The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

It's a great feeling using my grandmother's bowls

clazar123's picture

It's a great feeling using my grandmother's bowls

I wonder if anyone else has the pleasure of using legacy "equipment" like my grandmother's bowls. I never knew her, I just knew family lore of her. She was supposedly a remarkable woman who provided bread and bakery and other talents to her family of 12 kids. Every time I use the bowls (every weekend)I think of how she must have put up a sponge and the number of loaves she must hve produced. She was born in 1884 and died in 1950 so we are talking a time when a lot of our modern conveniences were not even invented. I wish I had her breadmixer but it disappeared long ago.I did see it earlier in life-it was a large pot with a built in crank handle.She must have been a strong woman.

Actually she was the reason I started my breadmaking journey a few years ago.I wanted to know how to bake bread before there was commercial yeast because, I'm sure, that is how she started.When it came out, cake yeast was very expensive and not readily available.She would not have been able to afford it. I'm sure she had her starter bubbling away next to the barrels of saurkraut in the basement boiler.

An interesting thing is that I thought my mom had learned how to make bread from her mother but she was the youngest and actually did not have the benefit of a lot of her mom's teaching.So a lot of what my mom taught me about bread making I actually had to unlearn. Except kneading-I can turn a good dough!

So does anyone else use equipment that triggers happy memories? Recipes?

proth5's picture

taught me to bake at a very tender age.  She was a professional cook - in the way that poorer women would hire themselves out to cook for wealthier women - not the "I was trained at the CIA" kind of cook.  In fact, she was the cook for the president of Lehigh University, the same university from which two of her grandchildren obtained degrees (although she didn't live to see it).  We were - the American dream.  Perhaps this is why even though I baked from a very early age and was pretty good at it, I was never encouraged to do it as a profession.  It wasn't really part of the dream.

Although she worked as a cook, she was really a baker.  Unlike most women of her generation, she wrote down her recipes and used standard measurements. Maybe I come by obsessive nature honestly.

When she died, I inherited her well worn kitchen equipment and recipe books.  Most importantly I inherited her extensive collection of hand made tin cookie cutters - and the job of being the family baker.

I used her old Hamilton Beach mixer until it was literally falling apart and then I kept using it - unable to "retire" it - until I realized that it would have given my grandmother great joy that I had the independent means to go out and buy whatever mixer I wanted.

But her cannisters hold my sugar and some of my flour, her scoops move things around, and her cake pans and cookie sheets still see heavy use.

She had recipes for a couple of yeasted specialties including the "St Thomas Alpha Bible Class Doughnuts" - a gargantuan recipe produced by the women of the local "union" church for the annual Fastnact celebration. Unfortunately, I am far from that recipe and will be for some time.  Someday I will post it...

There is also the family "Brown Christmas Cookie" recipe which is useless to post because it is a molasses based cookie recipe that must be rolled out paper thin and cut with fairly small cookie cutters (like the ones in her collection) if it is to have the right texture.  It also contains an ingredient that was once easy to obtain, but now cannot be shipped to a residential address (don't ask...) It is not at all like the "Moravian Cookies" that you can buy.  People think it is when they hear me talk about it, but it is not.

I still use her waffle iron - which is older than I (and I'm no spring chicken...).

Some of her favorite recipes came from boxes of flour or other ingredients.  "They pay people good money to come up with those recipes," she used to say, "they had better be good!"  And some were.

She never was successful in teaching my mother to either cook or bake.  That's why she couldn't wait to start me out.

I can clearly remember - oh, I mustn't have been more than five years old -we had mixed a cake and put some batter in one of those toy sized tube pans.  I actually used hot pads to put the thing in the oven myself and to take it out.  I don't remember being afraid of the hot oven, but I was a bit unsteady and dropped it.  "Oh, that's okay," she said, "It will bounce, it's a sponge cake."

She never baked bread - she loved that stuff from Sunbeam.  "Batter Whipped"

Memories  - yep, a few...

Enjoy your breadmaking, your bowls, and your memories.

davidg618's picture

...but I have a few of her recipes, hand-written in my Aunt Alice's elegant cursive. I'm not certain, but my grandmother, a Welsh immigrant may have been reluctant to write. I recall her signature (on Birthday cards) was shakey and hesitant.

I also have hours of memories sitting at her kitchen table, while she kneaded bread--she sold loaves, "for "pin money"", she said; or made Welsh Cakes, or pinwheel cookies, or currant bread, or cinnamon bread, etc., etc..

Even when I was a young adult, and joined the Navy. I always visited Grandma when I came home on leave. I'd drive to her house, hoping she was in the kitchen baking.

David G

La masa's picture
La masa

my grandma's empanada , but I don't keep any item from her (you don't need a lot of things to make an empanada). However I do keep a "cuece leches" (=milk boiler) from my late mother-in-law-who-inherited-it from-her-mother, that I like and is a nice companion for this week's bread:


I think it's the oldest kitchen item we own.

subfuscpersona's picture

For many years (long before it became fashionable) I have been an enthusiast of (not enameled) cast iron cookware. IMHO, the best cast iron cookware utensils are those that were made in the USA and have been well used for two to three generations. The incredibly smooth surface that you can find on an old, well-cared-for, cast iron skillet or dutch oven is the result of decades of cooking. When I use them, I bless the cooks and former owners that have gone before me.

clazar123's picture

And you are right-the USA made from decades ago is my favorite. I grab them up whenever I find them at rummage sales or flea markets. There is a whole cult of collectors! Google it sometime.

I use cast iron for most of my cooking and baking.Pies,breads and cakes all taste great made in cast iron.

What wonderful memories/thoughts people are sharing! I,too, have some handwritten recipes from my Grandmother-faded and very used looking.MAny of them are just ingredients and hints at what the amounts are. "egg-sized lump" "teacup" "generous handful". I think she may have written them down for my uncles to use (all pretty accomplished cooks and a few bakers)- I think she didn't need to follow a written recipe for some things.

ehanner's picture

I have an old cast iron dutch oven with the fire stand that it sets on in the fireplace. My Grandma gave it to me via my mother who never used it. The thick shiny black carbon finish on the inside is fun to work with. I use it all the time for chili's and braising, really anything not to acid. It's not the largest pot I own but we all enjoy knowing when it was first used there were no cars or electricity.


jennyloh's picture

I don't remember much about my grandma's cooking, but when I was young,  mom bakes/cooks a lot in our open kitchen, which later moved into a big working space kitchen.  i love to hang around the kitchen, when my mom bakes or cooks,  she'll make lovely sponge cakes, marble cakes,  chinese rice cakes,  and she didn't have machines to help her,  yet she get whip up the egg whites that makes her cakes fluff well,  and all kinds of other asian dishes that she learns from others.  She's illiterate,  can't read or write,  but has excellent memory with great tastebuds that will tell her what goes into a dish.  I'm trying to learn some of her excellent dishes/baking, but I don't think I'm half way there yet. I would like to inherit her baking oven, round small one that she used to bake her cake with,  which is probably 40 years old.  I think she still keeps it. 

clazar123's picture

This is such a wonderful multicultural site.Cooking/baking and breadmaking are part of the universal human experience as is the legacy of mothers and grandmothers and uncles. And it seems there is no problem communicating what is important.

In my family,uncles were the major bakers.Kind of natural as there was 10 boys born before the last 2 girls.

Uncle Ted was the donut maker.The recipe was,of course, tightly held and shared with great fanfare. It was a "family recipe" held as a secret. I remember when Uncle Ted gave the recipe to my mom (she was the youngest and the latest to be so privileged).The dough was a simple baking powder sweet dough dropped by small spoonfuls into hot oil,cooked and then sugar coated. He visited often and always brought a bag along for our hoard. Finally my mom could make her own doughnut goodness. She had no qualms about sharing the recipe.

Uncle Joe was the bread baker-former Army cook/baker,ornery,squirrely and rarely used a real recipe.My mom finally pinned him down when he was making some of the family favorites and wrote a recipe as she watched him. I am now the keeper of the families favorites for family gatherings from these recipes.Strangely,he never mastered baking powder biscuits-most of them were hockey pucks-but his bread was great.I have the same problem.

A birthday present from Uncle Joe was a brown paper bag with potatoes, onions and some toilet paper-what every 7 year old wants.Looking back later as an adult-he helped my mom out quite a bit with food-we weren't rich but we had food on the table.And lots of bread-tall,brown loaves.


KansasGirlStuckInMaryland's picture

Before I left home I sat down with my mother's recipe box and a stack of notecards and created my own recipe box.  Those recipes still play a large part in my meal plans.  About the only other thing I have that was hers is my set of canisters.  I have no idea from what type of wood they are made, but we could have bugs in everything else, but not in the flour and sugar.  I don't much else other than love of cooking she instilled in me starting at an early age.  She wasn't a baker really except for the occasional cake, pie or cookies, but when I expressed an interest in making bread she encouraged me and actually asked me to make bread on several occasions.

EvaB's picture

I have inherited numerous pieces of cast ware, but 3 of them are well over 150 years old I'm sure, a cast waffle iron, (that has homemade wooden handle it having survived a house fire and lost the original handles) a round 12 inch across griddle, and an 11 cup muffin tin, I have a couple of old skillets (inherited from my husband's youngest uncle) a bread pan, grey granite enamel finish that was my MIL's and no one else wanted, and a bread mixer, with the crank, that my uncle remade for my mother, who wore out the original bucket, and the replacement one was a different size, requireing adjustment of the crank paparatus etc. That I use to make the Xmas cake in, it works great! And I can mix enough dough for about 10 cakes!

I have various crocks including the small half gallon one that my mother had a wooden homemade lid (my uncle again) on and used for her sourdough starter. I have dishes and bowls mostly fancy serving ones from my great grandmother and grandmother, and of course several things from my mother, and we do use them, just not often.

I think of them all when I take out or use a piece of the collection, and I will be photographing them and makeing up a book for my daughter so she doesn't throw out the goodies!

Daisy_A's picture

Thank you for starting off this really thought provoking thread. I have an old enamel balance scale of my mother's plus iron weights. When I use it for baking it does speak to me of my childhood kitchen and of being the second generation of the family to use it. I am realising now that I will need a digital scale to weigh less standard amounts, but will never get rid of the balance scale - it holds memories and is too beautiful.

I also have some metal loaf tins, biscuit/cookie trays and an iron frying pan, all of which seem to be a much heavier gauge and cook better than most you can buy now.

I have an electric whisk that my mother must have used in the 70s. It's great - really retro. and still going. It's really chunky and that amazingly dense mustardy orange colour that was so popular back then. It has two speeds - it goes like a train and it goes like an express train. It's quite a liability to use as it splatters delicate things like egg white all over the kitchen. It doesn't get out of the cupboard much for that reason, but I'm still very fond of it...

Oh and I also have a really lovely wooden rolling pin. It's great quality, really heavy with a very close wood grain and a very smooth turning motion. It makes a wonderful job of rolling out pastry and pasta.

Wishing you happy baking with the heritage bowls, Daisy_A