A sea monster’s moan rumbles the otherwise still mist that shrouds Fisherman’s Wharf – the forlorn foghorn of the former federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island. It’s inside the brightly lit building before us, though, that an amorphous, immortal monster has been locked away for longer than any sentence ever served on Alcatraz.
Basically a blob born when outlaw lactobacilli and yeast strains – mutated to thrive in the fog of San Francisco – impregnated dough in a bakery more than 150 years ago, it is fed flour and water by a trained team morning after morning.
We watch through the thirty-foot-tall window walls of Boudin at the Wharf as bakers wearing white sustain the process prescribed by their French founder, Isidore Boudin, in 1849. With their hands, they combine a bit of the “mother dough” with the aforementioned flour and water, divide it into batches, and shape it into loaves. After allowing the loaves to rise in their respective proof boxes for 24 hours, the bakers ritualistically slit them with knives to create crisscross scores.
Carrie and I are perpetually lapsing and relapsing Catholics, so there seems to be some meaning in the cross cut into the round sourdough in front of us.
I attempt to put it into words: “Recipes are prayers.”
“Don’t you teach your composition students that most metaphors need explanations?” Carrie chides.
“Recipes are prayers,” I repeat. “Words written by our ancestors in an attempt to earn immortality, repeated generation after generation.…”
Here, I start to struggle, but Carrie comes to my aid. “… But it isn’t the words that are most important; it is the actions they dictate?”
I nod. Holding hands, we watch the bakers’ knives make the sign of the cross, over and over, just as Isidore Boudin did.
“Give Us This Day” was originally published by Fewer Than 500 in 2015.