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I was attempting, again, to bake my grandmother’s bread. I’d made it as far as proofing the yeast and measuring the flour before panic set in. Despite multiple attempts, mastering Grandma’s bread has eluded me. She was on the phone, telling me about cutting in shortening.
“I just use, you know, my spoon,” she responded. “Like a wooden spoon?” I stuttered. It was the only thing I could imagine that had a long enough handle to pierce through twelve cups of flour. “No, no, no. You need one that is sharp.”
Lacking a sharp spoon, I used my fingers to break up the shortening into little balls. The recipe read, “Knead until right consistency.” The dough I made was wet and sticky.
Was that the right consistency?
After an hour and half, the dough had risen beyond double, a process that, according to Grandma’s instructions, should take two.
I greased the pans with shortening generously, Once I forgot this step and had to chip chunks of bread out with a table knife. I set the five bread pans (Grandma calls them, tins) on the counter. The recipe read: “Place in pans.” Baffled, I called my sister Amber. She’d taken a bread baking lesson.
Her advice was to give up, explaining, “None of us can get it right. Her directions are terrible. The day she showed me, she didn’t even use standard measures. She just has a special spoon, a certain teacup, and does everything by feel. You are never going to replicate that. Why do you want to?”
Her question was legitimate: Grandma sends us bread in the mail. Holidays are foreshadowed by the arrival of a packing-tape-covered shoebox and nestled to one side, with balled up plastic grocery sacks protecting a loaf of grandma's homemade bread.
Making the bread myself really is unnecessary. With fourteen grandchildren and “greats,” (plus some spouses) my grandparents spend the equivalent of a car payment on shipping every year, all for the love of bread.
My children call this "Grammy's bread.” In spite of our Mormon pioneer heritage, her loaf is not of the grind-your-own-wheat, honey infused, melted butter brushed on top variety. No, her loaf is pure white flour and shortening deliciousness with a tender crumb and perfectly browned crust.
Because it has been baked, frozen, and shipped 800 miles, it makes the ultimate toast. Grandma’s bread has the exact dryness, and the perfect sized holes for soaking up butter. One bite and I am transported to her Boise, Idaho home: the cacophony of Grandpa's collection of grandfather clocks, the smell of grandma's hairspray in the bathroom, and the soft feel of peach wall-to-wall carpeting under my bare feet are all present in that bite.
The timer beeped, and I opened the door. Although the tops were toasty brown, the loaves were flat small. The bottoms were wet and sticky. I should have added more flour. The next morning, however, that bread toasted beautifully, but still, something was missing.
What I want is the ability to send my own kids (and possible future grandkids) love in a shoebox, thus my valiant battle with the bread recipe. I worry about the day that the packages stop arriving.