Arizona has the type of heat that kills bread. Flat loaves tumbled out of our oven and onto the countertop, over-proofed in a matter of minutes. A bread machine, the eternal gift of the 90s, aged on a high shelf until the heat cracked the plastic, too. Yeast dies here by the millions, I expect — yeast is very small, after all. Here, flat bread flourishes. Flat tortillas, pinned under a cast iron press, served with butter for breakfast; I love tortillas and they do not sustain me. My mother flipped them with her hands. She gave me clementines and a tortilla in a bear-shaped lunchbox.
My dad wasn’t from Arizona but he killed bread just the same. He arrived in Tempe after some war, he went to the supermarket for stale bread and was happy. He ate the heels dipped in milk.
Here is an archive of the bread I ate in Arizona: supermarket whole wheat. Tortillas. The sweet bread at the sandwich chain in Fiesta Mall.
I don’t remember eating good bread until I left Arizona. Originally, we stayed nine long years for my dad’s job. It must have been strange for my family — they travelled in caravans forever before the war. They had a horse named Sieg. They walked for hundreds of years trading salt and spoons and eating bread between Rajasthan and Ostia and back. Then the war came and the Nazis came and they were forced to settle down and wait and finally pack it in for America because no one cared about “the gypsy problem” across the pond. The point is, I think we were never supposed to stay in Arizona. My great uncle called it “horizon fever” - the uneasiness you feel when you’re standing still. We were meant to get to Arizona and then move on. The bread here was not made for us.
My nana knows how to make good bread out of anything: einkorn, spelt, seed, salt, water. You don’t need yeast for good bread, you just need fresh air. The more fresh air, the better: she recommends walking your leaven across the Levant for a good rise. My nana always baked outside, even after she settled down in New York City in 1964. She put her oven on the balcony and cooked outside on the 17th floor in the dead of winter. She cooled her loaves on the handrail and insists she only ever knocked one into traffic. When she drops bread, she apologizes to it. When she drops bread 17 storeys into traffic I imagine she must buy it flowers. She sent my dad away when he was six—“it’s no good to stay so long in one place”— so for years he never ate the thick pieces of rye bread that she handed out, cut too quickly from a hot loaf, rolled around a pickle (this is not a good snack, I do not believe you will like it). My nana never apologized for this, I'm not sure she had to.
I don’t know what my point is here, but it’s something to do with movement and bread and race. Bread is everything to some people. I don’t understand the language but I know my grandmother uses the same word for “person” and “rye bread”. To be is to eat bread. Our bread is supposed to collect wild yeast across whole continents. To eat our bread, you have to move; my mother’s tortillas were a bread for standing still. (Upon flying for Canada, she was relieved of her tortilla press by a strict TSA agent. It seems symbolic in retrospect). We make my grandmother’s bread now, the dough ferments outside in good weather.
There is einkorn bread waiting on my counter today. I feel happy about this. There were once people who were good at killing my people, failing that, they took away our movement, then our bread, our culture. Even when they didn’t kill us, they managed to kill something in us. My dad still eats supermarket bread.
Kitt Peacock is an interdisciplinary artist and breadmaker, currently living the nightmare in Vancouver, BC.