Baking Day

Jos was laughing at my sputtering as I wiped up boiled over rice water from the stove this morning.
"Now, Katy, aint it easier to wipe off this nice white gas stove than it was to scrub and polish that old black range we used to have?"he asked.
He is right, for those old black woodburning monsters had to be polished with messy stoveblack at least once a week and I usually was as black as the stove when I finished. Ma always said "a house is as clean as your stove", so I tried to keep mine looking nice.

Those old stoves turned out a lot of delicious eating tho. We had to do all our own baking, cakes, pies, cookies, and bread as well. The first baker's bread came along about 1910, I think. It was shipped by train from the city to our town in big hampers. The loaves were good size, unwrapped, shaped like two small loaves side by side. It was quite a treat at five cents a loaf but it couldn't compare to the bread we made at home.

In the first place you had the pleasure of smelling the yeasty dough all through it's rising and the buttery brown perfume of its baking and cooling time. And, too, you got to eat the 'heel' of a hot loaf dabbed with fresh butter that melted and ran down your chin and between your fingers persued by your tongue.

Not all bread smells go good in its first stages tho. My Pa was fond of salt risin bread so Ma made two loaves every baking day. You start it the night before by combining corn meal and scalded milk which is allowed to ferment over night. This is called "emptins", probably because by morning it smells like something you should empty out. Salt risin bread has a different taste and texture than yeast bread. I haven't had much luck making it since I can't get fresh ground corn meal and its fussy anyway.

Aunt Min's family was fond of hot breads. You were always sure of a treat at her house, either corn bread, Boston brown bread, muffins or saleratus biscuits. Ma said Aunt Min hated making yeast bread that's why she had so much hot stuff and it couldn't be good for their stomachs. It didn't seem to hurt Sophronia or Artie any. Ma seemed to enjoy it when we took dinner there too!

Grandma used to make buttermilk sugar cookies the like of which I never could equal. They were big as saucers, golden brown on top, darker on the edges and studded with raisens. I never liked raisens baked on cookies, so I'd poke them off and hide them in handy ornamental vases.

Ma and each of my aunts had her own favorite molasses cookie 'rule', all evolved from the one Grandma used. Ma's cookies were rolled out and cut with a scalloped cutter and had a mild sweet flavor. Aunt Min "dropped" hers from a spoon and used more ginger, while her twin, Aunt Mary's were softer yet and crusted with sugar on top. Grandma gave the rule to Aunt Bea when she married Uncle Lonzo, Ma's brother, and her's were darker and crumbly with raisins all through them.

At Christmas each year Grandpa had to sit in judgement on the fruitcakes. Each of the ladies in the family favored her own rule and it was up to Grandpa to decide which was best. He'd sit in his big chair with a plate full of fruity slices and judiciously taste and chew each one. The light or the dark, with brandy or without, invariably he chose Grandma's and everyone was satisfied, tho each of the younger women determined to try harder next year.

Whenever women got together, whether there were two or a large group, they swapped 'receipts'. But often they'd change one thing or leave something out so their secret would remain intact. This was especially true of cakes, for baking a cake in the uncertain heat of a wood range was quite a trick. One woman made the featheriest angel cake, another a dark, rich devil's food, and neither could duplicate the other's result.

Sometimes we had cake sales at church though they were different from the ones they have now. They were held in the evening and the cakes were auctioned to the men. After all were sold, they were cut and eaten along with cups of coffee and milk for the children. The usual comments from the women folk were: "How much sody did you say, Miz M?"' "My, aint Miz P's cake light's a feather"' "Now, Miz R, I jest got to have your rule for that delicious frosting." That was one time a child could get filled up on cake, for children in big families often ate at the second table after the grownups were through and there might not be desert left for them.

I still do some baking. Jos likes homemade bread best and we try to have cookies on hand for the children. I think homemade things are better for folks anyway and I don't notice any of it going to waste.