Friday, December 17, 2010

Baking The Bread

Today I am baking the bread. The recipe I got from my mother who got from what her sister had pieced together from their mother’s recipe. The recipe had never been written down but brought with my grandmother when she came to this country from Greece over a century ago. And I imagine this same recipe has been in my family for generations.

This is the fourth time I have baked this bread. The first was a feeble attempt that resulted in loaves that would better serve as door stops than sweet bread to eat on New Year’s morning. It turned out that while my mother did have a written recipe, it didn’t include every step. Much of it remained in her head ready to draw on when needed.

The second year I baked it with my mother. I took my lap top with me and this time, wrote my own version of the recipe, with all those missing pieces. It wasn’t easy getting it all out of her but I managed. That year the bread was a success.

Last year was the first time I succeeded on my own. The bread was delicious even if not the perfect round that my mother’s has always been. But Mom approved, deciding it looked like a bird.

The Bird Bread. December 2009
There were still several calls to my mother, some necessary and some just because I wanted her to feel involved in the process.

See Mom has always been the baker. Not me. I prefer to cook, sometimes elaborate meals, always the kind where you needn’t be so exact with measurements as you must be in baking. But Mom stopped baking the bread four years ago. It was too much for her. Her knees don’t allow her to stand up for that long and her arthritis gets in the way of the kneading.

You see this recipe does not use any modern baking machines. The kneading is by hand, for a full twenty minutes, according to Mom’s directions. There are three risings and so it requires a full day in a warm house that is quiet and full of love.

Love, in addition to a secret Greek spice called mahlepi, I found out the year I took my own notes is the secret ingredient.

Which is probably why I get so emotional when I make this bread. I feel as if I am standing in the kitchen not just with me, but with my mother and all the generations of women in my family who came before me. I never knew my grandmother Marika. She died long before I was borne. Yet this morning as I marveled at how well the yeast had doubled and pressed my fists into the dough I was sure I could feel her smiling next to me. 

My mother told me yesterday how proud she was that I was continuing this tradition. I told her I did it for her. With great love.




Are there family traditions you continue each year?
Are you a baker or a cook or both?

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