My mother's roots ran deep in the dark, fertile soil of eastern Tennessee. Life was hard during the Great Depression. Love, with a healthy dose of southern cooking, saw her family through the lean years.
I loved to listen to my mother tell stories of the foods that sustained her family. Dandelion greens flavored with pork renderings. Gravy made with nothing more than a handful of flour, milk from their own cow, and chicken broth. Special occasions called for special foods: turkey on Christmas--when her daddy could shoot one; black-eyed peas for New Year's Day.
When my mother married, she carried with her the traditions of plain and hearty fare such as meatloaf and tuna noodle casserole, fried chicken and pork tenderloin. Her specialty, though, was whole wheat bread. She and my sister and I delivered dozens of loaves to friends, neighbors, church members, our piano teacher. No one turned down Georgia McBride's whole wheat bread. Served warm, slathered with butter and honey, it rivaled any bakery confection.
Mom did not use store-bought shortening. She saved bacon drippings, then strained and refrigerated them. When it came time to make bread, she used the bacon drippings. "It gives the bread a special taste," she said. (These were the days before we worried over cholesterol and counted fat grams.)
When I married and set up my own household, I tried duplicating her bread. I, too, saved bacon drippings. I kneaded the bread by hand, but my bread never matched hers. I wondered why and then realized that my mother had added an extra ingredient to her bread: love. I followed a recipe. She followed her heart.
So, for today, I am grateful for homemade bread and the memories it evokes.