food as memory

There’s a great picture of Erik with his grandma sitting in a large frame on our mantle. I love it because you can tell the two had a really close relationship. There’s something in both of their eyes that’s shared just between the two of them. I like listening to Erik talk about his grandma because it’s so obvious he took a lot of joy out of being around her. One thing he’s constantly talked about was her loaves of bread. Many people have talked about what a great lady she was and they all talk about Nora’s bread. Now I don’t have grandmas that bake – dad’s mom cooked really well but I don’t think I ever had anything she baked, and mom’s mom was not a cook at all, though her mom was and that’s where my mother learned her kitchen skills. All of our recipes are ones that have been repeated over and over again so much that they’re permanently filed in that part of our brains that guides our hands when it comes to cooking. Baking though, is a skill I’ve picked up on my own and one that I’ll keep working to perfect for the rest of my life. Should Erik and I decide to maybe adopt some kids someday or if by some miracle I was able to have one someday, I hope that I’m given the chance to pass these recipes on. I think it’s important and it makes people happy to remember things by way of food. Like when Erik so happily discusses all the good things about his grandma, the stories always culminate in her food. So when I came to a standstill on sandwich bread recipes (I’ve not been totally impressed with many of the ones I’ve tried over the years), I thought it might be time to attempt Erik’s grandma’s famous bread. He remembered she used the water from boiled potatoes and he remembered how they tasted and how, when others used that same recipe, their bread never had whatever it was that Grandma Harmon’s so unique. What I liked about this recipe is that the bread was soft but sturdy, and it didn’t go stale quickly like so many homemade breads tend to. It also has a great flavor that you just can’t get from store bought, and while that’s true of most homemade breads, there really is something truly great about this one. Both Erik and his mom agreed it was the closest replication they’ve ever had to Grandma Harmon’s and if eating it made them happy to remember, then I’m very happy to have baked it.

Grandma Harmon’s Potato Bread
this recipe makes a lot of bread. I have wildly varying sizes of loaf pans and ended up with one good, large loaf, but I also overfilled another loaf pan and made a GIANT, wonky loaf, and one small one. I think if you have uniformly standard sized loaf pans, you could probably get three large loaves out of this. I plan on attempting to halve the recipe one of these days, but I thought my first run should stick strictly to the recipe.

You Need:
3 cups water left over from boiling potatoes, cooled to lukewarm
1/2 cup butter
1 cup warm water
1 Tablespoon of yeast (I used my instant yeast)
1/2 cup powdered milk (I did indeed buy actual powdered milk for this, though I think I’m going to play with substituting actual milk)
1/4 cup sugar, or a really generous Tablespoon of honey
2 Tablespoons salt
8 (or more) cups flour

Heat the potato water and the butter together in saucepan until the butter melts. Cool to lukewarm. Meanwhile, combine the cup of warm tap water with the yeast and set aside. I performed this step even though I used instant yeast and it was just fine. Add the yeast mixture to the butter mixture and make sure both are just barely warm, so we don’t kill the yeast. Add the powdered milk, sugar, and salt and mix well. Add in your flour one cup at a time until you get a cohesive, slightly sticky dough. I ended up needing more than 8 cups, but I think this will probably vary depending on the weather and altitude. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 100 times. Place in a greased bowl (a large one!), cover, and let it rise until doubled, at least an hour. Knead the dough 100 times again, place back in the bowl and re-cover, and let it rise another hour. After the second rise, divide the dough and shape into loaves. Again, you’ll have to adjust this step according to what loaf pans you have. If you have small ones and want small loaves, just put enough dough in to fill the pan about halfway. I’ve gotten good at eyeballing how much dough to place in so that it raises over the edges of the pan like sandwich loaves are supposed to. Use your best judgment. Place the shaped loaves into greased loaf pans. Cover and let them rise another hour or so, until the dough raises at least an inch or so over the tops of the pans. You want these to be nice and puffy. Preheat your oven to 375 and bake the loaves for 45 minutes, until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Turn them out of their pans and let them cool a bit before slicing them up. I stored mine in regular plastic grocery bags and they didn’t start to stale until about four days later. When that happens, just make toast, man.

Best. Sandwich. Ever.

Just a note about those potatoes: I was worried about dicing up and boiling a lot of potatoes because I didn’t know how I was going to use them up, but we found that if you boil them til they’re barely fork tender (not mushy), then store the potatoes in the fridge, you can fry them up in oil until they’re brown and crisp on the outside and use them for breakfast potatoes. These are delightful because the insides are super creamy and soft and the outside is crisp and wonderful.



Filed under fun with yeast, Uncategorized

4 responses to “food as memory

  1. It looks so soft! I just may have to buy powdered milk now..

  2. rebekah

    I figure even if I don’t end up making bread every week like I’d like to instead of buying it, there are so many homemade Christmas goodies I’d like to make that actually have powdered milk as an ingredient, so it will be put to use that way. But YES this is very soft and yummy bread.

  3. a beautiful post, erik is so lucky to have a loving partner..i am glad you attempted grandma harmon’s recipe, it’s looks amazing!!


  4. rebekah

    thank you, dear lady! i’m glad i did too because it’s so delicious and really, truly heartwarming to eat. and i hope it made him happy; Erik’s kind of difficult to get close to and that relationship he had with his grandma I think was a really unique one.

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