Toilet rolls are back in our local Sainsbury’s – but there are no baking goods. Husband went out hunting and gathering this morning with a list that included strong white flour, plain flour, sugar and baking powder, but he came back empty-handed. How foolish was I to think I was was the only one planning to bake my way through lockdown?
I’d stocked up on yeast back in the autumn when the only catastrophe we thought was heading our way was a no-deal Brexit. Now I realise I’d under-estimated flour and over-estimated the ‘cleverness’ of my own preparations.
It turns out there’s currently no shortage of bread locally, so there isn’t any real need for me to be turning out daily loaves. But I’m doing it anyway. Today I got quite ambitious and attempted hot-cross buns, which tasted fine, but failed to rise.
Why this sudden need to bake? Jamie Oliver was at it on the telly yesterday in a show produced hastily for the current crisis: Keep Cooking and Carry On. He was doing the whole thing properly, kneading and proving, whereas I got the electric bread-maker off a dusty shelf and have been letting the machine do the hard work. Even so, there is something very satisfying, motherly even, about making bread for my brood.
Getting back to an old way of providing sustenance seems to be a suitable response to current situation. I’m aware that it’s a psychological rather than a practical repsonse. If we are honest, the most tangible effect of lockdown on our family so far is the loss of the ability to pop out whenever we feel like it.
And yet the sense that Coronavirus poses some kind of existential threat to individuals and to the economy, and possibly society, as we know it provokes a protective response that comes out as a desire to be more self-reliant: it doesn’t matter if the shelves are empty of sourdough if I can bake my own.
It’s also coming out as a desire to grow food. If the supermarket salad aisle is empty, no matter; I can grow my own. So the spinach seeds I sowed under glass last autumn are now potted up in compost from our garden bin; and I’m discussing with friends in the local plastic-free Streatham group how best to grow veg from seeds when the garden centres are shut. (Answer: harvest seeds from the tomatoes and squash you buy from the shops and germinate them in egg cartons.)
And then it struck me; I’m modelling my response to the lockdown on the 1970s sitcom The Good Life. Essential Saturday night viewing in Britain between 1975 and 1978, Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal played Tom and Barbara Good, rejecting the rat race for self-sufficiency in the suburbs. I’m quite at home in tatty gardening shorts, so put in your orders now for home-brewed rhubarb wine.