Eating three meals a day as a family in Texas, I had no idea that a person could make a loaf of bread in their own kitchen with their own ingredients with equipment and supplies regularly on hand. I had a tour of the Butternut Bakery in grade school, seeing and smelling the process of creating fluffy white bread. A family from Sweden moved in across from my family’s house when I was in grade school
and they owned a bakery. I remember my dad hoping their car wouldn’t start so he could go over and help them… in anticipation of a “thank-you” of an almond bread ring. The closest I ever got to seeing homemade bread was refrigerator biscuits (Can you guess I am a child of the 50’s?). We would occasionally snazz them up by dipping them in melted oleo and then cinnamon sugar, overlapping them to create a ring of sweet and chewy dough.
Somehow, this Texas city girl had the good fortune to marry a Kansas farm boy. His mother was about as stereotypically a farm wife as possible. She was a master in the kitchen. By the time I married off- spring number six of eight, the farmhands were a thing of the past but she had not yet learned to scale back her meal preparation to accommodate a “normal” number of people around her table. She got her worth and kudos and jollies all from producing amazing food in the kitchen. She could whip up a six or seven dish meal in moments, it seemed. Fried chicken (raised and slaughtered on the farm), hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad (multiple varieties), innumerable variations of Jello concoctions, green beans with and without mushroom soup and canned onion rings, smashed and mashed potatoes, green rice from the Stephen’s Apple Orchard cookbook, peas and corn, and occasionally, a green salad. It was amazing and overwhelming, intimidating and so much fun, watching her wield her skills, preparing for family and friends and friends of family.
Baking was the real wonder to me. Maybe I inherited my father’s love of yeasty dough. Seemingly out of nowhere, breads adorned with raisins, rolls with spirals of cinnamon and butter, loaves so white and fresh that they melted in your mouth appeared on my Mother-in-law’s table. Rolls of various forms and flavors seemed to grow from the pans in her kitchen. At one meal, there would be dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls and maybe even biscuits to pass around the table. For a girl who thought knocking the tube of biscuits on the side of the counter to pop it open the with the first hit was baking skill, I was in awe.
Baking became a hobby for me. Watching Mom-in-law and learning from her, I began to read and experiment. My first attempts were dismal enough that when I actually did make some loaves that rose enough to resemble a loaf of bread, my husband took photos of them. They were a bit flat and heavy, but they did rise and they were edible, so we counted it as success.
Over the years and with five children to experiment on (and who were profuse with their preferences and critiques), I have come to be a baker to rival my Mother-in-law. Here are a few of my tried and true, favorite family recipes with stories and tips to entertain and enlighten you in your bread baking journey.