Grandma's Bread


Grandma raised seven children during the Great Depression, baking bread every morning but the Sabbath. Even a generation later, with the house filled only on weekends, there was never a loaf of store-bought bread.

Grandma couldn’t read, so I had to watch her prepare what we all called “grandma’s bread,” writing down the recipe and guessing at amounts. “Feel the water on your wrist,” she showed me, as she mushed a cake of Red Star yeast into a glass of warm water, “and add a bissel sugar.” We waited for it to bubble and foam. Five times she scooped from the 50-pound sack of flour that lived in the corner cupboard, dumping each scoop into a large ceramic bowl. “Make a well,” she said. Into it she tossed two small piles of salt, measured in the palm of her hand, the yeasty water, a blob of Crisco, and another glass of water. “Here’s the secret,” she whispered, cracking two eggs, saving out a little yolk for the crust, and pouring in the rest.
 

the author's grandmother sitting in her yard

the author's grandmother sitting in her yard

Grandma’s large, rough hands – hands that also embroidered, and cleaned, and hovered over the Shabbos candles, but rarely had hugged her own children – kneaded the smooth white dough. I knew I gave her naches: joy from children. “Just for you,” she’d say, forming a baby loaf, back when I was a little girl who tiptoed downstairs at sunrise. It smelled and tasted of love when I ate it, hot from the oven, slathered with good Wisconsin butter.

- Enid Kassner is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University writing program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Elephant Journal3QR: The Three Quarter ReviewRat’s Ass ReviewInscape, Switchgrass ReviewWatershed Review, and other publications. She was awarded first place in creative nonfiction by the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation. Enid writes and teaches yoga in Arlington, Virginia.

Fleischkuechle

She made Fleischkuechle, a strange sounding name for hamburger rolled in flour and fried in a pan. Afternoons, school finished, I’d watch her at the stove, her hair sometimes stacked up in curlers like a fern, sweat trickling down her cheeks from the heat in the kitchen, the spiced tang of meat ripe in the air around us as I sat at a table struggling with math homework, struggling with puberty, struggling with being her son.

She was a focused chef. All the good ones were, she said. We were poor but still she was a chef. I wished she'd pay me as much attention as the food she prepared.

My brothers were always away and I wasn’t sure how to talk to my mother so I’d make up terrific lies that she may or may not have believed. It gave us something to talk about.

“Here,” she’d sometimes say, tossing me a potato peeler. “Strip these as fast as you can.” Strip for peel. A dozen potatoes on the counter, things that looked more like gourds or discarded embryos.

“You are the smart one in the family, reading your poetry,” she said, snickering. “But you can still do things with your hands, or else you’ll go soft.”

1916 color lithograph by Yvonne Vernet from the  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog .

1916 color lithograph by Yvonne Vernet from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

As I peeled potatoes I felt Mother coming up behind me, which made me speed up the slicing of the skins. I wanted her to think me capable of carrying out a command. Cigarette smoke wafted over my head and into my eyes, stinging, and I hoped they wouldn’t water.

She leaned across my shoulder and took one of the spuds in her hand, inspecting for a moment, before thrusting it close to my face. “You’re careless. You’re missing the divots, the eyes. See, there’s still dirt and skin there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes you are,” she said, dropping the potato on the table. I heard it thunk, watched it roll off and bounce across the floor. 

“Pick it up and wash it,” she said.

We raised and butchered chickens. It’s a scary thing when you’re nine. The beheaded birds would fly off squirting blood, dead but somehow still alive, like me, I’d think.

 

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans, and the author of I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AND NEITHER ARE YOU out now from Unknown Press.  You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com