(by Lisa Burton)
I am the mother of four daughters and two sons. When daughter number one, Casey, was not yet two years old, something happened that would change my life forever. Beautiful daughter number two, Grace Elizabeth, was born with a severe heart defect. After two open-heart surgeries, our Amazing Grace died just before her first birthday.
Mothers are not supposed to bury their children. With my arms empty and grieving for the baby I should be holding, I realized that I could not fix hearts, but I could give my family the best start in life by feeding them the healthiest foods, made from scratch. That included homemade bread, milled from organic wheat berries into my own flour. I found the process of working the dough to be incredibly cathartic. I could focus my energy and feel like I accomplished something when I frequently didn’t even want to get out of bed. I would pull off bits of dough and give them to Casey with a patty pan to make “pies” of her own.
Over the next decade, I gave birth to another daughter, Olivia, twins Caroline and Luke, and another son, Joseph. My bread baking became something of a ritual. From a young age, I taught the girls to help me in small ways, like lining up the ingredients in order or measuring and adding. Eventually they could do everything under my watchful eye, seven loaves at a time, so there was sufficient squishy, pliable dough for everyone to play with and shape. Sometimes we made a delicious caramel sauce and used the dough for sticky buns. Other times, we filled the dough with tomato sauce, sausage, and cheese for stromboli.
We were a military family, living in various places like North Carolina, Kansas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania, constantly surrounded by people coming and going. Our bread was often gifted as a welcome, get-well-soon, or congratulations offering. Neighbors and friends wanted this treat on a regular basis, and thus arose the opportunity for the girls to go into business. Sometimes they made three batches a week, 21 loaves, to supply all the hungry customers, learning economy and responsibility along the way. The boys were only ever interested in squishing the dough and eating the finished product, but the girls laughed, bickered, and bossed each other through the entire process.
My two oldest daughters are married now, with one daughter each (so far). They mill their own flour and treat their own families to our tradition. They are anomalies to their peers, but they love carrying on the art. I feel certain that my granddaughters will come knocking on my door one day asking if I would like to buy some bread, or treating me to delicious muffins or cookies.
When people ask me what got me started in this lovely world of bread baking, I respond with one word: Grace. They don’t really understand the full meaning, and I’m happy to explain if prodded, but that little darling truly was my inspiration. Her life had purpose and impact that will carry on for generations to come.
Lisa Burton lives in Carthage, North Carolina. She was raised in a military family, met her husband in ROTC in college and, after seven years on active duty in the Army, had six children. She home-schooled her children and is now pursuing an acting career.
Mom’s Best Bread
6 c. warm water
3 T. yeast
approximately 8 c. freshly milled flour
2 T. dough enhancer
1/3 c. vital wheat gluten
3/4 c. expeller pressed canola oil
2/3 c. honey
2 T. sea salt
Place water in mixing bowl or machine mixer.
Sprinkle in yeast and about 6 cups of flour.
Mix until smooth.
Add dough enhancer, gluten, oil, and honey.
Add salt and several more cups of flour, until dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.
Knead for about five minutes until dough becomes smooth and elastic and springs back when poked with a finger.
Place dough on a clean, greased countertop.
Form into a large rectangle and cut into 7 equal pieces.
Shape into loaves and place in 8 x 4 inch greased loaf pans.
Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown.
Remove from pans and let cool on racks.
Optional: Sometimes I add garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and Parmesan cheese to the dough, then brush the tops with olive oil and sprinkle with more Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese.