Pardon me for mixing theologies, but it will take several more reincarnations before I match up to the virtuous wife of Proverbs 31. This was brought home to me this lunchtime when I discovered that I had failed yet again in my domestic duties and we had no bread in the house to make a sandwich. Never mind, we had the ingredients for pancakes so that was what we had, and very nice too, but we still had no bread.
I could have popped down to the shop to buy some, but there’s some dry yeast in the pantry and plenty of plain flour, so I started to make some bread rolls instead.
“What are you doing? Oh, you should be singing while you do that!” exclaimed my mother with a smile, seeing me kneading the dough. I asked why, and she said her mother had always sung when she was making bread.
This led to some reminiscing, which is always a delight to listen to, and included some little anecdotes about my grandparents that I hadn’t heard before. I knew that my grandmother baked her own bread, and I have a very clear mental picture from my childhood of her offering me a “butty” with a big smile, clutching a loaf to her ample bosom and slicing it with the bread knife towards her. This image remains with me because I was always afraid she was going to slice herself as well, but of course she never did. And anyway, as she explained after I confessed my fears, she was well protected by her armour-like corsets.
In the nineteen twenties and thirties, Granny had a large family, so she baked twice a week. When they came home from school my mother and her siblings would take the wheelbarrow to the Co-op and buy a stone of flour (14 lbs), which Granny mixed with yeast, sugar, water and lard in a huge bowl called a pancheon. The dough was left to rise and then made into round loaves, each about the size of a side plate. Granny baked them in batches in the oven at the side of the fire in the big black-leaded range then set them to cool on the kitchen windowsill.
Mom chuckled at her memories, and told me that sometimes a couple of loaves would disappear from the windowsill. No, they weren’t stolen. In those days, a greengrocer called Charlie used to come round with a horse and cart delivering fresh fruit and vegetables. If he came on baking days, Charlie would quietly help himself to a loaf or two and then of course she didn’t pay quite so much for her vegetables. These reminiscences led on to tales about the family and life in the nineteen twenties, occupying the time while my dough was proving.
I went back to my rolls, sprinkled them with poppy seeds and finished my baking. The rolls are cooling, but of course we had to try one and yes, they are very nice. I’m not going to bother giving you the recipe today because it’s just the standard one you can find anywhere and not a special family recipe. However, on reflection I have the feeling that my mother and grandmother both came pretty close to that paragon in Proverbs 31.