I come from a long line of bread bakers. I remember looking forward to visits from my grandmother and great aunt, not only because it was nice to have them around, but because they always made homemade bread. They made some overnight refrigerator rolls that made an awesome meatloaf sandwich! My mom baked bread sometimes, too.
For a while when the kids were small I baked sour dough bread on a regular basis. Being home with the kids made it easy to keep up with the starter. I loved the sight of three loaves rising on top of the dryer and the smell of it baking in my oven. The truth is, I’m kind of a pioneer woman at heart. I loved heating with wood, hanging diapers on the line, making my own jelly, and canning vegetables from my own little garden. I really wanted to learn to make my own soap, but I never got around to it.
When we moved to Texas, I got out of the routine of caring for the starter. I had another baby, and life got busier. Besides, sour dough bread goes straight to the waist. When I was pregnant with my youngest son, I began having problems with my stomach that went beyond my usual morning sickness. I was hospitalized several times. They thought I might have an ulcer, or gallbladder problems, there was no way to know as long as I was pregnant. In the end, they induced my labor three weeks early because I could not keep anything down. Tests were inconclusive. They observed irritation, but no ulcer. My gallbladder was fine.
The pain was better after I gave birth, but it would come back in waves, especially if I was stressed. I was frustrated, but I did not want to go on tons of medication. The ones I tried made me feel sleepy and when you have five children, you need to be awake. Not long after that we began homeschooling. Some of my homeschooling friends baked all of their own whole wheat bread. They talked about how much better it made them feel, and how great it was for their children’s digestion. I began to research and experiment. I learned that whole wheat flour you buy in the store is not really whole. The wheat germ must be removed because otherwise it spoils on the shelf. REAL whole wheat flour must be refrigerated. I found a place to buy it and tried making bread by hand. It is very difficult to make real 100% whole wheat bread by hand. It has to be kneaded forever in order for the gluten to develop properly. I could only manage two loaves at a time, but I found that it really helped my stomach. Since there were seven of us, however, two loaves didn’t last very long. Eventually, we saved and bought the necessary machines that allowed me to grind wheat myself and make bread six loaves at a time. I even had a little business for a while: The Little Red Hen and Company. We made and delivered whole wheat bread, cinnamon rolls and cookies. It was fun.
Then we moved ‘cross country from Texas to North Carolina. The homeschool people I met here did not make bread. It took me a while to find a wheat source, but I eventually found an Amish store that even sold my favorite, Prairie Gold. I baked on. When our oldest daughter went to college, I went back to teaching and my kids went back to school. Our homeschool closed and the bakery slowed down. I still baked on occasion, but the increased stress and the decreased baking led to a return of my stomach problems. I coped with medication and as the kids got older and life got busier, the bread baking ceased altogether.
I never thought about it until I sat down to write this today, but my cancer diagnosis followed the cessation of my bread baking. I’m sure the reaction of my Texas homeschool friends would be, “Duh!” No, they wouldn’t say that because they are more polite and generally sweeter than that… but they might just think it. Anyway, time passed and my machines gathered dust. I still had a supply of wheat, however. Wheat is amazing. God gives each kernel its own little tupperware container. It will stay fresh and retain all of its nutrition for as long as it is kept dry. Archaeologists have found wheat in Egyptian tombs that sprouted when planted. So cool!
This past December everyone was coming home for Christmas. My boys both mentioned that they would love to have some of my bread while they were home. I got out the old machines and fired up the grinder. I was back in business. Since I got my own five-year “all clear” and release from the oncologist, I feel like it is time for new beginnings. With our semi-empty nest I can bake every other Saturday and easily meet our bread needs. A slice of whole wheat toast with natural peanut butter and a cup of tea makes an awesome and inexpensive breakfast. Baking makes me feel like I have a part of my old life back, and my tummy feels better already. It feels good.