It was the sound of the masa moving back and forth across my grandma's hands that woke me in the mornings. She slapped the dough in rhythm before turning the flattened ball onto the dusted counter-top, and then she rolled out another tortilla and placed it on the hot puela.
There was no better alarm.
In the pantry -- the jonuco -- she kept a giant drum of the whitest flour one could buy. The drum never went empty, although I never saw her fill it. There was always flour, somehow; always tortillas in the morning.
I learned how to make tortillas as a child, using my hand as a measuring tool; salt in the center of my palm, baking powder piled for two knuckles long. I ran my fingers under the water to make sure it was neither too hot nor too cold, and then I used my little hands to knead the masa.
My tortillas looked like Africa, and that made my grandma laugh. She said that her first ones turned out like thick, little Mexicos, and it took time before she figured out how to make them round.
We made tortillas together, my grandma and I, for tortillas were our daily bread.
Today (Aug. 1) is the celebration of the First Harvest, known by many Pagans as either Lughnasad or Lammas. For some, it is a day to honor Lugh, the skillful Irish god for whom the festival is named. For others, it is a time to take stock of all that has grown in the previous months, literally and metaphorically. It is a time to turn our minds to the eventual unraveling of the year, the slowing down of things, the movement toward colder days.
I'm reminded today of my grandmother's morning ritual, and I recognize it as the moment I first equated bread with happiness, with love, with nourishment. When I take out my rolling pin, dust my counter top with the whitest flour I can find, and make my daily bread, I affirm that my connection to flour, to the sticky whiteness between my fingers, is my connection to family.
The First Harvest seems like a good time to think about the meaning of bread.
On a recent Bishop In The Grove post, "How Do We Stock Our Metaphoric Pantry," a commenter, Adrianne, wrote:
"Our daily spiritual practices are like our daily bread, but the flour has to come from somewhere. I believe that when we are given periods of spiritual "harvest" -- like times of revelation and heightened sensitivity to the Divine -- we ought to "put up" some of that, whether by documenting it, creating a commemorative object, whatever works for you -- so that in times of our own or others' need we can draw upon our spiritual stores to give us strength and bring us back to gratitude."
We are always making things in our culture, producing content, preparing something to be distributed through our networks. But there is good reason to slow down and experience the harvest; to recognize what it means to have a stocked pantry, a full table, a life of plenty. This is a time for us to recognize where our food comes from, but it is also a time to honor where we come from, who we came up with, how we were nourished. It is a season of appreciation, of gratitude, of the love for our elders. It is a time to make bread with our hands, bread with our hearts, bread for our tables and bread for the gods.
When we do this, we not only prepare for the changing of the seasons, but also -- as Adrianne pointed out -- we prepare for moments of need. By baking this bread we prepare ourselves to be better servants to the tribe, better children to our parents, better stewards of the land.
My grandma filled that bin with flour when I wasn't looking, I think. All I knew, though, was that the food came from her, the mother of my mother, and this knowledge was good enough for me. She provided for us through the work of her hands and the work of her heart an example of the simple, yet powerful connection to be made in the kitchen, in the presence of our hearth fire. She kept a good fire burning for us, and she taught us how to make our own fire, our own masa, our own bread.
And so I slap the dough in rhythm before turning the flattened ball onto my dusted counter-top, and then I roll out another tortilla and place it on the hot puela. With each tortilla, I honor my kin, the mother of my mother, and the Mother of us all -- the land, the Earth Mother, on whom we move, and live, and have our being.
May you make a good bread on this First Harvest.
Follow Teo Bishop on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TeoBishop