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Basic Bread: Homemade Food and the Rhythm of Life

My mother has a book of hand written recipes that provide a map to my childhood. It’s as old as I am, 29 years old. The grease stains and little globs of dough stuck on the pages tell a story: my mother in the kitchen pouring, sifting, mixing, kneading and shaping food for our family. She made it a priority to provide the family with food with the most wholesome nutrition. ‘Wholesome’ meant making everything from start to finish at home. We ate homemade yogurts, popsicles, jams, cookies, casseroles, stews, garden fresh and canned vegetables and breads.

As a child, I learned about the days of the week by making bread. Every Monday started with making two loaves of bread. As the bread dwindled during the week, I knew that bread making day was coming soon.

I loved making bread with my mother. Molding the soft dough to an elastic ball and watching the elasticity give away to softness again under the sun’s warmth gave me a sense of life’s constant cycles.

Making bread set a rhythm to my family’s life. The bread recipes in my mother’s book are a reflection of this. There’s the steady Basic Whole Wheat Bread I, the malleable Basic Whole Wheat Bread II, the fixed Rye and Bran Breads, and the fun Raisin Bread. Every week we cycled through these recipes.

When I look through them today, I realize that all of the bread recipes are founded on the Basic Whole Wheat Bread I. There are only a few ingredients that are essential to producing ‘bread’. All other breads are just embellishments of the basic. Over the years, I go back to the basic bread recipe to remind myself of what’s essential in life-good food, family, clean air and water, peace.

Thinking I would revive a dessert recipe for Thanksgiving, I recently pulled out my mother’s recipe book. I poured over the pages, noticing which were worn and which remained fresh and free from food stains. My sister noticed the book and said, «We haven’t cooked from that for years.» She was right. Between all of our jobs, night school, overflowing schedules and changing habits, the recipe book has remained idle. I opened to the first page «Basic Whole Wheat Bread I.»

I decide that this year, I would forgo the dessert and go back to the basic.

Basic Whole Wheat Bread I: (two large loaves)

1 T. dry yeast

3 ½ C. warm water

2 T. raw sugar

2 t. salt

8-9 whole wheat flour Grease two large loaf pans (9″ x 5 x 2 ¾ «)

Pour the water into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it. Allow the yeast to dissolve, about 5 min. Add sugar, salt, and about 4 cups of flour. Stir well. Continue stirring and adding flour, a little at a time, until the dough becomes stiff and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead for 5-7 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into two equal parts, shape, and place in bread pans. Cover with clean dish towel and allow dough to rise in a warm spot until about double in bulk.

Preheat the oven for 350 degrees F.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until done.