My grandma spent most of her childhood on the farm where I now live. In her time, things were a lot different. They knew how to live off the land a lot more efficiently than we do today, and the knowledge that my grandma has is invaluable. They had a huge garden that they preserved a lot of to get them through the winter, a milk cow, chickens, ducks, horses and grain. Grocery store bread was barely even available back then, so they made most if not all of it by hand. I've been spending time with my grandma over the last couple of years learning her bread making technique. She's also taught me how to make chokecherry jelly, pickles, and countless other baked goods. Her homemade mac and cheese is the bees knees. I am so thankful for her and spending time learning from her is quite enjoyable!
Recently, we tried another batch of bread. My grandma had carpal tunnel surgery last year on one hand, and her other hand has it now too. So she hasn't been able to make bread for about a year - I did most of the mixing! She was joking about having lost her technique but she certainly hasn't.
When we got close to having enough flour in the batch, she took over and got the dough to just the right consistency. How she knows when it's just right is owed to her years of experience baking bread. It's a skill that will take time and effort for me to learn.
My loaves were a bit misshapen, and all different sizes. I'm still not quite sure if I got her ratios just right in the recipe - she can do things like measure salt in handfuls. Well how many teaspoons is that grandma! She just simply knows when there is enough and stops adding. When she first started baking, they didn't have electric ovens like we do now. They used coal and wood to make a hot fire to cook over. Today, we simply have to punch in a temperature and our oven does the rest. How things have changed! We are losing that simple knowing of when things are 'just right'.
My grandma lost her mother at a very young age. So her bread making technique was passed down to her from my Aunt Dee who was very much like a mother to her, and likely from her mother before that. I am so happy to be learning her ways so that I can continue to pass the knowledge down to future generations.
We live in a society that places much value on youth and beauty. While I am certainly enjoying my youth and I do enjoy beautiful things, I think wisdom and experience are of much greater value. We can learn so many things by listening to the wisdom of an elder. Our older generations have seen great change throughout their life - they went from wood burning stoves to flick a switch heat. From preserving and preparing to survive the winter to getting their food from a grocery store. They know things that we have never had to learn, but that we one day might be forced to relearn. A part of me yearns to get back to the basics, to a simpler time when life was different. We can never go back of course, but what we can do is start to realise the value of 'elder wisdom'. Maybe it can help us move towards a better future, a simpler time.
While spending time with her baking bread, I also get the opportunity to learn from her, to hear about times passed. And to also spend time with my grandpa, who is a classic goofball. He is the most young at heart person I know, always cracking jokes and goofing around. I feel very lucky to be able to spend time with them both.
Here's my grandma's recipe. As I said, it may not be exactly right but the measurements are as close as I could get them. It's the most delicious bread I've ever had!
Grandma's Homemade Bread
8-9c hot water
8 tsp yeast
16-20c unbleached stoneground flour
Mix together all ingredients except flour, and let stand until water cools. Next gradually add your flour while mixing the whole time. Dough will be ready when it no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl and your hands. Punch down, cover and let rise for an hour or until doubled in size. Separate dough into 6-8 greased loaf pans (if you make the top of your loaves smooth, they will be 'prettier) and let rise an hour more. Preheat your oven to 350F, and bake for 25 minutes. Rotate loves in the oven, and bake for 25 minutes more.Photos by JMW Photos