"When I write stories I am like someone who is in her own country, walking along streets that she has known since she was a child, between walls and trees that are hers." --Natalia Ginsburg

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Art of Breadmaking

I made bread yesterday because I was missing my Mom. The whole process from setting the yeast to turning those crusty golden loaves out of their pans was immensely satisfying. As I prepared the yeast and poured the hot water over the olive oil, I let the salt sift slowly through my fingers and thought of when Mom taught me to make bread.

I was about sixteen and I asked her for a recipe for her bread. She told me she didn't have one but I could make it and she would guide me through the process.

It was seemingly a lesson in vagueness. Everything was measured by her eye, from the amount of yeast in the cup with warm water, to the boiling water in the bowl, the gob of shortening, (her expression of measurement), and the salt she poured from the box.

So I went through the same process under her watchful eye. When the yeast was foamy and the shortening water had cooled, I mixed those and started adding flour, swirling the dry lumps into a smooth silky mixture. I kept adding flour until I couldn't stir in anymore. Turning it out onto a floured surface I folded it toward me, turning it in a circle as I had seen Mom do and just kept pulling it towards me again and again adding a little flour as needed. The movements felt awkward but like the dough, smoothed out as I went. Mom watched and checked from time to time to correct a movement or to feel the texture and density, encouraging me to feel it too.

As the right resistance was reached I gathered the entire mass and put it in the bowl to rise. I gave it a good smack with my hand.
Mom looked at me curiously and asked, "Why did you do that?"
I shrugged and said, "Because you always do it. Why do you do it?"
She tilted her head to one side chuckled and said, "Because my mother always did".

It gave me a warm feeling to be connected not only to my mother but to a grandmother I never knew. Mother to daughter to grand-daughter.

My small batch yielded six loaves. The joy is in the process.......for me it slows down my thoughts,and the process is soothing in the movements and the textures. There was satisfaction turning out those fragrant loaves onto the counter and knowing they came from my own hands--and pleasure in knowing that I had extra loaves to share with family and friends. As I buttered slices for the kids to eat with their homemade stew my heart was much lighter. Thanks Mom.


  1. Beautiful story Di..I could visualize it all.I made my first batch at Mom and Dads this past week, so its very near to my heart now too. I'll give it a "smack" just for you next time I make it!!!

  2. Thank-you Anonymous, for your kind words and for the first official comment ;)

  3. I learned from the best as well :)
    'Jean the Bean'

  4. What a wonderful memory of your Mom! Thanks for sharing!

  5. i make bread the same way ive only did it a few time but always turns out

  6. It's a good feeling isn't it--did your mom ever tell you about Nanny helping her with one of her first batches of bread? Ask her sometime. xo

  7. Can I slap the dough when you teach me to make bread?!? *nag nag

    1. Yes and we will do that soon---pick a Saturday!

  8. I love this story Dianne not only because it reminds of your Mom but also how similiar my Mom and Aunt Jean are. I can remember when Mom gave me her "recipe" for bread too which consisted of a pinch of this and a little of that. In spite of her "measurements", I managed to make myself bread the old fashioned way and that was probably also because of hours spent on the end of the kitchen table, watching Mom slap her bread :) These are great memories to share!

  9. Thanks Nancy--this is one of my favorite memories of time spent with Mom.I appreciate the support and feedback on my writing!

  10. loved the story ....keep writing

  11. I loved every word and was misty eyed......keep at it!