At Home in New Hampshire > More Than Bread

“Eileen, do you want to learn how to make bread?” my mother asked. “It will get your frustrations out.” She was offering me an alternative to an afternoon of self-imposed teenage isolation. I can’t remember her showing me how to measure or blend the ingredients, but I do remember her guiding me through the kneading and shaping process. Turning gooey dough into smooth, soft bread requires physical effort; kneading was the part of bread-making my mother wanted me to experience.

I complained to her about homework and family rules while I worked the dough, and she listened. At the end, not only did I have two beautiful loaves of bread, but I was actually in a good mood. I always knew my mother was a terrific cook and baker. It wasn’t until years later when I had children of my own that I came to appreciate she was also a patient teacher.

I have made hundreds of loaves since that day, and fresh bread is my go-to recipe whenever I want to please and impress. I have experimented with whole grain and artisan bread, but at holiday meals and family gatherings, it is always her recipe I turn to.

When my mother died after a long illness, I found her hand-written recipe for the bread I knew so well. On the day of her funeral, I had the most extraordinary experience. I found myself making her bread, in her kitchen, for her friends and family, and I thought of the very first time she taught me this skill. She was right there with me in that memory.

I have taught my daughters the same recipe, and at holidays and special occasions, I invite my nieces and nephews to learn it, too.

We can’t predict what others will remember from what we share. The day my mother invited me to bake, I did not know I would always carry a memory of her in that recipe. Ultimately, it is not about the bread or the recipe—it is about being with those you love, sharing yourself. I think of my mother every time I make that recipe, and I wonder what memory my children will keep of me.

White Bread

As Written in the Recipe Notebook of Elizabeth Jane Hall Behan

3 cups warm water
3 cakes yeast or envelopes dry
¼ cup honey
9-10 cups flour
5 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons canola oil

Combine water, yeast, and honey. Stir until yeast dissolves. Add half of the flour and salt. Beat hard with spoon until batter is smooth. Add remaining flour—blend well. Pour oil over dough & knead, in bowl, few minutes—no more than 2 or 3. Dough will absorb most of oil. Cover bowl & let rise in warm place until doubled—about 45 min. Punch down & turn out onto lightly floured board—knead slightly. Shape into 2 loaves, put in buttered bread pans. Cover, let rise until doubled about 30 min. Bake in 400º oven for 30 min.