Monday, November 29, 2010

Bread of Life

They thought my grandmother was having nervous breakdowns -- she was close to sixty, depressed, anorexic, sleepless, and jagged. Doctors gave her valium and sent her home. She decided to try one more doctor and he asked her, “Mabel, what do you eat?” and she answered him honestly, “Coffee for breakfast, then I muck out six or seven stalls, go to work in the shop, and if I have time, I eat a bag of Oreo’s around two or three pm, and home for dinner, maybe a hamburger or a potato.” He held her hand, I’m sure it was shaking. He ran a few tests on her and told her she was not a Nerve Case, she was Hypoglycemic and she needed to feed her affliction. By the time I moved into the house in 1969, she was much healthier and happier. She was very careful to keep sugar and white flour out of the house, something that was a task back then -- she baked her own bread because whole grain breads were not in the grocery stores. Everyone who knew my grandmother loved her bread, when people remember her today, they recall her bread. it was Oatmeal Bread, and she made four loaves a week. I still have the gigantic yellowware bowl she used to make the dough in. Her recipe was her own adaptation of James Beard’s Oatmeal Health Bread (from Beard on Bread) -- she perfected the recipe after years of experimenting. But the recipe lived in her head, she did it all by feel. A few years before she died, I asked her to write the recipe for me and do you know what? It was two pages long and I only have the first page -- the second page was lost in one of my many moves over the years I suppose, and this is one of those tiny tragedies of life.

So here’s what I have, word for word:

2 Loaves

375 degrees for 35 minutes


1 cup oatmeal (old fash)
2 cups boiling water
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup dark molasses
tbsp yeast
about 5 - 6 cups flour (1/2 wheat 1/2 unbleached white or 2/3 wheat 1/3 unbleached white(better))
1 cup raisins (blanched for five minutes in hot water)

Put oatmeal in large bowl. Pour boiling hot water on it. Let stand til cool. Then add salt, molasses, melted butter, and yeast which has been mixed with warm water (not quite HOT more than warm), about a quarter cup of water for the yeast), finally add flour somewhere between 3 1/2 to 4 cups. You may need more or less flour but you are going to add more anyway after the 1st rising. After mixing well set to rise in a warm place about 2 hours - should rise to twice amount.

Now add balance of flour, knead on bread board as long as . . .

That’s it, that’s all I have. I have never attempted to make Mom’s Bread, because I don’t have the second page. BUT I have decided I am going to do it -- I have Beard on Bread as a Rosetta Stone of sorts, and I figure her ghost will sit on my shoulder and whisper the rest in my ear . . . I am not a baker, but my instinct tells me that I should split the dough in to two loaves after the first kneading and put it in the loaf pans to bake. Suggestions are welcome, within reason of course.

1 comment:

Robert said...

So she made the flour into a loaf of bread, and put it into the oven. Then, she sat and rested. Soon, as the bread become hot and soft, the air filled with the sweet smell of freshly baked bread. The pig and the cat and the duck all came running into the big red barn.

"Who will help me eat this bread?" said the little red hen.

"I will!" oinked the pig.

"I will!" meowed the cat.

"I will!" quacked the duck.

"Cluck cluck, well," said the hen, "Did you help me plant the wheat, and did you help me harvest the wheat, and did you help me mill the wheat, and did you help me bake the bread?"

The other animals all shook their heads no.

"Then I will eat the bread myself," said the little red hen. And she did.