With a little fear and trepidation, with a box of tissue close by, I attempted a project 2 weekends ago, one that I haven’t done in over 20 years! Despite my bad track record with cooking and baking, I baked bread…from scratch.
I started planning on Monday so I would have plenty of time and all my ingredients. I started early so I wouldn’t be in a mess by suppertime. I followed the instructions carefully. And as I worked the dough, I started to relax. This was not my first time baking bread, and it was all coming back to me.
My Mom was a volunteer at a local working museum in the small town where we lived. It had once been the home of a prominent family in the town. The house itself was built in 1826, and I knew every crook and cranny (including the secret passage from the servant’s quarters into the master bedroom). I loved going with my Mom, dressing up in period costume and helping her churn butter, spin wool, care for the fire in the kitchen, and bake bread. I’d sit on the corn husk bench near the fireplace and embroider, waiting for the bread to prove so I could punch it.
When I was old enough, she taught me how to set the fire in the brick oven, make and knead the dough, and test the temperature, by feel. If the temperature was too hot, the bread would burn before it was cooked through; not hot enough, and the bread would be undercooked and pasty white. I served at fundraising dinners and helped press apple cider.
I landed my dream summer job in the house the summer before college, and the other student was a good friend. We baked bread and scones, and served Scottish cream tea once a week. On the other days, we cleaned the house, gave tours, played the piano, and worked in the gardens, all in costume. On Sunday afternoons, if it was quiet, we’d have our own tea party with cream and scones.
Unfortunately, that summer a group of “artsy” retirees took over the board governing the house with big ideas on how to turn this lovely small town icon into an establishment for the elite. They began to transform it from a home to a business. In the process, they wounded many volunteers who had served in the house for many years. The curator and her assistant quit, and were replaced by an “over anxious, uptight red-lipped broad” who knew nothing and liked to flounce around the house in a long dress and assert her authority. My friend and I were caught in the crossfire. At the end of the summer, I said good-bye to a cherished childhood haunt, my “dream house”, and I’ve never been back.
While I worked the dough, I savoured the happier times (and the smell – oh my!) And then we sampled…and it tasted even better than it looked.
Maybe after all the cooking disasters, I have found something that I enjoy and can do well…but I’d better try it again before I make that pronouncement. It could have just been a fluke!