December 12, 2013

A Canuck in Kantuck: Prairie bread in the Kentucky hills



Tying an apron around her waist, Carol immediately got to work, her chirpy instructions mixed in with wonderfully amusing stories about her childhood in a small town in Saskatchewan. Those largely revolved around her mom, a slim, attractive woman who hated to cook and hated a dirty kitchen even more. So Carol turned to her British grandmother, who taught her to bake English staples like steak and kidney pie until she moved to California.

Carol was then left to her own devices, and soon her interest turned to baking. As she added flour to her mighty mixer, Carol talked about her many failures, the most amusing of which was the time when she thought her yeast had failed and she dumped her project in the garbage can. It was of course her mother who discovered an hour later that the warmth of the garbage scraps had activated the yeast and the dough swelled so heartily it pushed the scraps right onto the floor.

As she talked, I noticed that a most lovely dough was being formed in the mixer and when she turned it out onto the counter top, she had me put my hands on it. It was warm, elastic, heavy as a baby, perfect.

“Now you knead it just a little — I think of it as giving it CPR,” she said confidentially, folding a piece of dough over and firmly sinking her knuckles and palms into the dough.

I watched, taking copious amounts of notes and mentally preparing myself for the occasion when I would be doing this on my own at home. Which, a week later, I had a chance to do and baked three pretty good loaves of bread courtesy of Carol’s recipe, the secret to which is oatmeal.

Anyway, two days ago while I was spending a few days in Winnipeg, Carol arrived with her banker’s box again. This time our project was a table centerpiece that looked like a bunch of grapes, with each grape actually a little bun covered in poppy seeds. Once again, Carol shared her wealth of knowledge, and I ate it up nearly as happily as I ate the grape-buns we eventually baked. It was while I was watching her expertly disengage the dough from her mixer whisk that I realized the true happiness that comes from baking bread.

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

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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