Robinson Crusoe’s Oven

During my summer travels, I opted to listen to Robinson Crusoe in its audio book form to entertain me during my mini-van adventures from here to there.  I chose the book because I’d simply never gotten around to reading the classic and saw the long, tedious car-rides as an opportunity for self-betterment.   (I sometimes take on self-betterment projects and abandon them…I’ve been on the 50th page of James Joyce’s Ulysses for the past 3 months…but this seemed like an easy way to obtain some culture and also pass the time on the road.)  Also, who doesn’t want to listen to a lonely, shipwrecked man talk to himself for 11 hours on an uninhabited island? 


Prior to listening to the story, I knew that Crusoe had been shipwrecked, probably constructed some sort of shelter for himself, hunted, gathered, survived fatal conditions, and all those exiting things.  What I did not know is that he baked!


Crusoe finds corn, barley and rice growing and the first thing he wants to do is bake bread.  This is my kind of guy.  He builds an oven in the middle of an uninhabited island and is like, “let’s get cooking!”  …Well, those aren’t his exact words.   He says something more like, “I had the next six months to apply my self wholly by labour and invention to furnish my self with utensils proper for the performing all the operations necessary for the making the corn (when I had it) fit for my use.”   


So, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing and no one around, my friend Bobby creates pots and tiles out of clay, makes fire and learns the bread-making process from start to finish.  In the making, he also learns to appreciate the labor involved in what is considered a simple form of sustenance.   


“It might be truly said, that now I worked for my bread. I believe few people have thought much upon the strange multitude of little things necessary in the providing, producing, curing, dressing, making, and finishing this one article of bread.”


I love his appreciation for the products that might be considered simple to a person engulfed in civilization, where we rarely think about the origins of our food.  A loaf of bread comes easily to us, so we don’t waste time contemplating its existence. 


For Crusoe, the pride and absolute rapture created by his ingenuity and ability to have a loaf of bread marks such an overwhelmingly happy moment in his story that as a reader (listener) it feels like Christmas has arrived.    


I realize, that the vast majority of us are not trapped on an island and that more often than not, we will pick up a loaf of bread from the supermarket and throw it in our basket with few questions and little appreciation.  I think people might benefit from Robinson Crusoe’s oven and remember to perhaps maintain a little more sense of wonder for the things at our fingertips.  


“Then sweeping away all the embers, I set down my loaf or loaves, and whelming down the earthen pot upon them, drew the embers all round the outside of the pot, to keep in and add to the heat; and thus as well as in the best oven in the world, I baked my barley-loaves, and became in little time a good pastrycook into the bargain; for I made myself several cakes and puddings of the rice; but I made no pies, neither had I anything to put into them supposing I had, except the flesh either of fowls or goats.”  -Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe


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