For many of us, bread is simply a staple in our diet but, as author and therapist Pauline Beaumont explains, the art of making bread can bring benefits beyond the pleasure of eating the end results
CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful
As the weather gets cold, comfort food comes to the fore and, usually, that most definitely includes bread. The smell of a freshly baked loaf, the crunch of golden brown toast glistening with butter, and the soft yielding of two fresh white slices wrapping around a flavoursome filling like a perfect bready duvet…who could resist?!
Pauline Beaumont, a passionate baker, mum of six and counsellor, agrees that bread is a thing of beauty, and she also believes in the huge benefits of quite literally getting your hands dirty and starting bread-making from scratch.
Happiful caught up with Pauline to talk about her book Bread Therapy, baking, writing, mental health and why developing slow-skills really matter.
Pauline, tell us about how this book came about?
I started baking bread about 15 years ago, and it was at a time in my life when I was very busy and I was living in my head, really. I just remember having this strong desire to make something real, and make it with my hands. For whatever reason, I decided I wanted to make bread, and as soon as I started baking it just felt like I’d come home.
Then, I had a big change in my life, about nine years ago, when I was made redundant. I retrained completely to become a therapist and I felt that I’d finally found my professional calling.
I also loved writing, but I’d never really found my forte. I always thought that, when the urge was strong enough, I’d write my book, but now I realise I was wrong. I needed to find what I really wanted to say, and the time I needed to say it. The idea for Bread Therapy felt so natural, based on my experiences, and like it was there all along.
In the book you write about how we can actively help ourselves heal and grow, as well as the massive benefits of therapy. Tell us more.
I’m a strong advocate of therapy, and it absolutely is the road to recovery for so many of us but, at the same time, I’m highly aware that there are lots of things we can do to help ourselves that are therapeutic, but are not therapy.
Walking, being close to nature, the resurgence of gardening, crafting – the amount of young people I’ve seen knitting! There’s something about making a ‘thing’ with your own hands which is incredibly therapeutic, and a lot of these activities don’t cost a lot of money either. I think this applies to everyone, whether you have mental health problems or not, and there are simple things we can all do – from sleeping well, to walking and getting out in nature – that can make a huge difference to our wellbeing.
For me, it’s bread-making. I’ve really benefited from it personally, which is why I wanted to share my thoughts about it!
How has lockdown changed life for you?
I’ve been working from home since March – which took a little bit of adjusting to – but, on balance, I’ve had the opportunity to re-examine what’s possible and what’s important. I’ve felt really pleased to have more time to myself. I used to be out of the house from 7am to 7pm. Now I leave the kitchen at 8.59 am, and I’m back in the kitchen with my pinny on at 5pm! I don’t say that in a gloating way, but it’s definitely been a benefit.
Observing the mad flour fiasco that’s been going on has been strange! One of my favourite Instagram posts was a juxtaposition of a Birken handbag and a bag of flour with a caption along the lines of, “Which one of these is the most desirable nowadays?”
It was a joke, but there is a serious point being made which is that the things that seemed important before – like material goods and celebrity culture – suddenly appeared to be absolutely redundant. Now we realise who the core workers are in society, and who we really rely upon. We now know that things we barely gave a second glance to, like flour and yeast, are really valuable too.
Developing ‘slow-skills’ is something you advocate throughout Bread Therapy. Making bread has its own pace, but what would you say to someone who finds it hard to slow down and go with the flow?
As with any behavioural change, start small with baby steps. Be clear about what your goal is, why you’re doing something, as well as what you’re doing. In psychology, we say, “Whatever you do, there’s a price to pay”. That sounds quite hard but it’s an existential reality – every time we make a choice, there’s something else we are choosing not to do. Over the past six or so months, I think we’ve started to become aware of the price we’ve paid for our obsession with, and addiction to, speed and getting things quicker and faster. We’ve lost the connection, in a way, with our embodied selves. We’re not doing things with our hands, we’re not having that relationship with materials and time.
I would say to anyone reading this, that adopting any activity that allows you to do just that, and slow down, is important. This can be hard, especially if you’re someone who has used constant activity to avoid feeling or thinking. Being prepared for some unease, and using other techniques to help with anxiety like breathwork or meditation, will help.
I remember when I started making a conscious decision to slow down, and it really felt odd! It’s almost like we’ve become used to a certain level of over stimulation. It takes a while to adjust to and to embrace mindfulness. I’d say that something like bread-making is so valuable in learning slow skills because you just can’t speed it up!
Also, the end result of baking bread must be gratifying?
Even now, when I open the oven door and take out a loaf of bread I still feel a level of excitement, because there’s always uncertainty when it comes to baking and how it will turn out. There are probably not that many things in daily life we get to do from start to finish, so to start with this white or brown powder, that’s inedible, and to end up with this gorgeous golden globe of deliciousness that you can share with other people, that’s amazing.
It does feel a little bit miraculous.