© Ava Leavell Haymon.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
Our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name
thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth
as it is in heaven give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors lead
us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever amen
For two thousand years, folks have been saying amen
to that, repeating the lives and the names
of the saints as orthodox charms to stave off the evil
that seems to swell out of every gritty lump of real earth.
My family’s no exception, but in the way gold is teased out of lead
by the philosopher’s stone, my mother baked bread
that could rub the pain off a wet November day, a yeast bread
we’d wait hours for, watching it rise the way we hoped a man
would one day rise out of the crowd and lead
us away from all this. We’d drop our names
to take on his. By that one meek sacrifice, we’d inherit the earth,
mount up on wings like eagles, and with his help control the evil
born in our woman-flesh. Three daughters in one house. More evil
than one father and mother could handle and still get the daily bread
on the table. Three sisters — the Fates, the Triune Goddess (earth-
underworld-sky), the virgin-mother-crone trinity. Amen,
we’d snicker, to whatever witch-hint whispered the name
we knew in secret, the hidden life we’d none of us lead
openly. “Flesh will lead
you astray,” our father assured us: “The evil
flesh is heir to assumes many names —
greed, carnality, sloth.” Our mother agreed. But it was bread
she’d turn our idle hands to, her mother’s recipe, her grandmother’s, a man-
catching spell(his heart, through his stomach).It called for things of earth:
butter, cakes of yeast, fresh-milled grain that even smelled of earth —
oats, barley, wheat, sometimes rye when the mood took her. She’d lead
our squeamish hands through the sticky first steps, the kneading — “A man’s
hands would be too heavy,” she’d say — laying damp cheesecloth like a veil
over the deep crock bowl, the firm little knot of bread
dough hunkered in the curve like an egg. Hours later, she’d call our names —
the bowl rim would bulge over with honeycomb bread dough. Miracle of earth,
not heaven. My mother meant to lead us toward my father’s god, away from evil.
But her recipes bore the names of too many mothers;
her womb, too many daughters. We praise her. Amen.
(from Marmee [my father’s mother] to my mother to me to my daughter to my granddaughters)
We make these every Thanksgiving, and the three grandgirls have done it every year since they could sneak bites of the dough.
- 1 Cup Shortening (we use butter)
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1 Cup Boiling Water
In a huge bowl, mix these together till sugar dissolves and butter melts.
Allow to cool.
- 2 Pkg Yeast (we used Fleishmann’s, but have never tried the very newest variety)
- 1 Cup Lukewarm Water
In a small bowl, pour yeast over water. Add 1 Tablespoon sugar to test yeast.
Do not stir. Let this sit, if it bubbles, stir till yeast is dissolved and continue...
- 2 Well-beaten Eggs — Beat with fork in a small bowl.
- Mix these first three groups of ingredients together, in the huge bowl.
Measure and mix together:
- 8 Cups Flour, Mixed (unbleached flour works well)
- 1 Tablespoon Salt
Measure out flour, no need to sift. Mix with salt. (Do NOT forget the salt, and measure carefully) If you are doubling the recipe, 16 C flour is a 5 pound bag plus 1/2 cup)
- Mix Flour-and-Salt into Liquid Ingredients, a cup at a time. Toward the end, it will be too thick to stir. You will then begin to knead the last flour into the dough. Continue to knead till the dough holds its own shape.
- Put dough into lightly oiled bowl or large straight-sided crock. Cover with damp cheesecloth or light kitchen towel. Let rise till double (a few hours, usually, if in a cool place. Overnight, if in refrigerator). Punch down.
- Let rise again until double. Punch down again. (You can skip this second punch, if you need to)
- Form dough into small rolls on baking sheets (lined with baking parchment). Leave space for them to double or triple in diameter. Brush with mixture of oil and water, so surface does not harden.
- Let rolls rise on baking sheet (in humid warmish place if possible) til about double, several hours, usually)
- Brush tops again with oil/water mixture just before baking. When I put the rolls in to bake, I throw water onto the BOTTOM of the oven so it fills with steam.
- Bake at about 400 degrees until lightly brown. (Rolls burn on bottom easily bec there is so much sugar in the dough. Parchment on pan helps, and also makes it easy to reuse cookie pans)
At least 4 generations of mothers and grandmothers will be in the kitchen with you.
— Thanksgiving, Baton Rouge
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Haymon, Ava Leavell. Eldest Daughter. Baton Rouge: LSU Pr., 2013. © Ava Leavell Haymon. Used by permission. All rights reserved.