HOW do you keep secrets and plot surprises in lockdown when everything must be done for you and you are not allowed out to the shops?

With a bit of cunning, is the answer. Ma Stewart, being of a certain age, had to stay at home and avoid the grocery store so I've been doing her shopping every week since the lockdown. In the run up to Easter, little extras appeared on the shopping list, such as yellow food colouring or baking powder.

I'd almost entire forgotten I was due a birthday until, about three weeks before, icing sugar was suddenly requested. Each ingredient meant for a celebration cake, buried in the list weeks in advance.

Back in March, as it became clear that something momentous was afoot, items began disappearing from supermarket shelves. Among the many things seared in the national memory from this extraordinary time will be the Great Loo Roll Rush of 2020.

Tinned items soon followed. Beans, soup, canned tuna - good luck to you. Soap, hand sanitiser, bleach. Practical items for people planning to be stuck at home with mouths to feed and germs to kill.

If the whole toilet paper panic was inexplicable, what came next was logical but still a bit of a surprise. Where was all the flour?

The supermarkets had none, and when they did get some in stock there was a frantic rush on it. People were sharing tips in community Facebook pages about where had a supply in stock and offering to trade it, like a finely milled currency.

Ditto yeast. Photographs of sachets of yeast appeared on these social media pages too, offers to post it out at inflated prices or do contactless handovers in odd places in exchange for a bag of self-raising.

Twitter became one long thread of sourdough starter discussions. How to get them going, how to keep them going, how to move on when the frothing stopped and the starter ended.

There were people giving names to their starters (dix points to Magical Mister Yeastoffelees), posting photos of them on social media, even creating Instragram accounts solely for their off-white pots of yeast.

Even simple homebaking has an air of performance in the age of social media but then, people are bored at home and a few tweets is as decent a use of time as anything else.

As bulk buyers left the baking aisle bare, millers were working around the clock, genuinely milling flour 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep up with demand. Usually, two million bags of flour are produced every week but during lockdown this doubled to four million.

Interestingly, it wasn't the lack of flour that was the problem: it was the lack of packaging. There weren't enough small bags to keep up with demand and not enough capacity to pack them.

In my local supermarket things came to such a pass that, not only were the flour shelves bare, the shop eventually removed the shelves too so there was an empty cavity where they had previously been.

Perhaps this was to quash quickly any rising anticipation that maybe some flour existed tucked away at the back.

As the baking trend continued to rise, supermarkets innovated. Some sold 16kg bags of flour and, incredibly, people bought them. Other stores decanted the 16kg sacks into smaller brown paper bags and let shoppers have them for 60p or so.

Of course, local corner stores had flour all along, as well as all the other staples we'd been scrambling to grab in the big stores. A friend would come to my local shop for his flour and leave with several bags of self-raising only after standing through a lecture in Middle Eastern politics from the chatty shopkeeper.

Lockdown has meant an increase in time and an increase in time has meant the ability to use local shops, a trend we should hope continues.

But the baking thing. What was it about? Time, again. Our lives are built now around work. Where my grandmother's generation of women would routinely be at home with the children, and where baking was an everyday staple, our economic model now depends on both parents working and those kitchen skills have slid away.

Baking bread or cakes, once a chore to work through, has become a romanticised task - all about self-care and mindfulness, as much as the basic need for sustenance. Keeping a sourdough starter alive takes work and commitment, regular feeding. And if Instragram is to be believed, regular conversations with your frothing paste.

A sourdough loaf must be done in strict, timed stages, giving shape to the day. Even if that's all you do from morning til night, those otherwise wayward hours are structured.

Baking bread takes mental and physical focus, kneading, folding, a patient wait for rise. Folding again. The smell of baking bread as the chemistry of heat does its thing, an edible science experiment. You are in control of transforming a selection of basic ingredients into something wonderful, something solid when all else is shifting and unpredictable.

I have always enjoyed baking. It is a small act of love to create something delicious for someone else and, while I do resist the notion of self-care, being a grizzled old cynic, it's satisfying to bake yourself a treat.

This has been quite a boon of lockdown easing - friends keep showing up with home baking. Early on there were brownies left on my doorstep. Ma Stewart has made me beautiful cakes with her carefully squirrelled away ingredients. My friend Dan dropped me off a picnic for my birthday with two fresh baguettes he'd made, another lockdown baking convert.

Another birthday gift was an extraordinary ice cream cake, three flavours wrapped in a giant chocolate chip brownie casing. I've been gifted several fresh loaves from neighbours who overestimated what they needed.

To bake and be baked for are both basic and exalted things at once. Before, it was a question of fitting baking into our busy lives. Now we structure days around baking. As life returns to normal, hopefully people will keep up their new-found old ways.

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