Monday, July 4, 2011

Homemade Bread--A Story of Generations

As many of my friends and readers know, homemade bread in my family is a tradition at Christmas and Easter.  We always make the most delicious Italian Anise Seed Bread (a.k.a. Easter Bread).  This is a recipe that came from the "old country."  My grandmother (my father's mother) used to make it and my mother watched her and wrote out the recipe.  My mother made it every holiday and as I got older, my sister and I have carried on the tradition.

I don't really recall knowing of any other bread my mother made.  But recently, I have been reading about her family history--an extensive collection that my dear, but a bit crazy, Aunt Agnes put together.  Aunt Aggie was a school teacher, so she carefully researched the family tree and has many supporting documents.  The real treasure is that Aggie remembered to include the stories.  And I love stories.

My great grandmother, a.k.a. Mother Sharo, immigrated to the United States from Austria.  Included in the research, over and over, is mention of my her bread making here, in her new home--a small coal-mining town in West Virginia.  She didn't just make bread, as the story is told, she formed a community.   

Mother Sharo didn't like the new ovens and had an outdoor oven, just like in the "old country."  According to her daughter, Mary, "I can still taste the homemade bread Mom would make in the brick oven outdoors.  We couldn't wait for it to be done.  And we would load it with lots and lots of homemade butter."  The trainmen would always stop off for Mother Sharo's bread and other food.  Her "outdoor baking permeated the thick coal-dust air...many town folks would appear to get huge slices of warm bread plus homemade butter and blackberry jelly...It was a party each time as some of the people brought their own liquids to drink, such as milk for the children and homemade beer and wine for grownups." (Agnes Levicki)

Upon reading this to my children, my daughter asked if we could make the bread sometime.  I told her I thought it was a grand idea.  She said we should carry on the tradition and I agreed.  Since I plan to visit my mother this weekend, I thought I would surprise her with the bread, so we made some today.  The recipe was poorly written by today's standards, but being familiar with the bread-making process, I had no problems at all.  The dough easily kneaded in my hands.  My 7-year old daughter commented that she would be making this bread with her daughter someday, too.  I had to smile.  History will live on.

Soon, my house was filled with the aroma of fresh-baked bread.  I can easily understand why the townspeople came and the trainman stopped.  We couldn't wait for it to come out of the oven.   I could tell cutting the bread that the texture was incredible.  It lent itself to be cut in thick slices, just as my great-grandmother did.  I slapped on some butter (sorry, although I know how to make homemade butter, this came from the store).  There is only one word to describe this bread--HEAVENLY!

Maybe it is something about the recipe, but I have a feeling that I will carry on this tradition--and distribute loaves for my friends and neighbors to enjoy.

Thank you, Katherine, for the tradition!

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