Clare County Review & Marion Press

Postcard from the Pines: Small Appliance Season

The ‘give the gift of small appliances’ season is fast approaching. You know what I mean; the trendy and/or cheap small appliances are often the gift of choice this time of year. Everything from food processors and toaster ovens to salad shooters, cookie shooters, Foreman type fryers of any kind, Crockpot’s of any size and waffle makers; all fall into the incredibly popular small appliance gift category.
We got a bread machine at Christmas a few years ago. It was a large boxy appliance that took up too much storage. But we loved the ease of it, and that it turned out a loaf of bread in two hours. We could whip up a fresh loaf each day and consume the entire thing with little difficulty. It was tasty and dangerous. We moved it on to what should be a better home.
The trouble with the bread machine, other than the storage and sometimes the product, was that it took the treat away from real homemade bread. We used to consider fresh bread and a batch of cinnamon rolls something to look forward to; we savored every thought. It takes time to produce a batch of homemade bread and rolls from scratch by hand; it was a day’s project.
Super fast yeast and the controlled environment of the bread machine took away the tactile elements of the process and the by hand functions of it all. Mix, let rise, punch down, let rise and punch down again, and so on. This is what makes homemade bread homemade, and so highly individual. Bread preparation sends the aroma of the living yeast, flour and other ingredients through the house all day and greets one at the door. The smell of bread baking is a scent you can’t get in a spray can.
Anyone can dump pre-measured mix into a machine, add the correct temperature of water and expect relatively uniform results. Mix it and forget it. I prefer to follow instructions given me by Aunt Cris’s Bigford, who baked something daily for years. This recipe, written in her hand, begins “to a pint of not too hot water add….” She was such a pro that her directions were given with rather vague measurements and terms such as “about”, “a pinch or two”, “enough to handle well” and “until it doubles” are scattered throughout. When the bread was ready to be baked it was “struck” into a “moderate” oven; a vague temperature setting that does not appear on my oven temperature dial, roughly somewhere around 325-350 degrees.
I like to mix Aunt Cris’s bread my mother’s large, heavy stoneware bread bowl, purchased years ago for just this purpose at Sible’s Hardware. It warms nicely, an important part of the raising process, and cradles the dough just so. I know it’s ready to punch down when the dough has reached a certain level at the rim, a tried and true measure.
After the second rising the dough is ready to go into pans. I use Grandma Ward’s well seasoned bread pans for the loaves and an old round gray granite pan for the buns or cinnamon rolls. They are tried and true, one and all.
An early recollection from Grandma Ward’s kitchen is one of watching her at the worktable, kneading bread dough with the ease and rhythm of someone who played the tune for many years. She made it appear so easy. I was particularly fascinated with the process of making buns. She would let me try my small hands at it; never too young to learn. She would “pinch off” a golf ball sized bit of dough, knead it in her hands to make it smooth and neat, dab the top with a bit of shortening and place it in the bun pan. She would then pinch off another bit of dough and repeat. Her rolls were always uniform, light as the proverbial feather, and much anticipated by all who dined at her table.
The generation in which my grandmother grew valued a woman’s ability to bake a good loaf of bread. It was an expected accomplishment. She made two loaves of bread and a pan of buns every two days, faithfully. It was a part of her routine, week in and week out for the fifty plus years of her marriage. There was always a loaf or two in her bread box and more if she knew company was coming.
Not only was a woman expected to bake a good loaf of bread but she had better be able to slice it capably as well. No wedges or hourglasses. A good uniform slice was on Grandma’s list of cooking requirements for girls too. Mom could slice with the best of them, but she couldn’t make Grandma’s bread recipe work for her no matter how many times she tried. We suffered with her many tries until Aunt Cris moved to the Pines and brought that magic recipe that begins “to a pint of not too warm water add….”
Mom, who liked appliance gadgets, would have loved the bread machine and the goods it turned out. Blessed with a metabolism she did not pass along to me, she could have eaten that loaf a day easily. As for Grandma and Aunt Cris, I think that they would have passed, opting for the tried and true. The bread machine is a thing of the past, gone with those other storage space hogs, the ceramic grill, the big deep fryer and a rarely used waffle maker.
This week’s photo is a December 1935 advertisement from the Lowry Bros. Store in Marion, Michigan. Pass the Christmas candies please!!

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