Fremont County, Iowa

"Homemade Bread"
by Emily Bengtson

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of February 8, 2010

There is nothing better than the smell of bread baking. My grandma filled her house every Saturday with that wonderful aroma. She baked, weekly, three loaves of bread, a pan of what she called "light rolls" (today they are known as dinner rolls) and a pan of cinnamon rolls. There was always a small crock of "bread starter"--sour dough-- in the ice box. She kept it going by frequently adding potato water. She began her baking by taking a handful of this starter, adding flour, salt, sugar and water, to make whatever she wanted to bake.

I was part of this baking in the 1930's, but I cannot remember what was in the starter. I checked a 1921 Pillsbury cookbook and in that book their recipes used yeast. There was no mention about a starter. All I know is the starter never ran out and I have no idea how long Grandma had kept it. The flour was from wheat that my grandparents had grown and ground at the local mill. There was a pantry in the house that always had several sacks of flour waiting to be used.

Once the bread was baked, it was wrapped in tea towels and put in a large tin bread box on the kitchen counter. We had our bread for the week. The light rolls made Sunday dinner special. During the week there were sandwiches made with thick slices of bread. Breakfast toast was made by first baking slices of the bread in the oven until they were very crisp. When we got ready to eat them, Grandma would heat water to boiling and we would dip the crispy slices into the water to warm them. We would cover them with sugar and cinnamon for a great breakfast. I found a similar recipe in the Pillsbury book called cream or milk toast, except they poured a milk sauce or cream sauce over the toast.

As the week progressed, my uncle Melvern, who helped Grandma with the farm after my Granddad died, would use stale bread and soak it overnight in soured milk. The next morning , he would add eggs, fresh milk, some flour and sugar to make pancakes. What a treat! At the end of the week if there were any of the cinnamon rolls left they became the base for bread pudding for the next week.

The other grain we used was corn. This was also milled into corn meal at the local mill. We had corn bread when we had soup beans and ham. Since very little was wasted, corn meal was used with left over bacon or sausage. The corn meal was cooked into boiled "mush," the bits of meat would be stirred in and the whole thing was spooned into a pan and put in the icebox. The next morning we'd cut it into slices and fry them in the bacon grease that was always saved for cooking to add flavor. This made a wonderful warm breakfast of fried mush that we covered with butter and syrup.

Today, over seventy years later, when my sister Mary Ann and I make bread pudding for the Shenandoah Elk Dinners, I have, to have, cinnamon rolls to make the bread pudding. When I eat breakfast out, I judge how good the breakfast is based on how crunchy the toast is. Some childhood loves of favorite foods never go away.

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau