NOT everyone in Hoolet was prepared when lockdown sealed us off. Some had sensibly been filling potting sheds and freezers for weeks, anticipating the way things were heading. A few went into purdah early, more clued up than most political leaders. And for the domestic gods and goddesses among us, their hunter-gatherer instincts went into overdrive in the pursuit of the bread of life – or rather, the means by which to make it. On the yeast front, as on several others, we were caught on the hop.

Until this spring, I had no idea how many people in the village enjoy baking. I don’t mean the faddish sort, eager to fill their suddenly cavernous work-free days, bursting with enthusiasm for making sourdough bread – a process akin to having a third child, they say – which faded before the second month of isolation. Nor the kind whose idea of a cake is a replica of the Eiffel Tower as imagined by Jackson Pollock.

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The bakers in Hoolet are serious. And hardy. One friend unearthed yeast that was years past its sell by date. After giving it the culinary equivalent of CPR (putting a few grains in water), she decided it retained enough life to make a loaf. After retrieving an even more ancient bag of flour, which she carefully checked for weevils, she was good to go. Since when, she has been producing bread, scones, cakes and tray bakes, a model of cottage industry.

When eventually yeast returned to the shelves, I distributed it around the village, feeling like a corner crack dealer. Before the shops had restocked, however, a neighbour kindly slipped us a few sachets. It was like receiving an aid parcel. From that point, the cottage began its transformation into a boulangerie. As the smell of baking bread filled the air, I was transported back to childhood. Its power to revive memories is as strong as Proust’s madeleines.

To watch Alan stirring in yeast and pummelling dough, it looks a doddle. But I doubt it’s as easy as it looks. The other week I attempted a dessert, using a childishly simple recipe and a blender so basic it probably remembers the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. There is nothing that connects me more to the picture-book image of country living than happy hours in the kitchen, the lit-up oven casting a wholesome glow over the array of ingredients, jars and bowls. If it’s snowing outside, all the better.

After following the recipe to the letter, or so I thought, the lemon surprise pudding came out of the oven. It certainly lived up to its name. If I’d been trying to recreate an Alpine landscape, I’d have surpassed myself, although setting them in a sea of soupy slush arguably ruined the effect. Cautiously we dipped in our spoons. Hard as it may be to believe, it tasted worse than it looked.

Since then a friend has given me two versions of the same dish, which she tells me are fool proof. They say you must get straight back into the saddle when you have fallen off. This might work with horses, but because the culinary problem lies with me rather than with any flaw in the recipe, I doubt I’ll ever summon up the courage for a second attempt. There was a day, years ago, when it took me eight hours to make a quiche, and the pastry was like tungsten. I have been known to burst into tears while cooking, and with good reason.

Unlike desserts, however, bread is essential. Life is unimaginable without it. Nothing compares with a crusty slice of wholemeal, liberally spread with butter. And while producing a sweet course can be traumatic, bread-making is not just useful but therapeutic. Slapping the dough down to size, and kneading it into obedience is as effective an outlet for pent-up energy as a triathlon.

I can hear it being pounded while I’m working upstairs, and picture it going through its various rites of passage. The writer Alison Uttley recalled watching the dough rising when she was a child, “like a lively white cushion, growing bigger and bigger”. Once out of the oven, and cooling on the baking rack, it is an unbeatable sight. That something so ordinary can cause such anticipation and pleasure is remarkable. As for the taste, be it brown or white, or a canny blend of both, it is nothing like shop-bought loaves. It has heft, and character. Two slices keep you going for hours and hours.

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The in-house baker, not generally known for his patience, says he likes the way the process slows down time. Once started, he can’t allow himself to get distracted by anything else. Consequently, it has his attention almost all morning. Not everyone sees it this way, though. The Victorian teacher, Molly Hughes, wrote that countless people told her they couldn’t face baking their own bread because of the time required: “The bread certainly wants time, I assure them, but not their time; it doesn’t ask to be watched, and can be trusted alone in the house ...” Yet since the first quern was put to work, it has been a maxim that all it takes to make bread is time and warmth.

To this should be added a grate or oven of some sort. For centuries, people bought their bread from the local bakehouse, because they had only an open fire at home. By the late 19th century, houses in Hoolet would have had coal ranges, ideal for making bread. In her brilliant English Bread and Yeast Cookery, the food writer Elizabeth David describes these monsters as “beautiful iron tyrants”, requiring to be scoured, black-leaded and polished. “It all reads rather as if it were the daily routine of the crew of a warship in Nelson’s day.”

Hers is my ideal cookery book. The first half gives a history of bread and how it has evolved since Egyptian days, the second half is filled with recipes with conversational advice on how to bake. If anyone could coax me to back to the kitchen, it would Elizabeth David. I plan to begin with a simple brown loaf. Should it go wrong, there’s the consolation of knowing that at least the birds will appreciate it.

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