As a kid, I wanted to be my grandmother when I grew up. I mean it was comforting and a very “me” thing to do, but not the most ambitious dream for a girl. Our Gran was and still is lovely. The absolute prettiest woman at the assisted living. She has dementia, just as her mother did. It’s so hard to know she is still alive but not really there. But I love that parts of her personality are still there. Gran was an amazing cook. She could do it all. From down home country food to fancy and elegant. I remember her always providing 3 meals a day for her, my grandfather, and whoever was staying with them. We would walk into the house and yell her name and she would respond with a long loud “Wooo” to let us know what area of the house she was in.
My passion for cooking stemmed from her. She saw providing meals for her family as a responsibility, but more importantly a way of showing her love for us. Cooking was something that I knew I could learn to control and master at a very early age, and I loved the way it brought joy to the people I loved. It also made Gran very proud of me. We would talk about recipes and share cookbooks. We would cook for each other, and have long talks about details and learn from each other each time. She would call me with new and interesting things she had eaten or fixed. She would get frustrated with me because I rarely followed recipes and she would want me to write down what I did. I remember a time when I was visiting a cousin when I was a girl and she had an appetizer for us while we were visiting. I complimented her on how good it was and she said “Thank you, I knew it was good when your Gran asked for the recipe”.
While I was growing up, she never bought sliced bread or sandwich meat. She made 6 loaves of homemade sourdough bread once a week. She would give away at least 3 loaves of that a week to family and friends. She would also roast whole turkey breasts to slice just for sandwiches. There was nothing better than her turkey sandwiches. At the age of 22, mastering the ability to make her bread became a quest for me. I still have the email saved from when she sent me the recipe on May 21, 2001. After a few rounds, I finally got it right. I am NOT a disciplined bread baker as she was and I ate a sandwich yesterday from store bought bread.
So, just to fast forward to my current life. I didn’t grow up to be Cherry Wheeler. I don’t belong to a garden club or play bridge weekly. But I’ve taken the amazing lessons of how she elegantly and fiercely loved her family, and I’ve tried to apply them to my own life. A couple of times a year, including this morning, I make the 30 hour commitment to making her bread just to ensure sure I can still fill my own home with the memory of what her home smelled like as the loaves of love were baking.
Here is her sourdough bread recipe exactly as she sent it to me 17 years ago, misspellings and all.
A few tips if you decide to try this recipe.
- If you want to make bread the day you begin your starter, just measure 1 cup of it out after the 8-10 hours of letting it stand.
- You can substitute vegetable oil for whatever oil you like to use. I’ve used canola, avocado, coconut, and olive oil.
- At times, it takes a lot more than 6 cups of flour. The dough should be a little sticky but manageable.
- The recipe doesn’t say to grease your loaf pans, but I do and I know she did.
- If you want the top of your bread a deeper brown, spray the sides of your oven with nonstick cooking spray when you put the bread into the preheated oven.