Daily Bread

There are few metaphors for sustenance that ring true like "bread." Chela is the wife of Camillo, a peasant  farmer who lives in the south of Chile.  Chela would help us with food when we would bring groups of North Americans to work on projects in the area.  It was Camilo who taught me how to kill a sheep or young bull, depending on the size of the group we were feeding.  But Chela made the bread.


Technically, bread is a formed loaf, containing a leavening agent, and baked in an oven.  Chela had a stove, but no oven, and it was in the coals of a fire in the larder, a fire whose smoke preserved various foodstuffs in the rafters, that she baked her bread.

At the beginning of the week, I would buy a 50 kilo sack of flour, drop it off at Chela's home, and three times a day, Chela would bring fire blackened loaves of bread that she would slice into biscotti like portions.  The bread looked like a long, wide ciabatta, and had a dense crumb.  Spread with jam squeezed from a bag, or with manjar, a Chilean version of dulce de leche, it was a perfect breakfast, providing energy for the morning's work.

I loved to watch Chela bake bread.  She knew just when the coals were ready.  She would throw the dough into the coals, and at precise moment, with her bare hands, extract a perfect loaf, fully formed, from the ashes.