Feels Like Home To Me

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ElinorD kneading bread dough

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On days when crisp fall fades to a dusk that chills the toes, I always think of home. Because on days like this, my house smells like baking bread.

In the eighteen years that I lived at home, I don’t think my mother ever once bought a loaf of bread. It was one of those tasks, like laundry, that you just do yourself, no matter how tiresome. Perhaps the most familiar scene from my childhood is Mom, with the huge aluminum bowl on the table in the middle of that beat-up linoleum floor and horrible burnt-yellow wallpaper, making bread.

Ingredients:

5-lb. bag of white flour (more or less)
½ c. lard
2 T. salt
1/3 c. sugar
2 T. yeast dissolved in 5 ½ c. warm water (potato water if you have it)

Dump half the flour in a large pan. Measure in lard, salt & sugar. Cut in lard & stir. Add yeast water and stir, adding flour as it gets incorporated.

We’d prop our hands on brown-vinyl chair backs and the cabinet and swing back and forth, regaling her with stories. She never stopped folding dough onto itself, the table squeaking under the force of her arms, a sound you heard and recognized wherever you were in the house. I never understood how she did it. Even today my arms wear out long before the bread’s ready.

When dough is too stiff to stir, continue kneading with hands, at least fifteen minutes, till texture is smooth and satiny. “You can’t knead bread too much,” she says.

At last, she’d slap the dough on the table and dig floury fingers into the lard bucket, smearing it around the bowl to keep the dough from sticking. She’d put the big ball in, rub it around, flip it over, then cover the top to keep it moist for the next couple hours as the smell of yeast permeated the front rooms.

Let rise until doubled. Punch down, let rise again.

Sometimes she didn’t get started early enough in the day, and the smell was late blossoming, twining with roast beef and potatoes and apple pie. I was almost sorry on those days, because it was hard to pick out the smell.

Cut dough ball into quarters. Knead and shape each piece into loaves. Place into pans greased with lard and turn to coat the loaf. Let rise until doubled.

Those nights, we’d all go to bed and Mom would stay up, sitting at the table reading, waiting for the loaves to finish rising and then baking. I always felt sorry for her, but I wonder now if some part of her relished that quiet solitude.

Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes. Turn out onto cooling racks and smear with bacon grease to lock the moisture in.

Now, as then, warm homemade bread with butter and honey is my favorite of all indulgences. Brownies and ice cream are decadent, but fresh bread is soul food. It means home.

Write on Edge: RemembeRED

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15 thoughts on “Feels Like Home To Me

  1. earlybird

    You are so right, fresh bread really is ‘home’. I loved this ‘Sometimes she didn’t get started early enough in the day, and the smell was late blossoming, twining with roast beef and potatoes and apple pie. ‘

    I’m lazy about making bread as I have a baker’s nearby but when I do my arms ‘wear out long before the bread’s ready’ too!

  2. Wonderful how many different manifestations of bread there are, and how for so many of us they represent comfort and home. I love the way you add perspective with “Mom would stay up, sitting at the table reading, waiting for the loaves to finish rising and then baking. I always felt sorry for her, but I wonder now if some part of her relished that quiet solitude.” Great sensory description 🙂

  3. Galit Breen

    I adore the way you wove the recipe into your memories and the masterful way that you shared your senses with the reader.

    From the yellow wallpaper to the squeaky table to the greasy lard- I was right there.

    Lovely memory, lovely story telling.

    • Actually, mine is a variant, but I was under a word count so I couldn’t include it. LOL. I’m starting to work wheat flour in now, and I have to make the loaves one at a time in the bread machine. But when I started making bread, I took Mom’s recipe and did much complicated mathematics to figure out poundage-to-cup and cup-to-tablespoon conversions. So yes, it is my mom’s bread…more or less. 🙂

      Oh yes, and the other part I didn’t have room for was that this is actually my dad’s mom’s recipe for bread, and SHE uses bacon grease, not lard! And let me tell you, it is YUM-MY.

  4. Marcie

    Bread is soul food! My grandma lived 1 block from my high school and on bread days (Monday) I would head over right after school, before after school activities, to delight in a freshly cut piece smothered in real butter and the warmth (temperature and spirit) of her kitchen. Thanks for the memory!

  5. It is a good thing that I was already planning on making bread today or I might be quite annoyed with you for posting this. Because how could one read this and not want homemade bread? ::dreamy sigh:;

  6. Ted Sander

    The ring on the finger is a dead giveaway that those were not my hands, although when I saw how red and chapped they were, it made me ‘own’ them immediately. However, I always took my diamond off before I kneaded the bread if I was wearing it. Other than the ring, those could have been my hands.

    PS I’ll let you in on a secret. Once in a while I DID get behind and had to buy a loaf of bread, but it wasn’t very often:)!

    Mom

  7. Oh I loved your ending lines. They were beautiful. I also really liked the way you intertwined the recipe with the memory. You made me remember those times my Mom and I baked our own bread (we mostly bought ours, even after the advent of the bread machine). My favorite part was punching down the dough. I’d pepper Mom with questions for hours until it was FINALLY time.

    I found you through the RemembeRed linkup 🙂

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