My grandparents lived in the small community of Shelby, Michigan just near the coast of Lake Michigan. They had a one hundred acre farm perched on a small hill with a beautiful view of crops and other neighbouring farms. That part of Michigan – possibly like most of Michigan – was pretty flat and from their vantage you could see quite a long way out. Their land was uniquely positioned on this rise. Driving to their farm for a visit from Vermont was a two day excursion and for many years, my Dad drove a Fiat so imagine my brother and me in the back seat and sometimes our dog for two solid days…We started going to their farm when I was about five years old. The I spent time during the summers and on holidays, helping my grandparents, picking fruits and the delicious meals from her cookstove is one of my most vivid and special memories.
When we got to the end of their very long laneway, we were allowed to jump out and run to the farm house. This was a special treat because the land was basically white sand and running down the lane was like running on a beach. My grandmother always greeted us, coming out onto the porch her beautiful flower gardens on either side.
My grandparents were not really farmers with a history and tradition of living on the land, but they moved to this magical place in mid life to start something new. They were not young homesteaders but a couple with three children looking for change. I’m not sure if their move was precipitated by anything in particular or because they wanted to live a more simple life. Looking back on it now, there are similarities with my own life that I was not even aware of when I moved here with my four daughters. That was now ten years ago when my eldest daughter, Carlyle was twelve years old. My dad also was a teenager and the eldest of three when my grandparents decided that they wanted to experience rural life, growing their own food and living as much as possible off the land. I’m not sure if my dad loved all the responsibility that he was required to take on then: milking the cow, walking a very long way to a school bus, gardening and picking fruits in the summer. My grandfather planted fruit trees and bushes, a large vegetable garden and asparagus. My grandmother cooked only on a wood stove similar to mine, she baked and preserved all the fruits and vegetables my grandfather planted.
Whenever we visited, there were several things on the table at all times: a dish of preserved fruits like applesauce, raspberries or blackberries, cherries. We would get our own single portions in Ironstone dishes that today I have in my cupboard. There was always a loaf of fresh homemade bread and a jar of my grandmother’s jam – even at supper time. Food was simple and from the farm. It was always delicious.
My own love of bread and baking was greatly influenced by my grandmother. The smells of a fresh loaf that you have kneaded and crafted and pulled hot out of the oven is something that once experienced, it stays with you forever. My mother, on the other hand, did not bake bread. But she and my father love all varieties of bread, in fact I would call them connoisseurs of sorts. They would actually travel quite a distance to Boston or New York city from Vermont in those early days before great baking came to Brattleboro, to get the traditional heavy, unleavened german breads or rye loaves two feet in diameter that my mother experienced as a child growing up in Germany. My dad just loves bread and he easily transitioned to the german style after meeting my mom but I know he loved the white, lighter breads made by his own mother. Both are a comfort to him and also to me.
Today, I strive to make the german rye and hearty breads of my mother’s heritage; I love the bread my grandmother made and there is a place for it at my table. Ultimately, any bread made with the freshest flours and grains – there is nothing else like it at any meal.