May 20th – The Bread Festival

People have been making bread for thousands of years, and it is only right that this should be recognised and celebrated in some way beyond the daily consumption of the delicious baked goods. Today folks from all over the City will bake their own loaves, and some bakeries will give over their wood-fired ovens entirely to home-made creations; usually a small section of these ovens are set aside for keen home bakers in exchange for a small sum. Proper bakery ovens reach a far greater heat than those found in most homesteads, which it turn gives a more enjoyable result.

The home-made dough creations which grace the industrial ovens today will greatly vary; children will donate scruffy animal-shapes, or depictions of themselves which bloat out of proportion as they rise, intricate knotted creations are common contributions from adults, as are family crests stamped into loaves. The smells of hundreds of different spices and additives (fruit, cinnamon, rosemary, Saint Adrienne’s herb, pepper, olives) all intermingle alongside that glorious warm smell of flour and water being heated together that we all know and love. The finished creations are laid out on the counters and visitors take whatever piques their fancy. It is considered very gauche to take your own creation, although children frequently do.

The origins and placement of today’s festival are linked to an old folk tale about, unsurprisingly, a baker. The baker, known for her extraordinary beauty, is told by the king that she must either marry him or be burned at the stake as a witch (for why else would you refuse the hand of the king?). She begrudgingly assents to the proposal, but asks that she may name the day. She pours a small portion of dough into a baking tin, and tells the king she will marry him when it rises to the top. Thinking that this will take no time at all, the king agrees, yet he doesn’t know there’s no yeast in the dough.

Every day the king stops by to see whether it has risen yet, and every day the baker makes sure that she does something disgusting; offering him bread with toenails in, eating with her mouth open, or farting loudly. After the fifth day the bread rises (from the natural yeasts found in flour), but the king has gone off the idea entirely. The baker bakes the loaf and it is delicious. The oldest version of the story, found in the Garimand Manuscript, says that the king initially visits the week after the spring deer hunt has ended (traditionally May the 7th), looking for an ‘easyer chayse’ than than the does that he had failed to ‘greet wyth hys speare.’

The idea of a day to celebrate bread was introduced in 1854, perversely enough in the midst of the Great Grain Crisis, when flour and bread was kept artificially expensive by the Seven Cities Trading Company. The festival was intended not as a gluttonous day of plenty (as some complain it has become), but a radical rallying cry which sought to reinterpret bread as the traditional food of the people, rather than the middle-to-upper-class icon it had become in the last few decades. One way the organisers sought to point out the working class history of bread was the date of the festival; today is the day that, according to what we can extrapolate from the Garimand Manuscript, the baker enjoyed her victory loaf.

Baguette fights are a frequent occurrence in the streets today, and a particularly violent bout is organised by the older members of the Union of Children in Saltcaster’s Square, involving over fifty children. There are various methods for hardening the long loaves (such as drying them out over a long period of time so that they become stale but not mouldy), most of which are allowed in the rules of the skirmish, although after 1934 it was decided that no hard objects may be baked into the baguettes after one child was knocked unconscious by a dough-encased iron rod.

Another popular attraction is the Romoré Bakery’s ‘special Bread Festival sourdough’ which purports to have the oldest sourdough culture known to humankind. The mixture of flour and water was allegedly first begun in 1202 by Agnez Romoré, and has been passed down from mother to daughter ever since, as their personal ‘stash’. Whilst the culture has been used as a starter for various commercial projects here and there, it was not until 1911 that the family chose to reserve it for the Bread Festival. Nowadays a small quantity of flour is added to the mixture every day for a year, until enough starter is available for 365 loaves and a portion to keep for the next year. The taste of these limited edition loaves is reportedly acquired, but delicious, and they are sold for vast quantities.

It seems, however, that as of this year the Romorés may have a rival for the title of ‘oldest sourdough culture’ as dried yeast recovered using new scientific methods from an ancient brewer’s vat, which was unearthed last year, is reportedly being revived and used to bake a loaf today. If the experiment is successful the archaeologists in charge intend to make the baking a yearly occurrence.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Title Deeds
  • Moisturisation is of SUPREME Importance! Day
  • The Day of the Kettlefish