A week ago today, my friend Tricia lost her Mom.
A week ago tomorrow would have been my Mom's 77th birthday. Even before hearing of Tricia's loss, I planned to pay tribute to Mom, as I do every year, by making bread on her birthday.
But once hearing Tricia's news, I knew that after mixing and kneading and tending and shaping and baking and tapping and buttering, I would deliver warm bread to a family raw with loss, gathering with memories, communing with tears and laughter, to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of their own mother.
For my Mom, making bread was a way to feed her family and heal her soul while recovering from a radical mastectomy at only age 35. And when, many years later, she was sick with lung cancer and my family was caring for her, I too made bread, what we came to call Best-Ever Oatmeal Bread, first published in Kitchen Parade in 2002 but online now for the first time.
Many of us are thinking about cancer-fighting foods this month. Mele Cotte, herself a survivor, is hosting an event called Cooking to Combat Cancer. This is my proud entry. ~ Alanna, 4/6/07
Ahhh … there’s nothing like the aroma of baking bread to attract a crowd to the kitchen to eagerly await the moment when the loaves are cool enough to cut into thick slices and slather with fresh butter.
My mother made bread every week when I was growing up. It was therapeutic for her. Kneading helped exercise muscles weakened by surgery. And she felt satisfaction knowing her labor would nourish her family physically and spiritually.
For years, Mom mixed dough in a huge cream-colored ceramic bowl with soft pink and aqua stripes. Later she downscaled – her favorite bread bowl became a gallon plastic ice cream bucket!
Today’s grocery stores all carry good bread and it’s possible we’ll lose the art – and the aroma – of home-baked bread. This is the recipe that inspired me. It features pecan meal, made from finely ground, aromatic pecans available in five-pound bags from Sunnyland Farms in Georgia via www.sunnylandfarms.com or 800-999-2488. Best-Ever Oatmeal Bread is a forgiving and adaptable recipe. I’ve intentionally (or accidentally) doubled the molasses and honey, omitted the pecan meal or the milk powder, substituted wheat flour for a portion of the flour, added dried cranberries or sunflower seeds, and so on. So – follow the recipe the first time, then start experimenting.
Like all bread, this is delicious straight from the oven. But a loaf stays fresh for a week – if it lasts that long! It’s luscious toasted for breakfast and for some reason, works particularly well with chicken salad for lunch.
BEST-EVER OATMEAL BREAD
2 loaves, 16 slices each
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Total preparation time: 4 hours
- 1 package yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 2 tablespoons warm water
- ¼ cup butter
- 3 tablespoons molasses
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ cup dried milk powder
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 2½ teaspoons salt
- 2½ cups boiling water
- 1 cup pecan meal (or ground pecans)
- 6 – 6½ cups flour (bread flour if available)
Proof yeast by stirring it in small dish with the tablespoon of molasses and the warm water.
In a large bowl, combine butter, the 3 tablespoons molasses, honey, milk powder, oatmeal, salt and boiling water. Let cool. Add the yeast mixture, pecan meal, 6 cups flour and combine well. Knead 5 – 10 minutes with remaining ½ cup flour (more if needed).
Wash the bowl, then spread a tablespoon of oil over its surface. Shape dough into a round and place in bowl. Turn dough 360 degrees to cover entire surface lightly with oil. Cover bowl with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise. Let rise 1 hour or until doubled. Punch dough down, then cut in half and shape into two logs. Spray two 9x5” loaf pans with cooking spray and place one log in each. Cover with a towel and place in a warm spot to rise. Let rise 1 hour or until crowned 1” over the rim. Preheat oven to 350F and bake 40 – 45 minutes, tenting with foil if browning too quickly. Remove from oven and rub the loaf tops lightly with butter. After 10 minutes, remove loaves from the pans and let cool.
• This recipe was published online for the first time in 2007 for a food blogging event called Cooking to Combat Cancer hosted by Melecotte
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