Family Heirlooms: Grammy’s Bread Bowl

Memories can be triggered by the simplest things.

By Eric Peterschmidt

My Grammy made the very best bread in the whole world. Even though I was barely three years old when she died, I have a VERY vivid memory of sneaking out to her kitchen and pinching off a little bit of the heel. Confession: I did that over and over again until it looked like a tiny mouse had been nibbling for days.

Her recipe made five loaves of bread in a batch, and, like any wonderful bread recipe, of course the dough had to rise. She would butter up the inside of a big bowl and carefully add the HUGE lump of dough. Then she would cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and leave it to rise on the back of the stove.

That bowl.

Now, what feels like 100 years later, I know that bowl was something called “yellow ware.”

When my grandmother passed, my mother took custody of the bowl – and the bread recipe. And, as a teen, I got really good at making Grammy’s bread recipe, using Grammy’s bread bowl. I even figured out how to make cinnamon bread – five loaves at a time. Yum!

That bowl was a family treasure.

Until the day that I turned on a burner on the stove to boil a kettle of water, and I turned on the WRONG burner, and the bowl was on THAT burner, and… guess what happened? Yes, that bowl broke. Right there on the stove.

My mother cried. She also yelled at me for a) being so careless and b) leaving the bowl on the stove at all. But mostly she cried.

Years later, long after I had left home, I went back to help mom move out of the house I grew up in. I went to the basement (actually a cellar, not anything fancy like a basement), and I found the pieces of that bowl, lovingly wrapped in a towel, in the exact center of the cellar floor.

That’s how much she treasured that bowl. She could not even bear to throw away the broken pieces of it.

So many years later… and thinking about that bowl brings back so many memories. My mom once told me that I was the only person Grammy ever allowed to touch her fresh bread. That was so special to hear.

And a lot of my memories are about the many times I made bread – delicious, wonderful bread – that I shared with neighbors and friends. When I would carefully butter the inside of that bread bowl, and carefully place the giant blob of dough in it. When I would find a clean dishtowel and cover the bowl so the dough would rise. When I would turn out the bread dough and punch it down, shape it into loaves, and set the dough for its second rise before baking it.

I remember my mother telling me about when Grammy taught her to make bread. Mom read the recipe, and where it said to dissolve the yeast in warm water, she thought “Well, if warm water is good, hot water will be better!” So of course she killed the yeast, and the dough never rose, and she baked what turned out to be doorstops.

I remember the taste of warm, just-out-of-the-oven cinnamon bread, slathered with butter. Extra cinnamon was my trademark – I just love the stuff.

And I remember breaking my mother’s heart when we heard the loud CRACK from the kitchen and I had to report back to her that the bread bowl had broken. (That was hard!)

But mostly I remember the smell of fresh-baked bread, and sneaking out to Grammy’s kitchen to pinch nibbles off the heels, and all the times I made bread on my own.

I have no pictures of the actual bowl, but I did a search and found some photos that look like what I remember Grammy’s bread bowl looking like, so I’ll share those with you instead.

If I were to share this story with my far-flung family members, I bet I’ll get a lot more stories about Grammy’s bread. And I have her cookbook – with that recipe – that I will treasure for as long as I live, even if I never bake another batch of the very best bread in the world.

What family heirlooms to do you have that bring back such vivid memories? I invite you to share them on the TightKnit Facebook page.


P.S. from Eric:

This isn’t a story about my Grammy. When my friend shared this story with me, I asked if I could share it on our blog. So here it is, with her permission.

The stories are the real memories, don’t you think?

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