Sunday, July 8, 2007

Baskets of Bread--a Bit of History & Pleasure


Who derives greater pleasure.the person who gives the basket of bread or the recipient? It's an interesting question, especially at this time of year when baskets of bread and rolls are appearing at picnics and outdoor buffet tables across the country.

There's no doubt that baskets - filled with delicious-looking bread that is just waiting to be enjoyed - make an impression. That's something that high-end restaurants have discovered. They are well aware that bread is frequently the first morsel their patrons sample, and that an attractive basket can set the tone for what is to follow. That's also why so many chefs and restaurant owners make sure that the basket and the bread that appear on your table are instantly, spectacularly inviting, spurring your appetite and encouraging you to order a full complement from the items featured on the entire menu.
Beyond making a good impression, baskets of bread have had symbolic connotations in various cultures almost since time began. That's no surprise since basket weaving appears as an early art form in countries on every continent. Historically and in ancient literature, there is a multitude of references to baskets of bread, most of them symbolic.

Consider the book of Genesis in the Bible, where we read how the imprisoned Joseph (of the coat of many colors), interprets the dreams of the chief butler and the chief baker who are also in prison. The chief baker relates to Joseph his dream of having three white baskets on his head, the top basket filled with bread and food for Pharaoh. The baker tells Joseph that in his dream, birds fly to this uppermost basket and eat its contents. Joseph's interpretation is grim. He tells the chief baker that the three baskets stand for the three days after which the Pharaoh will lift the baker's head and hang the baker on a tree. Unfortunately, the prophecy is realized.

In the New Testament of the Bible, there are two occasions where Christ feeds an assembly of followers by multiplying baskets of loaves of bread and fish. Five loaves are multiplied to feed 5,000 in one reading; seven loaves and a "few" fish feed 4,000 in another scripture. These numbers of baskets and recipients are interpreted differently in the works of Christian artists but there is complete consensus among Christians that these are miracles.

Once again, we find baskets with fragments of loaves and fish when Jesus appears to his Disciples prior to His ascension. He invites his band of fishermen to another symbolic banquet that takes place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

But references such as these are not limited to biblical writings. In works that record pagan celebrations of ancient Rome, there are numerous references to baskets of bread. Publius Papinius Status, 45-96 AD, describes a festival which the Emperor Domitian provided for the citizens of Rome. In his description of a lavish display, he writes "Scarce had Dawn got out of bed when sweets began to rain down on us.(the audience) carried baskets of bread.and served languorous wine in brimming measure."

It's impossible to cite all the references to bread and baskets through the annals of history in every corner of the world. But there are a few noteworthy examples of symbolism in the importance of bread and baskets in the United States.

For example, some Native American wedding ceremonies called for the bride and groom to exchange baskets. The groom gave his bride a basket full of meat and skins, a symbol of his commitment to provide food and clothing. The bride gave a basket of bread and corn to her husband to demonstrate her vow to nurture and support her husband and the family that was to come.

A stunning collection of Native American baskets, which includes bread baskets made by some of the foremost contemporary Native American basket makers and scholars, can be found at the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian. It's worth a visit if you have travel plans to see our nation's capital.

In images that we find in literature and film, colonial and pioneer families are often depicted around the hearth, sharing and breaking bread that has been placed in home-crafted baskets. The combination of bread and baskets is a perennial symbol of warmth and caring, also seen in many still life paintings.

You can find some good looking, inexpensive baskets at outdoor markets and retail outlets. Reasonable prices make them ideal to give as gifts along with your homemade baked items. Imagine their smiles when you say, "Please, no need to return the basket after you've enjoyed what it has held."

From Fleischmann's Yeast. You can get Bread Activity Booklets & Teacher's Guides, too

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