Panis gravis, or Bread, Endless Nurturer

A whole world dwells within each tiny  seed.

Of porridge,  of bread, of love it whispers – in all these lies the promise of wheat.

With it all comes both the caress of crumbs and the sour stink of brown bread and garlic, the pain of brokenness … and the bitter bread of exile.

But yet there’s this …

In the beginning, the pure green frenzy of genesis, sprouting skyward.

And then, suddenly, fields swaying in the wind, like breakers on the shore,


Green to gold, blossoming in the noonday sun,

And suckling the gentle morning rain.

With the scythe the reckoning comes,

Cut away from the crowd, a brief moment of not-oneness,

Gleaning, winnowing, the chaff melting, falling, into the air. Blown into eternity. Invisible.

And the seeds remain, furry like mewing newborn kittens.

Crushed and cracked between stones or steel, split wide open, the germ of life exposed …

Ground down, bulging with expectations.

The smell of bubbling yeast,  life blood of bread, drifting through the air …


Pounded and punched, consecrated in violence.

Leavened, rising, swelling, a great globe …




Becoming bread …  giver of life … raising hopes …

All this from a tiny seed. 


Panis gravis.

A Daily Bread for the Journey
Makes 4 medium loaves

1 T. dry yeast
1 t. sugar
2 cups warm water
8-9 cups bread flour
1 T. sea salt
1/3 -1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil (I put more in when I am making pizza dough from this recipe)
Up to 2-3 c. additional water (more or less)

Proof the yeast in the water and sugar until bubbly.

Put flour and salt in large mixing bowl or Kitchen Aid mixer bowl or food processor; use dough hook.

Pour in yeast and extra water, and start mixing. When gluten strands (string-like) appear, add oil. Mix, add more water if necessary until dough is only slightly sticky. Knead 2-3 minutes in machine or until smooth. By hand this might take 10 minutes or so on a lightly floured board.

I usually give the dough a few kneads on the board even if I do the major part of the kneading in the machine.

Place dough in a large greased mixing bowl, flip over so greased side is up, and cover with a clean and very damp towel that has been wrung out.  Let dough rise until doubled.

Shape the dough into whatever you want. Let bread loaves rise, but pizza and focaccia don’t need a second rise.

For free-form bread, heat oven to 375 F and bake 30 minutes or so. Rolls, heat oven to 425 and bake 15-20 minutes. Pizza and focaccia, heat oven to 500 and let heat (with baking stone) for 1/2 hour. Bake pizza and focaccia about 15 minutes or until golden on edges, etc.

For a type of fougasse,  “paint” the rolled-out dough with olive oil and then sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary or other herbs, coarsely ground black pepper, and coarse sea salt.

The earth resides in the food we eat … and therefore in us.

© 2011 Cynthia Bertelsen


  1. Thanks, Glenn – the bread is good. It’s the one I make all the time.

    Vicki, I really am glad to hear that the posts touch you – thank you for telling me that.

    Laurie, the pictures, as with others in this series, come from, the wonderful generous photographers on Flickr, who allow their photos to be used in Creative Commons. If you click on each photo, you’ll be linked to the originals. Thank you for letting me know what you thought of the post!


  2. really beautiful depiction of the journey
    and your photos are gorgeous!
    Were they all shot in one region on one farm?
    As a bread baker, it was wonderful to see you follow the thread back to its source and the story is so lovely.
    should turn it into a book!


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