Let’s Cook: Baking Brings Family Heritage
We each have a unique album of memories from our childhood kitchen; a mental snapshot of foods that makes us feel good, and foods that are good for us. Recent comments from the braided bread I made for the Heritage Singers silent auction had me take another look at my gallery. A few folks asked about my kickoff in bread making, and I acknowledged that my Mom introduced me to the good smells and warm love of bread baking. She made bread usually every Saturday with the thought being we will have company on Sunday. Her efforts included bread, buns, and caramel rolls. Her vessel of choice for mixing was a large round white Tupperware container with a lid. As I relive Saturday baking, I recall these two things especially-her knack at punching down bread and her quick yielding of the knife as she cut dough and shape it into buns. Now the punching down could be more dramatic at times-for example when Dad lent out Mom’s floor polisher to a couple of grease monkeys and it was returned looking ready for the city dump. The dough that day was in for real boxing match–complete with verbal quotes such as “I told him, oh that makes me so angry!” As I recall, the baked goods had plenty of volume.
As many of you know, my Mom encouraged her sons to learn not only cooking, but also baking. She was ahead of her time realizing that if men wanted to eat mostly homemade items then they can get in the act of helping them. When all family members engage in preparing meals, they realize the effort it takes. This should remind them that each day, we take the time to thank the cooks and show them our gratitude. As I relive this memory, I can see how much I learned from this kitchen experience. I became a much better reader because my mom was not a fan of kitchen flops due to lack of understanding the order of a recipe. It also has given me a very viable tool that allows me to aid in the benefit of others-not only at the table, but in fundraising and from time to time showing random acts of kindness. After all, who does not like to see homemade baked goods on a silent auction or answer the doorbell and be greeted by fresh baking? Conversation is usually quick because few things can compare to fresh bread waiting to be swathed in fresh butter.
Personal baking memories are to be shared, and we do this often in our home with Lydia. Jan speaks fondly of the wonderful baking done by her late Aunt Florence. Her amazing organizational skills that she passed on to Jan which allowed for several batches of cookies to on parade on baking day. While the Peanut Butter Overnight cookies were dashing to perfection in the ice box, the Swedish Overnight Butter cookies are baking in the oven, over there by the toaster are the carrot cookies with orange glaze! When we travel west to Ray these days, Lydia looks forward to Grandma Delores’ cinnamon rolls and Aunt Ethel’s potato buns, and they share tidbits about their baking artistry.
Handing down kitchen memories to children gives them a connection to their heritage. Lydia knows that my mom taught me to make bread, and I will forever remember her words the day following the passing of my mother. “Daddy, I think we need to bake some bread today and think about Grandma.” My mom did not make braided bread; she, however, gave me the skills to add this to my list. A couple of years ago I had featured that braided bread in the column. Another bread that will be on the runway of Minot silent auctions is “Butter Crust Potato Bread.” It features mashed potatoes which add moistness and body to this hearty bread. The special butter crust dusted with flour and shaped in the round adds extra appeal. This is the perfect bread to add to a St. Patrick’s Day menu. It can be cut in large lengthwise pieces allowing to soak up every bit of juice from the traditional corn beef and cabbage meal. It may also be cut in pie wedges. Use a good knife with a serrated edge to cut breads. Cut back and forth with a sawing motion.
A few tips for successful bread making include that the warm water needed for yeast to work should be in the temperature range of 105 degrees to 115 degrees F. I always use a thermometer. Measure out ingredients ahead of time with all measurements being level. When is the dough ready you ask? Many bread recipes call for a range of flour. Add flour to the correct handling consistency. You will know when the dough is ready because it will act like a vacuum taking most bits of dough and flour from the side of the bowl and it will not be too sticky to handle. Dough needs a warm rising place such as in front of a sunny window, near a working light bulb, or in our case a steady flow of heat from small heater. Bread pans or surfaces should be well-greased. Remember that baked bread loaves sound hollow or “thump” when tapped with knuckles. So knock three times on the bread–not the ceiling!
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