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December 12, 2013

A Canuck in Kantuck: Prairie bread in the Kentucky hills

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Up until I realized it was probably responsible for making me gain 10 pounds, I spent a batch of time each week baking bread. This experiment went on for nearly a year, with each Monday morning spent watching the KitchenAid spin while I slowly added flour to the yeast, water, sugar, salt and oil in the bowl. It was a pleasurable process, and I always felt like a real, live Suzy Homemaker when I turned the golden loaves on the baking racks I’d set up. I especially looked forward to the moment when I could offer a still-warm slice to my stepdaughter Gabrielle after I picked her up from school.

My interest in baking bread started with a Williams-Sonoma cookbook my husband bought before I moved to Kentucky. The pictures looked delicious, and I started working my way through the recipes. The results were mediocre though, with none of them tasting especially memorable no matter how many raisins, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs and caraway I added. Certainly they tasted nothing like the bread I grew up with on the prairies, where flour comes from hard winter wheat that produces loaves with a tasty, soft crumb and a crunchy, equally tasty crust.

Then my resourceful mom stepped in and hooked me up with her friend Carol, a 62-year-old woman who took over her mother’s kitchen at age 9 and has been cooking and baking ever since. I had met Carol a few times before and noticed she always came with shortbread wrapped in a beautifully ribboned box.

My mom asked her if she would bake with me for an afternoon while I was visiting, and Carol immediately agreed. She showed up on a snowy day with a cardboard banker’s box topped full with baking essentials. Anchoring the box was a Braun mixer, which she deftly set up, and a 10-pound bag of Robin Hood flour.

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

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