Almost every culture's basic food features bread, so it's no wonder that it's been called "the staff of life." Many of us have seen bread on the table for every meal since before we could remember. We eat it as toast with jam or jelly, as a lunch with meat, egg, or nut butter fillings, or simply buttered and sprinkled with sugar or honey as a snack. When I was a child, the bread man delivered our bread and other baked items each week. We loved the deliveries, fresh from the bakery.
As good as that bread was, nothing could beat the experience of coming home from school one winter day just as my mother pulled a pan of her homemade rolls from the oven. I was in fourth grade and had never smelled anything so good nor tasted anything so delicious. When Daddy came home from work he was surprised but very pleased with the homemade bread and rolls. It reminded him of his early years on the farm when his mother made all their bread.
Years later, when my daughter was a toddler, I began baking bread. As the perfume of those loaves filled the house, she hurried to the kitchen, curious to see what was in the oven. She loved what came out of it – golden brown loaves of delicious hot bread. These days I seldom make bread, but sometimes my daughter recalls those years when I took the time to make it at least once a week and declares that fresh-baked bread is always best!
Bread in all its many forms evokes fond memories. My mother-in-law always made biscuits for breakfast and the dinner table was never without a crusty loaf of skillet-baked cornbread. Those two quick breads were so important in mountain families that a middle school boy once complained to me that the oven had gone out and "we had to eat boughten light bread for supper!" Clearly, commercial light bread was inferior to his mama's cornbread and biscuits.
Many years ago, as a guest volunteer at The Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, I was introduced to fry bread. Fry bread was served at most meals, and for supper on the last night of our stay I helped prepare the outdoor meal of fried pork chunks, pinto beans, coleslaw, and fry bread. After our host showed me how to make it, I was in charge of the fry bread. As I shaped and then carefully slid the four-inch rounds of dough into the boiling oil, Mr. Don Greenfeather (Shawnee Tribal Chairman and Director of Volunteer Services for the Cherokee Nation at that time) gave his approval and said, "You'ns is different, you'ns is common, like us." When we share our bread, we share more than food, we share who we are and we share our commonality.
Nora Dooley illustrates that commonality in a delightful book for children called Everybody Bakes Bread. A grumpy young girl is sent out in the neighborhood to see if anyone has a three handled rolling pin they can lend her mother. As she enters each house, she discovers that everyone has been busy with the baking of bread and in this diverse neighborhood, each of the breads is unique; she is offered a sample at each home. Recipes for each of the featured breads is included in the back of the book.
Making the time to bake bread in any of its many forms is well worth the effort: it links us with our ancestors, it tells us who we are, and it shows we care. Baking bread bridges our past with our present and with our future.