Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Breaking Bread

Grandma Browning's Rolls

I know surprisingly little about my great great grandmother, Sophronia Louise Browning. Family folk lore paints the picture of her being a strong minded, strong willed woman, being at times inflexible, uncompromising, manipulative, and even vicious. But what I do know, what I have always known, is that these are Grandma Browning's rolls. Ever since I was a small child, that is what they have been called. Never dinner or yeast rolls, never simply bread, her name was always attached to this dough, like the recipe itself was consubstantial with her very being. For all I know she too learned this recipe from her grandmother, there is no telling how far it goes back. Maybe the Snow family brought it here with them from Europe on the Mayflower itself. There is no way of knowing. But what there is to know, is that there has never been a holiday dinner or important family gathering in the last one hundred fifty years which did not include these light, feathery rolls.

My grandmother Iris (or Grandma I, as we have always called her) would use this dough for everything. It was her all purpose dough. Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, pizza crust, dough nuts, loaves of bread, bagels, anything was possible, nothing was out of the reach of its magic. About eight or ten years ago, when her health began to fail and she was no longer able to make the rolls for our gatherings, she passed the torch on to me, as it had been passed to her, and I have been making them for our family ever since. I, of course, have put my own modern spin on the recipe, as she no doubt did hers. In this way, it is a collection of all of us. All of our secrets, our tricks, our special touches, our memories, our happiness, our holidays.

My Kitchen Aid mixer now makes easy work of the kneading process. But as a child, standing on a stool, my hands on her cutting board, squishing the dough between my tiny fingers, I remember Grandma I smiling down at me, telling me that this was special bread, that this bread had to be kneaded for twenty-five minutes. No more. No less. And to this day, whether in the mixer, or by hand, I ensure that it kneads for exactly that long.

We don't have inheritances in my family. We don't have trust funds, war bonds, stock market portfolios, or priceless antique furniture to leave behind. But we do have this dough: our own little yeasty legacy. This dough that has spanned at least five generations. This dough that has been with us all along. Delicious.


Megan said...

That's a wonderful legacy.
I sure hope that some of that legacy is making its way here Saturday ;)

Puja said...

I'm very curious about this dang dinner rolls! From all accounts, they are pure divinity, but I would like to try them for myself. We'll have to make arrangements.

Lots of luck on these entries! I have culinary envy of you--I wish I had so many award worthy recipes/the courage to enter a contest! Good on you Jacob!