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.

The man immediately ate one loaf in its entirety, so hungry was he, and set the other aside for later.  There was an awkward pause, and finally Jeanine asked the man if he liked the bread.  Of course he did, so they got to talking about the bread, and at length Jeanine told him the recipe, and wrote it down on a scrap of paper in her purse.

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 little money, with which he bought a very small street-corner to call his 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.

And at his little shop, pinned in a prominent space behind the counter where everyone could see, there was a plain little sign which said, “Saved by the undeserved generosity of a complete stranger.”