Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Being the Heartland

One of the local Knoxville stations has a series named, "The Heartland." As might be expected the brief spots are deeply folksy, full of plaid shirts and chewing tobacco, and hosted by a charming fellow with an East Tennessee accent (making an ET accent charming is a skill) and what used to be boyish good looks but are now avuncular good looks.

And you know what? He really is a nice guy with an abiding interest in this area's history and culture. He is absolutely genuine. Just like you and me and the others participating in some way in this blog. So I have few more stories for you, sent in by our fellow bakers. You don’t get to vote on who wins the story contest (we're too lazy and it's too hot to think about how we might accomplish that) but add your observations, thoughts, and reactions in the comment section.

As a Southerner, I have a near-instinctual affection for grits. From Judy Shealy:
I'm a Girl Raised In The South, as in GRITS! That's rural deep south, as in way out in the country.

I'm the youngest of three, and was my Daddy's little angel. My mother worked outside of the home, and when my older siblings married, I was alone a lot. You need to know, I had an aunt, uncle, and cousins that lived on both sides of us within hollering distance, so you gotta know I would get off the school bus with them whenever I had the chance. My Aunt Hazel and Uncle Bonnie had seven kids, so there was always homemade bread there after school, and it was so good! Usually just out of the oven, with lots of butter and homemade jam to spread on it. Now this was not just any old homemade bread, no sirreee, it had grits in it. The left over grits from breakfast made this a moist and beautiful loaf of bread. I have never had any bread like this outside of Lexington County, South Carolina unless I made it.

It's still my family's favorite. My fond memories of fellowship with my cousins over a loaf of fresh baked bread is still alive, I can smell it baking as I write, and hear the laughter of my cousins as we gathered around the table to break bread together. This was the beginning of my love of baking bread.

I don’t know how old Jane is, but this story has clearly had all the rough spots worn off over the years, leaving a perfectly smooth and shining gem of memory.
I remember the first time I ever made bread. I was 10 years old, and my mother told me what to do. She sat at the kitchen table and didn't lift a finger, just let me do all of the mixing and kneading and rolling and rising and baking. She gave very good instructions, and I have never forgotten what a properly kneaded bread dough feels like. There's nothing like it, that glossy, rubbery texture.

That loaf was perfect, and tasted wonderful, especially since I knew what went into it. That started a tradition in my family. Every time there is a family gathering, it's well known that Jane brings the bread. I am now the (un)official breadmaker in the family.

I'm older now, and my hands and arms aren't as strong as they used to be, so I rely on my well-beloved KitchenAid mixer to do the hard work, but there is nothing like homemade bread to lift the spirits and make the soul soar.

And melt butter. Real butter, not that nasty margarine stuff.

Am I the only person who set out to bake bread without a mentor? I wonder. And Wonder what I missed by relying on books. This from Tammy Kimbler:
My great grandmother, Fannie Elizabeth Kimbler, was a biscuit maker. She taught three generations of us how to make them, including my mother and me. If she was in charge of a meal, there would be biscuits. Her regular breakfast consisted of one biscuit, one egg and one piece of bacon. She lived to be 97.

When she was young in the early 1900s, her husband worked as a ranch hand in Oklahoma. My grandmother was the cook. Pregnant, with a baby on her hip and more around her feet, she would roll out big batches of biscuits for most meals on the ranch. Her biscuits were made with flour, lard or bacon fat and farm fresh milk. After cutting the biscuits and placing them in the pan, she would brush the tops with bacon drippings. She baked them in a wood stove. Her modern biscuit recipe barely varied, except for the electric stove and the homogenized milk.

Last week my daughter turned 1 year old. Her favorite toys in the kitchen are my biscuit cutters, particularly the old fashioned ones with the green and red wooden handles. This weekend my mother comes into town to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. And this weekend, a new generation will taste my great grandmother’s biscuits for the first time. Thanks Grandma.
Bread really is a human tie. And I need a biscuit just now — and some real butter and blackberry or strawberry jam.

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Blogger kitchenmage said...

These entries have all been so good stories, poems, even a rap song! I have been smiling, laughing, and even sniffling a tear or two at them. I am so glad I don't have to pick a winner.


I do?



(kevin, why does my comment verification start with 'wimp'???)

8/22/2007 4:29 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

> (kevin, why does my comment verification start with 'wimp'???)

I dunno. Maybe blogger knows something about you.

8/22/2007 4:41 PM  
Blogger Ed Bruske said...

Great stuff, the stories, Kevin...

8/24/2007 5:55 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

My family lives in Knoxville and I remember watching the Heartland series for as long as I can remember. It seems the series has been on forever.

8/24/2007 8:45 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

That series has been running forever.

8/24/2007 9:53 AM  
Blogger BreadBox said...

I remember my mother making bread when I was young: not often, not well, never living up to the promise of the smell from the oven....
In Britain thrumpty-sevix years ago one could still get good bread at the local store: a local bakery would deliver loaves all around the towns: so there was really no need for my mother to knead.

But she did help instill in me the idea that I too could bake someday, and the love of good bread, and this led to my need to knead: when I moved to an area of the world where good bakeries are non-existent: where bread has to be preceded by wonder (the word, not the joy!): and so, over the years, little by little I have learned to bake. And my mother loves my bread:-)

8/24/2007 11:32 AM  

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