It seems as though I am a little late catching onto the COVID 19 bread making binge, but after having trouble getting yeast at a number of places, I put it out of my mind and entertained myself with other fun activities such as going through the paint which have accumulated in our basement over the years. This job of course includes a trip to the dump, not to mention doing some patch up jobs with the paint kept behind reminding me of a number of spots around the house that need a face life.
With most of the chores being checked off my COVID list of things to do, and after finally remembering to put yeast back on my shopping list, today I returned to my place of refuge – my kitchen.
Bread making is not new to me. As a young mother, our one son and I made bread or some version thereof every week. He stood on his little stool with his wooden, child sized rolling pin and using a mound of dough would fashion it into a unique bread roll for each member of the family. A nice memory. Today, I’m taking a short cut using a bread machine which I have acquired over the last few years.
My mother recounts the bread making that went on in her family kitchen when she was a child. This conversation is retold in Love Stories, a book about her life which I wrote and presented to her for her eighty-fifth birthday. If you would care to listen in, here are some snippets from that conversation which lasted well into the afternoon. You will notice there is no talk of instant yeast or bread machines, not to mention an electric stove.
“Mother made fourteen loaves at a time.and since she used the leftover potato water from the noon hour meal, it would be noon the next day before the bread was finished. But she didn’t think anything of that, as she was always doing other jobs while the dough was rising. She never used a recipe. It was just in her head. ‘Why potato water?” I asked.
“It helps the bread to rise slightly higher and last longer. Although that part didn’t seem to work at our place,” Mom laughs. She continues, “The yeast came in cakes rather than granules. Mother preferred the Royal brand.
As I point out how easy it is to make bread using a bread machine my mother recalls the numerous steps when making bread the old-fashioned way. First sugar had to be stirred into the warm water before the yeast cake was added. When the yeast bubbled as it dissolved , you knew that it was working so you could go ahead adding a little lard or butter to the mixture. Then mother added a little salt in with the flour and stirred just enough into the yeast mixture to make a sponge. At bedtime, she added more flour to make a stiff dough and then put the mixture into a giant bowl which she covered with a blanket and set on the rocking chair close to the stove so the dough could rise. She got up at 2 a.m. to punch the dough down so it could rise again until morning. When she got up in the morning around 6, she punched the bread down again. Finally it was time to shape the dough into loaves to rise one last time.” This was all done before breakfast, my mother reminds me. “It took exactly 1 hour and 20 minutes to bake the bread ( 4 loaves at a time) at a moderate temperature.
“How would grandma know when the oven was at the right temperature without a thermometer?” I ask.
“She just stuck her arm in the oven, ” Mom chuckles.
“How would she know how to keep the temperature at that setting with it taking over 15 hours to bake the 14 loaves?”I ask.
“Oh, that comes with experience,”Mom explains.
“Once the loaves were golden in colour, it was time to take them out of the oven, and If they made a hollow sound when you rapped them on the bottom with your knuckles, that told you that they were baked. You knew that you had an exceptional loaf if cracks formed on the crust. Mother always brushed the top with butter too, which made them all the more irresistible, especially when they was hot out of the oven.”
Several hours later, after returning home from a trip to the local grocery store, the timer goes off on my bread machine indicating that my loaf of bread is done. I lift the lid and carefully remove the steaming hot bread from the bread bucket. The recipe distinctly says to wait for the bread to cool before slicing it, but the temptation is too great. As we enjoy our warm buttery treat, this leads to a new conversation as mother recalls churning butter as a child. But that’s another story…