15 August 2008

baking bread

I'm at home in my new house, baking tea bread just like my mama taught me when I was a kid. The bananas from the last rousing highland trip didn't all get eaten and were too brown for museli consumption so I did the merciful thing and mashed them for baking. It's the recipe from the New York Times cookbook my mom got as a newlywed in 1968. I found the same edition for 3 dollars at a used bookstore in an alley in Boston, and she went through hers and copied in every single handwritten note she'd added over the years of use.

Her book is no longer really a book- the spine went years ago, and it's jammed with bookmarks made of drawings one of us made. Me and my three brothers, the baking helpers sifting flour in our vintage flour sifter that makes a wonderful swishing sound or measuring the walnuts to make this bread that was always the fate of forgotten bananas.

I've added notes to my book since she wrote hers in, converting temperatures to celsius, adding notes on Icelandic substitutes for the ingredients, made comments on friends who used a certain recipe themselves and liked it. This particular bread was made by my Norwegian friend T, who hand mashed the bananas so they came out with a new kind of texture, now noted in the crammed margin around this simple recipe, pressed up against my mom's handwriting.

But tonight I made mine straight, just like my mama always made, and as I did I heard her voice teaching me all the steps that I do now so involuntarily- lining the bottom of the bread pans with greased brown paper so the bottoms didn't stick, smoothing the batter off the sides of the pan so it didn't burn.

It's like this when I do the things my dad taught me too- remembering when he taught me to sharpen my kitchen knives properly (long smooth strokes, watch the angle, and check your progress against the light), sitting together around the kitchen table that once was pink, now white, and still always referred to as "the pink table". The lesson was repeated at the summerhouse on the vast table there so that I'd take it with me wherever I go.

Living here means I'm geographically distant from my family, and no matter how many ways of communicating there are, this fact remains. And yet, as the smell of the baking rises from the oven in my little tree house of a home, I realize that I'm never so very far away because these pieces of them are so embedded in me.


Professor Batty said...

... what a wonderful thing for your mother to do (copying notes from her book to yours), I know that our favorite recipe books are like hers as well- falling to pieces, held together by inertia and love.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! Beautiful post, E. Your cook book sounds fabulous - my kind of book.

Speaking of recipes, I volunteered at the last minute to make a "traditional" Icelandic lamb stew/soup (Kjotsupa) for an Olympic themed pot luck at work (we had to pick a country to make a dish from... can you believe I picked Iceland? :O). I wish I had time to get ideas from you, but since it's for 12 hours from now I had to go off of some recipes I found online. Now it's simmer overnight and wait and see! I'll let you know how it turns out!

-Sarah :O)

Djaddi said...

There's nothing like the smell of cooking the food you ate when you were still at home with your parents :)

Cheeky Spouse said...

That's the brilliant thing about food. So many memories can come flooding back as the smell wafts from the oven.
I still make recipes that have been used by my family for years. Sometimes just the aroma of a simple sponge cake reminds me of the hours I spent at my Grandma's as a child. We often baked together - both she ad my Mum taught me so much.
The smell of good home baking is like a Mother's love.

Sirry said...

WoW! I looked through the highland pics and my god, I forgot how blue the sky is back home and I forgot how the nature can be intense, the mountains, no trees and just sky for ever and ever.
Have you ever been to Jökulsárlón?
Or, have you ever strolled through Öskjuhlíð?
...or have you ever been to one of the small forests we have over there? I wonder what you´d capture there.
Thanks for a lovely post, I think you know I check it ALL the time :)

Rose said...

What a lovely way to express something so universal, in such a personal way.
I have my Mother's Betty Crocker from 1950 (does anyone remember the sort of Dutch red and white cover?!), the spine is gone (like yours), and I can easily tell the best recipes: those pages have the most food stains on them. The new Betty Crockers use cake mix as the beginnings of the cake recipe--my old one has them all from scratch!

ECS said...

batty: they've also been useful, since it means that when I really want that home-cooked effect I have all the little secrets.

Sarah: I got your email about it, and most recipes I've heard of include flat parsley. Not sure if that's the magical ingredient or if it's just eating it when it's cold and windy outside makes it taste extra special.

djaddi: I think your home-cooked food musta smelled pretty amazing judging from your recipes I've read on your blog. Gotta try some of them.

cheeky: I had a look at your recipes and WOW some of those sound divine. It's autumn in Iceland which definitely lends itself to lots of baking, especially now that I've figured out how my oven works (these convection ovens with about 14 settings are a bit of a mystery to me).

sirry: it's been an exceptional summer for blue sky, that's for sure. And yes, I was at Jökulsárlón in 2006 (there's photos somewhere in my photostream) and if you're talking about the foresty bits around Perlan, of course I've been there. There's photos of that somewhere too.

Rose: we have the Betty Crocker's kid's cookbook from the same era that I never used to cook from but I thought it was fascinating to read as a kid (yup, I was a kid who read cookbooks for fun). It had the gingham print cover too, but I think it was yellow.

Food, she thought. said...

this is the type of writing you do that I love best....

my other made a cookbook of all the recipes of her lifetime. she added sticky notes to certain recipes, such as, "this was the only sup auntie olive would eat during a Reno winter", and "Sue's favorite dish", and so forth. she adds to it every year or so. it's a beautiful thing, this tradition of sharing how we have nurtured people.

Nashe* said...

Baking your own bread is currently a hot trend right now in Singapore, just FYI. :)