The Keeper of the Bread

Dec
19

My grandmother grew up on a farm not far from where I live now, and when she was a little girl it was her job to make bread every day. Every day. She learned to make bread from her mother, and her mother learned it from her mother before her, and so on. She taught her daughters to make bread, and when my mother came to West Virginia as a young bride, my grandmother taught my mother to make that bread, too.


When I was nine years old, my mother taught me to make the bread. I made bread periodically as a teenager–it wasn’t “my job” like it was my grandmother’s job. We mostly bought bread at the store, but whenever anyone in the house made that bread, everyone was excited and it went quickly.

When I set up housekeeping for the first time as an adult, among the first things I bought were bread pans and a bag of flour. I had never been in charge of grocery shopping before, so I didn’t really think too hard about how long flour could last and how much flour is really needed to make just a loaf or two of bread. I bought a 25-pound bag of flour. That bag of flour lasted a long time! But I made a lot of bread, trying to use up that 25-pound bag, and I fell in love with baking.

I have two sons, and yes, of course, we can and should teach our sons their way around a kitchen, but there is just something about a bread recipe that has been passed down from mother to daughter for a hundred years or more in my family that makes it special that I have a daughter.

She is the only granddaughter in the family. When she was nine, I told her, “It’s time for you to learn how to make bread.” She asked where the recipe was. I told her, “There is no written recipe. I’m going to teach you and you’re going to remember it for the rest of your life and someday you’re going to teach it to your daughter.”

She looked a little doubtful at the prospect of actually remembering a recipe for that long, then she said, “Are you sure you’re the right person to teach me how to make bread? Aren’t you the one who blew up the bread pan??” Okay, yes, that did happen. It was an oven malfunction, I swear! The oven got too hot one day due to a temperature problem with the thermostat and when I took the pan out, the glass bread pan exploded everywhere and I was finding tiny bits of glass in corners for weeks. I reminded her that I’d made hundreds, maybe thousands of loaves of bread over the years and had only blown up one pan.

So we got started and I had her doing every step on her own, me just watching. She started stirring in the flour and she was getting a little tired of stirring and she said, “Don’t we have electronics for this now?” Well, yes, in fact I did have a bread machine once. It was a gift, and I tried it out a few times, but it’s just not homemade bread if it isn’t made by hand, and I have no idea where that bread machine is now.

Making bread from scratch without using a bread machine takes some effort, but there are several benefits–for one thing, kneading bread is great exercise and good stress relief–but more importantly, putting your fist into the dough is like touching the past. People, particularly women, have done this very thing, stuck their fists into dough and kneaded it to a perfect elastic ball, for thousands of years. My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and my great-great-grandmother made this bread, stuck their fists into this dough. There are few things left in this sophisticated day and age that are more elemental, more intrinsic to human existence, more real, than making bread.

I explained all of this to my daughter, and her eyes glazed over slightly, then I pointed out, “You are the only granddaughter, remember? That makes you the Keeper of the Bread.” Now that made sense to her, and suddenly she was very proud. And once she got into it, she thought kneading was fun. All that punching, you know. Her first batch of bread turned out great, and she couldn’t stop reminding her brothers that she’d made it, all by herself, and to this day, she is proud to make what she named Grandmother Bread. The recipe is a longtime family secret, passed from hand to hand, never written down, but you can find it here. In a world where baking homemade bread is a dying art, maybe you can be a Keeper of the Bread, too. And if you’ve never made homemade bread, learn how to make bread with a nine-year-old.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on December 19, 2007  

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  1. 12-19
    10:02
    am

    I would rather muck out a stall than be in the kitchen. I have never made bread, other than via bread machine, and I don’t think I ever will. :lol:

    However, my mom always has made her bread from scratch and still does: white, whole wheat, and raisin bread are the three stand-bys.

    I admit, there is nothing quite like the aroma of fresh bread from the oven, and nothing quite like its taste, still warm and slathered in *real* butter.

    I’m hungry now!

    -Kim

  2. 12-19
    10:23
    am

    Mmmmm…homemade bread. My mother is amazing in the kitchen – and she’s taught me pretty much everything. I need to do better about teaching my two boys the ins and outs of cooking.

    My mother has her Christmas cookies that she makes every year, and I’m trying to start a tradition of candy making.

    So many memories of being in the kitchen with my mom! Kudos to you for doing so much wih your daughter. Happy baking!

  3. 12-19
    10:40
    am

    I. Am. So. Hungry. Now.

    You are right though, there is just something about homemade bread!

  4. 12-19
    1:31
    pm

    I think that is one of the sweetest posts I’ve ever read. Congrats to your daughter!! That is quite an accomplishment for a “modern” 9 year old girl. :) I may just have to try that recipe out. I used to make homemade rolls but never bread.

  5. 12-19
    1:58
    pm

    I used to make bread and rolls all of the time. I have arthritis in my hands and fingers now, so have to rely on a bread machine.

  6. 12-19
    2:30
    pm

    I go through a 25 lb bag of flour fairly quickly, but bread isnt’ the only thing I make with it. I make corn bread too. :mrgreen:

  7. 12-19
    4:32
    pm

    I think you’ve done it Suzanne! You’ve turned me into a Keeper of the Bread! I haven’t baked bread for at least 30 years, but I am willing to start again. There is nothing nicer than the smells coming from a bread-baking oven! I loved this post! Very sentimental and sweet! Your daughter is a lucky girl!

  8. 12-19
    5:42
    pm

    The first time my mother taught me to make bread, mine came out better than hers. *g* I never heard the end of it! We have a recipe in my family that seem to be passed down, Spaghetti (and we’re not Italian!). Now, my daughter watches and helps me make it and someday she will make it for her family. *g*

    I hope you’re having a great week.

  9. 12-19
    5:47
    pm

    My husband and I are hardcore homemade bread makers. We still occasionally buy store bread, but we regularly bake bread and all our friends and acquaintances love the bounty of bread baking day. We buy wheat berries in 25 pound buckets and grind our own flour. And, no, we are not freaks. Just regular town folks who think modern life keeps us at a distance from our food source, to our own detriment. Kudos to you for passing on the “craft” to your daughter.

  10. 12-19
    11:32
    pm

    Wow, Suzanne! What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it.

  11. 2-26
    3:44
    pm

    Living in WV, you learn to make biscuits, it’s a given for most of us. When I got married and moved to Biloxi, Mississippi, my biscuits were not light and fluffy but flat and hard. It made you recall the episode of The Clampetts where Jed used Ellie Mays’ biscuits for target practice. I tried various flours and combinations but alas, all were failures. Finally I decided it was due to the elevation and I was not to blame. 3 years later we moved to Missouri. Wow! It’s more like WV so I will be able to make biscuits again. Not so. Still flat, still hard, still unedible. Now I’m back and once again the biscuits are wonderful. I don’t know about how wild and wonderful the rest of my life is but the biscuits are better here than anywhere.

  12. 4-16
    7:12
    pm

    I can’t wait to try this grandmother bread! I LOVE to bake bread and I am excited to see how this bread compares to my usual recipes. I really want to try the cheesy poached eggs and the stuffed french toast! Thanks for sharing your family secrets with me!

  13. 4-23
    5:13
    pm

    I LOVED watching this …it makes me want to bake bread…it was truly helpful! I loved the tips of not using too much flour…ect. Your daughter is so cute!

  14. 5-4
    5:16
    pm

    I made Grandmother bread again today…it rose! I had new yeast! However I do think I need to work on my technique, because I see Princess up there, with the dough NEATLY in both hands and I had dough all OVER my hands, sticking like glue. I had to pry it off my hands. It is also a tad messy getting out of dishrags. LOL
    But, it rose and I also need to work on the shape, because I didn’t really shape it. So, I have two perfectly LARGE squares. LOL (I used 3 cups warm water)…I think I could have gotten it a bit more brown too..I baked it 25. Lightly brown. We are going to eat it with supper and I can’t wait! I think it’s going to be soooo good. I still think Princess can bake bread better.
    I had one small mishap…dropping a tupperware bowl of flour on the floor, but thankfully, it was not upside down. Only a small amt. spilled out, so I could use my trusty dirt devil hand vac…LOL

  15. 5-15
    10:35
    pm

    I have a Mormon bread recipe that is good…I had a Mormon friend and got her mom’s recipe…my mom made it and it was VERY good. Makes alot of bread…it is part whole wheat and white flour. I am going to try it with all white, because one, I HATE wheat and the older you get, the harder it is to digest while grains/wheat, ect. I read. I do know it calls for honey. I think it only mentions one rise…but I remember my friend eating her sandwhichs on it and it was so soft and wonderful. I know for all those loaves, she mentions kneading it for 12-15 minutes, so I am gessing that if I cut that recipe in half, I should only have to knead it about 5 minutes. I think the whole recipe is for about 4 loaves and two mini loaves. Those Mormons are all about bread and storing food up, let me tell you. :mrgreen:

  16. 5-15
    10:36
    pm

    sorry, that is whole grains, not while grains above. LOL

  17. 6-10
    9:23
    am

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your website. I laugh and cry with my coffee each morning. Thank you so much for all the time you take and the lovely things you share in it– it is like going down an old dirt road and following the twists and turns along the way – and so many little side roads to discover!

    I have both of my grandma’s recipe boxes- so much of it was a pinch of this or handful of that, but many were written down- to be followed loosely, as they were “guestimations” and you have to go by ‘feel’, lol. I make my grandma’s rolls now and her sugar cookies and her mother’s Christmas cake… all made by the women who came before her.

    Bless you!

  18. 6-27
    12:09
    am

    My husband and I recently started making homemade whole wheat bread for sandwiches. It is so good, I told him I don’t want to ever buy store bought bread again!

  19. 11-4
    10:37
    am

    Ok if your 9 year old daughter can make the bread, then a 31 year old guy can make it too. I was a little afraid till now. I believe I can do it. Thank you P.S. If the bread turns out real good,since I will do it, I will pass it on to my daughter.

  20. 9-2
    2:49
    pm

    Thank you so much for your sharing of daily real life.
    My husband grew up on a farm and is in no hurry to try an entire farm (he is 73), but I know he is looking forward to fresh vegetables. I used to bake all the time, but haven’t for years. I’m disabled with fibromyalgia and in horrible pain most of the time, but I’m thinking of starting to do one thing a day that makes my heart sing. Nothing does that like making yeast bread. I’m fascinated by a yeast bread with no dairy so I’m going to try this recipe. I, too have many recipes from my mother (alas, whole my grandmother baked constantly, my mother kept none of those recipes), and love to prepare those dishes from my childhood. Thank you so much for reminding me of those heart-singing moments.

  21. 7-26
    12:33
    pm

    I think this is a lovely post, I am a mom of 4 children, 11 years, 6 years, 5 years & 10 months. Two boys & two girls. The three older children have all learned how to make bread, usually they starter learning around 4 ( but my 5 year old was making bread at 2 mostly because I am a baker, and she wanted to do what mommy was doing).
    It will probably never be there chore (mostly because out house gets the cast off from the business), but they will all know how to make it when they go off on there own on day.

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