The house was freezing yesterday. Okay, it was 62F inside our home, for us that is freezing. Even the Canadian was cold! The furnace has not been repaired. We started a fire in the fireplace, but even that was not alleviating the chill. Richard said, “Why don’t you bake some bread”? I pulled my Grandmother Macafee’s Cookbook down from the shelf. I baked bread and thus, begins a new project.
My mother gave my Grandmother Macafee’s Cookbook to me sometime in the 1990’s. I have looked through it before but I have never ever used it. It is handwritten. These were her most important recipes.
These are the foods that she made for my dad and her family. Thumbing through Grandma’s cookbook is like looking into her life and that is a part of me that has always been missing. I plan on making one recipe a week until I get all the way through her cookbook. It won’t matter if it sounds unappetizing to my modern tastes. I want to experience what her family experienced by tasting her recipes.
A Little Bit of Family History
Grandma Macafee died of cancer when my dad was 11 years old. Daddy didn’t talk about her much. His memories were hazy. He remembered her on the couch with a bloated stomach and not going to her funeral. She was an involved mom, a Scout leader, and a member of the PTA. I have stories from her sister, Aunt Lois, about her. Mid, (Grandma’s name was Mildred) was a rebel. She was one of those girls that cut her hair short in the 1920’s after being told by her father that she was not allowed to do so. She graduated from High School at 16. She went on to Teacher’s College and lied about her age in order to get a job once she graduated.
I like to believe that Grandma Macafee was a lovely lady that adored her boys. Aunt Lois wrote about how when she would drop by their apartment, the dishes would be stacked up and the laundry needed folding but Mid and the boys would be putting a puzzle together or playing a game. That story influenced how I raised my kids. Time is precious and you don’t know when you might leave this Earth. Grandma was making memories even if Daddy didn’t remember or just couldn’t talk about her.
Back to the bread.
The recipe is called “Grandmother’s Best Bread”. I don’t know which grandmother. Was it her mother’s mother, Bertha? Or was it her father’s mother, Augusta? So many stained pages, she must have used the book often.
Here is the recipe:
2 Tbsp Sugar
2 Tbsp Shortening
1 Tbsp Salt
1 3/4 Cup Milk, Scalded
1 Cake Yeast (or one packet of yeast)
1/4 Cup lukewarm water
6 or 7 Cups of Flour
Combine Sugar, shortening, salt and scalded milk, water, and yeast. Add about 2 cups of flour, mix and beat well. Let stand for 20 minutes. Add remaining flour and knead lightly. Put in a greased bowl, let rise to double in bulk. Punch down and let rise again. Punch down and shape. Make into 2 loaves or 16-18 pan biscuits. Let rise to double. Bake in a hot oven, 450 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake 20 or 30 minutes longer.
How did it go, you ask?
I had to go to the store and buy some yeast. As you can see from the recipe, it calls for a cake of yeast. I had to look up how much yeast was in a cake of yeast because all that our grocery store carries is yeast packets. (It’s the same amount that is in a packet of yeast, by the way). I remembered how to scald milk from when I was little. I remembered the smell of it when it was ready. Just hot enough to form bubbles, not boiling, about 180 degrees. My candy thermometer broke during our Thanksgiving celebration two weeks ago so I just had to go with my instincts.
The texture of the dough seemed tough to me as I mixed it, so I only used 5 cups of flour. It was a good decision. The first rise did not look promising. I put the dough in the oven with a pan of steaming water. I have always found that a little humidity is helpful when getting dough to rise. The first rise was fine. The second rise was perfect and the final rise was good as well. Baking was a little tricky. I thought that 450 degrees was a bit high for baking the bread. I kept an eye on it. The top browned nicely. After 15 minutes I tented it with foil and reduced the heat. In our oven, it took 20 minutes more to bake and it came out beautifully.
The other loaf did not rise as much but it looked good too! The final test was tasting it. I wondered why Grandma had written that this bread could be made into 16 or 18 biscuits. I found out when I tasted it. It tastes like biscuits! It is a great breakfast bread, smothered in jam or honey with lots of real butter! Yum!