And we’re back. It’s been another crazy-long hiatus as deLizious tries to keep home and hearth up-and-running. But I’ve pledged before and will reiterate that Aunt Helen’s recipe box is far too important to let go. I want to keep her history alive. For more on what’s been written about my inimitable Great-Aunt, check this out.
My wanders from the blogosphere happen for likely the same reasons that yours do: family and work. My girls are 16 and 12 now and though we have moved on from that little-kid stage when you have to do everything for them, teenage girls are not the easiest to raise. I work as much as possible, but always strive for more projects as my business brings me more sanity than do the kiddos.
Though because I work with food and recipes, it’s not impossible to blend business and pleasure. I cook to feed my family, and often a recipe development project allows me to combine work with home life. And the same can be said for a blog–food bloggers publish what they try at home. So when I realized it had been too long since I’d made bread, I turned to Helen’s recipe collection.
Oddly enough, her boxes contain zero recipes for yeast breads. Cookies, cakes, pies, salads, and noodles dishes are found in abundance, but no bread. Which didn’t jibe with the memory I have of Great-Aunt Helen teaching my dad to bake bread when I was just a tot. She had made a few loaves in her day (though as a single woman with no children, she likely did not make bread often or in great quantities). Where would she have found her recipes?
I turned to a book I remember her using: The Settlement Cookbook. She spoke highly of it and whether my copy was hers or came from a thrift store because I wanted my own, I remember not. But it’s now on my shelf and what an odd little thing, at least by today’s standards.
It’s subtitle, “The way to a man’s heart,” is no longer bragging rights for a book and books are no longer authored by Mrs. Husband’s Name. But back in the day, both were common. This, the 26th edition (out of 40!), was written in 1944 and seems a comprehensive volume. Chapter 1 concerns Household Rules, after which 2 moves on to Feeding the Family, Infant Feeding, Invalid Cooking, Vitamin Values. The following 43 chapters concern themselves with Breakfast Cereals, Dumplings and Soup Garnishes, Salad Dressings, Torten (?), Candies, Cold and Hot Drinks, Preserving, and the like. This book would definitely have been one-stop shopping for housewives of old. I fell down a lovely electronic rabbit hole when learning more about this book (originally published in 1904) and should you wish to do the same, I recommend starting here.
I found a recipe for Whole Wheat Health Bread, which was clearly written at a time when folks had a greater comfort level with baking. The instructions were well-written enough, though the ingredients listed shortening while the method mentioned butter. The “wheat flour” I had to guess to be today’s all-purpose flour and without cake yeast, I used 1/2 ounce active dry yeast, the equivalent of two 1/4-ounce packets or 1 1/2 tablespoons.
The biggest issue was that using twice as much whole wheat flour (4 cups) as wheat (white) flour (2 cups) would have made the dough far too dry. I stopped after adding about 2 1/2 cups of the 4 that were called for and it seemed plenty. Very possibly the flour and measurement methods used in Mrs. Simon Kander’s time differed from ours.
The dough went together simply and before long it had finished its second rise and was ready to be popped into the oven. Once baked, the final loaves struck me as more squat then some, but this may be due to the large amount of salt, which has a yeast-dampening effect and also the larger amount of whole wheat flour. The flavor was a bit heavy, again likely due to the full tablespoon of salt and larger amount of a full-on whole wheat flour. That said, it was still a delicious loaf of bread and so simple to mix and bake that I’d make it again.
How often Helen made from-scratch bread, I don’t know, but with so few recipes in her collections, it may not have been a common occurrence. Chances are, Helen did not make this recipe and it is only one of the thousands that are in the book. But the connection is still there as it represents a time when women turned to encyclopedia-like cookbooks for any and all kitchen tasks. These books have long been supplanted by the Internet, but, to me anyway, they are still important as they are tactile reminders of an earlier era. They offer a form of low-key time travel, which is pretty cool in my book.
As we’ve been doing with this Recipe Box series, we’ll follow up next week with a cocktail to serve with this dish. Not sure where we’ll go with that, but I’m betting it will be swell. Please return and many thanks for stopping by.