Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Smell of Fresh Baked Bread

(Looking out over the Wisconsin channel of the Mississippi River, my grandparent's porch)

Last night a friend, @jenmontfort, posted a wonderful photo of her grandmother's recipe drawer along with one of a cookbook her grandmother had put together. We had a lovely chat discussing our respective grandmother's recipes, how lucky we were to have these culinary treasures, the notations they made by certain dishes...and then we got to bread. Fresh, amazing, homemade bread. I could sense we both had the same kind of ecstatic memories when it came to our grandmother's delightful, soft, delicious, fresh out of the oven, loaves of love. *Literally, picture the classic cartoon image of someone floating helplessly toward a heavenly scent...that's how good my grandmother's homemade bread smelled.*

I make a number of recipes that were my grandmother's. Her coleslaw, her pie crust, her cookies, her rhubarb custard pie...all special taste memories that I really enjoy recreating. My cousins do too, from what I can tell, we have reminisced many times about the special cakes or pies that Grandma K made for us on our birthdays or how she'd always send cookies home with us. My grandmother's pineapple rolls, pecan rolls, and cherry turnovers were always among the first to go at the Rosary Society bake sales at the Immaculate Conception Church in Fountain City, Wisconsin.

What none of us have ever really mastered, however, is her bread. And make no mistake, bread was a staple in their home--there was no low-carb or carb-free diet at grandma's. In the morning there was toast, on the lunch table--along with pickles, some kind of meat and vegetables--there was a stack of sliced bread; on the dinner table, the same. I can't imagine how many times a week she baked, but there were always pies and cookies in the freezer and fresh bread on the table. And there was always a little something sweet for dessert--maybe a dream bar, or apple crisp; a raspberry pie with cream cheese on the bottom (that was her special treat for me); or a few of her frosted sugar cookies that we all called "Grandma Cookies."

Several times when I was quite young I remember "helping" her (read as: likely being in her way) but as a teenager--and for many years after--the thought of cooking, let alone baking bread was WAY off my radar. But the sensory memories of her baking have never left me. This bread was so important that I once Fed-Exed it overnight to a boyfriend to show him how incredible my baking lineage was--a complete ruse, really, but I know he gobbled the bread appreciatively nonetheless. Thankfully he's never asked me to make good on those bread baking skills in the years since then.

I've had a few wondrous, "choirs-of-angels" bread related experiences--the fresh baguettes on Rue Lepic in Paris, a pain de compagne that was part of an unforgettable picnic at Pointe du Hoc, a little sourdough boule that I tore at while walking the ramparts in St. Malo--so I hold a good loaf in the highest of esteem. But no loaf, boule, or baguette will ever come close to the warm, crusty, loaves of love that were served up daily on that little table, in the small kitchen, with the picture window overlooking the mighty Mississippi River.

Someday I will make a loaf of bread worthy of the memory of Viola. It wont be in the well-worn loaf pans she used, and I don't have a radiator to put the large aluminum bowl on to speed the rising process of the dough...but maybe in my own small way (with reasonable expectations) I can recreate my own little slice of heaven.

1 comment:

sid fernando said...

I could smell and taste that bread. I, too, have vivid sensory memories of bread and sweet rolls from my youth, and everytime we pass a small commercial bread maker here in brooklyn, on 26th street between 5th and 4th avenues, the wafts of that smell you describe so well bring my youth racing back. Amazing, that bread.