  On her walk, Jeanine encountered a man lying in a very dingy and sad alleyway, filled with many broken bottles and spider homes, and a few bits of assorted trash.  The man was in very poor and dirty clothes, with many rents in it, his skin was very pale, and his limbs were slim, unnaturally slim. 

Jeanine felt very sorry for the man, and looked in her basket.  She had promised to bring a full basket to the potluck, but this man needed the food so much more.  She took two loaves of bread, and gave them to him; and after that, she took a while to teach him to make unleavened bread, for a long time ago she had heard this proverb: ‘give a man a fish, and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and feed him for a lifetime’.

The man immediately ate one loaf in its entirety, so hungry was he, and set the other aside for later.  After listening intently to all she had to say, he was sorely grateful, and begged for a way with which he could repay her, but he had nothing but the clothes he wore.  She hastily accepted his thanks, and went on her way.

When Jeanine reached the potluck, her friends were disappointed to find her arriving late, and with two loaves missing.  She told them the tale of the man in the alley, but while they were much appeased by this, it still did not seem to excuse her slight infraction, for they still seemed disappointed.  Jeanine’s bread was quite fine, and they had been looking forward to more of it.

The man’s name was Alfred, and as he sat there in the alleyway pondering what had just happened, he came to a realization: he had been fully prepared to give up the ghost.  He had lived in utter want and poverty for many years, and had suffered many weeks in starvation.  But the woman’s gift of bread and knowledge had renewed him, and he stood from the spot where he had nearly prepared to die, determined to live.

Jeanine’s recipe had called only for flour, oil, and water.  The water would not be hard to acquire, but the flour and oil might be a problem.  Alfred walked (with some aches) out to a stream outside the town, where fresh water ran, and gathered it in an old jug which had been discarded.  When that was done, Alfred went about begging at various bakeries, and homes in which he saw the evidences of home-baking; and after many fruitless hours, he got a small quarter-sackful of flour from one flabbergasted family, and a small jar of oil from another.

He found a discarded bowl and mixed two parts flour to one part water, until he had a thick, sticky dough.  When that was done, he built up a small fire, and waited for it to burn down to a bed of coals. (This was both a neccessity and a blessing, for it was becoming cold and dark.)  He then proceeded to lay a flat, clean stone to heat on the fire, spreading it with a small quantity of oil.  When it was sufficiently heated, he layed the dough on the stone, and let it cook, turning it over every so often (with some difficulty) with a stick.  When it was well-browned (and slightly blackened) on both sides, he pushed the stone off of the fire, and let it cool.  It was a difficulty to remove it from the stone, and it tasted mostly of flour and smoke; but when he bit into the warm piece, it delighted him so much that he became giddy with happiness.  He effectively fell in love with bread.

And for many days after that, Alfred went about collecting the water, flour, and oil that he needed to cook, sometimes acquiring seasoning such as salt, and making large batches of unleavened bread; he gave freely when others needed, but sold to whomever would buy.  And in this way he gradually accumulated a small fortune, with which he bought a very small street-corner to call his very own, and this was a very joyous day for Alfred.  He continued to sell bread, eventually creating a yeast culture with which to make leavened bread, and made more money, with which he built a small shack, and bought a wood stove, and a chest for storing his goods (which he did over the course of a year).

Alfred continued to build himself up in this way until he had a good house and a small bakery, from which he made good money.  He no longer went hungry, and no longer suffered for want of warmth or clothing or love, much of the latter he got from his appreciative customers.

Eventually, he met a woman, Evangeline, whom he came to love very much; and they wedded, and bore a child, who was named Undine.  Much like the creature after which she was named, Undine came to love water, and in her teen years began to sell a few drinks in her father’s growing bakery, as growing up her father had told her many times the stories of his struggles on the streets, and instilled in her a strong sense of generosity.  The effective motto of the bakery was ‘let no one go hungry while this building stands’; and for a long while, they held as well to that motto as it was possible for a profit-driven business.  Many poverty-stricken men and women had come to the bakery, and received free food and recipes; and no longer did they starve, so long as they found the ingredients; and over the years some of them found their way out of poverty.

One day, a child came to the bakery, asking for sweet buns and lemonade, which the bakery was glad to provide; but upon seeing the child’s mother, Alfred immediately recognized her, and added a few complimentary flatbreads, the recipe of which he said he had learned long ago. 

The child, Annabelle, gave the complimentary breads to her mother, Jeanine; and Jeanine tasted the breads, and immediately recognized the taste. “Why, I used to make these all the time when I camped with the girls;” she said. “How could the baker know this recipe?  Why, I’ve only ever given it to one man!”

So Alfred waved to Jeanine, and Jeanine stared back, confused at first, but then utterly thunderstuck.  Then she smiled.

“I see that recipe did you some good, young man!” She walked up to the counter, and shook his healthy hand. “Say, what’s your name?”

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