Over the past few months of having been under “stay home, stay safe” orders for the Covid-19 pandemic, many people started learning the art of bread baking – if they didn’t already know it – in part, because of food shortages in the bread department; as well, it was something to do (with a lot of time on our hands) and bread baking has been known to relieve stress! Here is what Mom has to say about that subject…
For the last few weeks, I have been writing about and sharing some of Mom’s stories (her memories) about my paternal ancestry. I found a few more of Mom’s folktales about “Grandma” and her “Backdoor Bakery”. This series of stories that Mom wrote, about 40 years ago, are based loosely, in part, on some family fables that have been passed down through the generations. I call it her “kin-folk-tales”!
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 3)
THE BACKDOOR BAKERY
(The family saga, as written by Gloria Pitzer, based on ‘kin-folk-lore’.)
Grandma never intended to bake for profit. She did it because Grandpa couldn’t keep a job. He was a talented man – restless and easily bored with the same job for very long. When the oldest daughter, Vivian, went to work in the city at the hospital, she always had something good for lunch that Grandma had baked; and, after a number of the doctors and nurses in the employees’ lunchroom had sampled the baked goods, Vivian was taking home requests to bake special orders for a fair price.
Word spread very soon about Grandma’s baking talents. If somebody wanted a wedding cake or special coffee cakes for holidays or other celebrations, Grandma took the order and filled it promptly. They finally had to turn the back ‘washroom’, next to the kitchen, into a storage and working area to accommodate another stove and more counters and cupboards.
If someone came to the house, usually up the walk to the [front] porch, and rang the pull-cord attached to the clapper on the milk-wagon bell, somebody would answer the door and direct the prospective ‘customer’ down the walk, around the flower beds, and along the gravel driveway to ‘the backdoor’.
Of course, at the back of the house, there were two doors. One went to the cellar and the other into the new kitchen room. So Grandpa hammered up a sign in the appropriate place reading: ‘This is the backdoor.’ – with an arrow pointing to it.
Soon afterward, Knowles (or Butch, as we called him – one of the older boys) added a hand-carved sign that said: ‘Bakery’. From then on, it was always called ‘The Backdoor Bakery’. And when they moved into a building in the business district of town, years later, Grandma picked one with a nice back entrance to a little traveled side-street so that the sign would be easily transferred to it.
In the introduction for the “Breads” chapter of Mom’s last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018), she says: “Homemade bread can be anything you want it to be, depending on the amount of time and effort you put into it. The ingredients are simple for a good white bread. In fact, the first time I worked with this recipe [see end of blog post], making notes of what I put in the batch, I thought I had left something out when I discovered that the final product was light and lovely and evenly textured. But after 3 or 4 more tests, I was perfectly satisfied that this was going to be my favorite white bread recipe for lack of a better name I called mine… Thunder Bread!”
Mom wrote about the secret of good bread, being in the kneading and rising of the recipe’s process; and that, given enough time, bread will rise anywhere – whether it be in the refrigerator, on the sink top, or in a dark closet! Mom advised that the more you allow kneaded dough to rise and punch it back down again, the better the texture will be.
Some fascinating pointers that Mom offered, in the practice of bread making, includes:
- Not enough salt in the dough will make it course.
- Too much shortening will make it heavy.
- Not enough shortening will make it dry.
- Eggs will make it soft like a coffee cake.
- No eggs at all will make it spongy like old-fashioned bread.
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 24)
[Below, cont’d from p. 24]
They bartered for the baked goods when they didn’t have the cash to pay. A bushel of apples or a peck of potatoes might be a fair-trade for bread, sufficient to feed a large family for a week. From the batter bread recipe, many versions of baked goods were created. Greased cupcake or muffin wells half-filled with the batter produced a good dinner roll (when baked at 375° for 20 to 25 minutes.)
Grandma insisted on one test for ‘doneness’ – tapping the crust with a finger. If it made a hollow sound – it was done! Grandma and the five girls were up at 4 AM to begin the baking each Saturday. During the bristling winter days at her ‘Back-Door Bakery’, there was a large enamel pot of lemonade keeping hot on the back of the stove.
She sold [the warm lemonade] for a few cents a cup to go along with a doughnut or cookie to those customers warming their hands over the heat of the stove before departing. When Jasper Fillmore turned up, she noted in her journal, there was a slug of Grandpa’s favorite whiskey added to it – providing no local ladies from the Temperance Society were about.
EVEN MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 42)
HOMESTEAD, HOTEL AND RESTAURANT
(The continuing family saga by Gloria Pitzer, based on ‘kin-folk-lore’.)
INSTINCTIVELY, GRANDMA KNEW what food combinations had to be ‘balanced’. She didn’t know why, nor did she anguish over the possibility that somebody in the family might be suffering from nutritional deficiencies. She didn’t fret because she lacked a formal education in the science of food chemistry or dietetics.
She just knew that 11 children grew healthy and strong with one soapy hot tub bath a week, baking soda-brushed teeth once a day, church on Sunday, school attendance without excuses – except for illness (and being sick of school was not an acceptable excuse) – combined well with definite daily chores, hot food, ample drinking water, sufficient sleep and loving tolerance of each other in spite of personal faults.
Cheese and eggs were both important ingredients in Grandma’s cooking. The eggs came every other day from Cousin Nell, who had a lucrative ‘egg route’ for many years, sufficient, in fact to feather her nest nicely with an all brick house of nine rooms and a live-in housekeeper and a handyman to tend to the chickens in the coops on the back of the 20 acre parcel where she resided.
No one knew what happened to Cousin Nell’s husband, Regis, who (some whispered) had up-and-left-with one of the saloon girls on a train heading for St. Louis. Nell pulled herself together quickly when she realized she had no one to look after her and the four children. She tended her garden, started selling the eggs from a dozen hens until she had enough money to buy more laying-hens from a hatchery and the business grew.
The cheese, in grandma’s kitchen, was homemade if it were the soft type that could be used within a few days. But she bought the hard cheese from the Mercantile in town once a month. She would wrap it in smaller portions, in wine-soaked cloth, or dip some in melted paraffin to keep even longer. These were interesting ingredients in the products of her ‘Backdoor Bakery’.
WHEN GRANDMA SLICED warm, fresh bread in her ‘Back-Door Bakery’ and made sandwiches for her customers, she kept it simple, using her homemade cooked salad dressing, sliced cheese – and their choice of apple butter, marmalade, or walnut butter with. Together, with a cup of hot cinnamon tea [or lemonade], from the enamel cattle (which I have now, sitting on the hearth in our living room) – no customer had to brave the chilly April rain without a warm cup of tea before leaving.
The food industry today markets their products in a more sophisticated method than Grandma did when she packaged her baked goods in brown paper and string, neatly piled in a large basket – sometimes in several baskets – and delivered by carriage over some hairpin curved roads between Grafton and Morgantown in West Virginia…
As for Nell, Grandpa’s brother’s girl, life was difficult at first. When the egg route began to support her nicely, there was talk around town that most of Nell’s money came from the card games she would sit in on when she delivered eggs to the hotel. No one ever confirmed it, since Nell was a handsome woman, to be envied by many of the matrons whose husbands found her attractive – and a good listener when they needed one.
The Homestead Hotel was the only place in town to stay – if you had to stay in town. And Vivian told how she ‘spent a week there one night’, when a snowstorm kept her from returning home from town. That was the night that Grandpa was with her – and Nell was sitting in on one of those ‘naughty’ poker games.
Grandpa was holding a full house, trying to beat the town’s commercial Baker, and Grandma’s competitor. When Grandpa ‘called’ him, Hartwig Horton was holding a flush of diamonds, but confessed he couldn’t pay Grandpa in cash. However, he would call the debt squared, if Grandpa would agree to take, instead of cash, a much-coveted recipe for his family’s ‘Texas Fruitcake’ that Grandma had been trying to duplicate for years; the secret formula closely guarded by Horton’s Texas family.
Grandpa agreed. But there were other hands dealt that wintry night, as Nell took on Morris Weismann, a few others, and came away holding the mortgage to the hotel as her winnings. The rather scarlet details of the all-night card game between Nell and the men, have been lost in verbal translation among aunts and uncles who still recall the excitement of it.
We only know that Nell and her four children, in their teens by then, moved into the hotel, staffed it themselves and kept the 20 upstairs guest rooms with the five baths between them, continuously occupied and tidy. Meanwhile, grandma worked out an arrangement with her niece to furnish the hotel restaurant with all of its baked goods for a fair price if Nell promised to shut down the saloon and the card games.
In honor of National Country Cooking Month, here is another one of Mom’s homemade bread recipes (an imitation of Wonder Bread) from page 60 of her cookbook, The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; June 1997).
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
COMING UP, IN 2 WEEKS! #WHBY!
…24 down, 28 to go!