They make bread machines now that not only knead the dough; they raise and bake it. But we knew Mom would never go for that much technology. She still preferred to do anything she could the old-fashioned way, despite her ever‑more‑crippled hands with their marble-sized joints.
Bread making was Mom’s “thing.” Every week she baked enough bread for a family of eight. However, since the family was down to two, she gave her bread, her wonderful, whole wheat and honey, crusty, fragrant, warm loaves to people she thought would like or need them. To get one of her loaves was to get more than food, though. You got a hug, a perceptive listening to, a feeling that you were important, somehow, choice, special, loved.
So the six of us kids got together and bought her an electric bread kneader. All you have to do is add the ingredients and in a few minutes you toss it into the pans and bake it.
I was the one who got to bring her the machine to teach her how to use it since the others lived too far away. I was excited because I knew of the increasing cost in real pain making that bread must be demanding. Also, the machine was pretty expensive, and it was always fun to get them something they couldn’t afford.
Mom picked at the package, looked helpless, and Dad took it over, opening it carefully with his old pocket knife and flattening the cardboard for recycling. He supervised the withdrawal from the packing, made a place for the machine on the counter and plugged it in.
Then he helped Mom grind the flour in last year’s gift, an electric mill. He measured out the ingredients. He poured the honey, skillfully turning the lip of the bottle so it didn’t drip. He warmed the water to just the right temperature for the yeast and placed the bowl with the yeast‑sugar mixture into another bowl of warm water to keep the temperature constant.
I didn’t remember all this fuss about making bread. Mom had done it all alone for years before Dad retired. She measured the oil and salt and added a little grated orange peel, her secret ingredient. I turned on the machine.
Sure enough, just as advertised, the dough began to develop glutens and to clean the sides of the bowl. We turned the machine off and took pinches to test. It seemed perfect to me.
But Mother had Dad pour the dough out on a board. They punched and turned it. “Mother,” I protested, “you don’t have to do anything to it! The machine does all the work.”
“I know, dear, but I want to just finish it off by hand.” Dad greased the pans, separated and molded the dough into loaves, and plumped it into the pans.
As Mother covered them with a towel for rising, she said, “Thank you, Dear. I’ll write a note telling everybody thanks.” I saw them pushing the mixer back into the corner with the electric can opener, slow cooker, sandwich maker, small-sized deep fat fryer, electric wok, vegetable chopper/slicer, and popcorn popper we had given them over the years. I thought maybe, since Mother had her own labor-saving devices for bread, next year I’d suggest to the others that we give them something for the patio.