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My Mother’s Cookbook

Anna’s Potato Bread and Sour Cream Cookies

by Margaret Cullison

The yeasty aroma of homemade bread often wafted from my mother’s kitchen. We didn’t have bread with every meal but, when bread or rolls were on the table, they were served as a complement to dishes that were light on starch. Mom considered nutritional balance and the compatibility of color, texture, and flavor of foods when planning her menus. Vegetable soup thick with tender beef and lentils, plump lima beans baked with onion and tomato, or chilled chicken salad with crunchy water chestnuts and slivered almonds were likely to be offered with bread or rolls.

The recipe for bread that we liked best came from a German woman who helped our mother. Someone to assist with the housekeeping was necessary when my two brothers and I were young and our grandmother and her widowed sister lived with us in the rambling Victorian house my paternal grandfather bought in 1887. Anna Schmieding emigrated to join a colony of her countrymen who had come over to farm the rich Iowa soil that surrounded my hometown. Anna and Mom exchanged recipes as one good cook to another will do, and her sour cream cookies and potato bread were among our favorites.

When my oldest brother went off to college, my mother started working a few hours a week at a flower shop that one of her friends had set up in the basement of her home. Mom liked the creativity of arranging flowers and, I’m sure, the chance to work away from home. The extra money she earned helped too, with one child in college and two more soon to follow. Her family came first though, and one Saturday she baked three loaves of Anna’s potato bread before leaving for the flower shop. It was senior prom night and more work than usual would be required of her that afternoon.

Within an hour of her departure, my brother showed up unexpectedly with a friend from college in eastern Iowa. Ben had intended the visit to be a surprise and didn’t want to wait for the joyous welcome he’d anticipated when planning his trip home. He persuaded me to call our mother on the phone with a fabricated story that I wanted her to come home right away. I’ve never been good at lying and so my half-hearted attempts failed to alarm Mom sufficiently to bring her home. In the meantime, Ben had cut into a loaf of the warm bread, and he and his friend began devouring slice after slice, melted butter dripping between their fingers as they hovered over the kitchen table.

This aroused panic in my mind for I imagined the catastrophe of Mother returning home to find no bread left for the evening meal. And none for me to eat, I might add. I made another phone call and yet another, but still she refused to come home, explaining that they had many orders left to fill. After Ben and his friend had finished the first loaf and eaten half the second, their appetites were sated enough to finally hear my plea of “please don’t eat all the bread cuz Mom will be really mad.” In a few more hours she did return and was properly surprised and pleased to see her adored oldest child. She accepted as normal that he and his friend had helped themselves to a healthy amount of her home baked bread.

Anna’s Potato Bread
2 packages dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm potato water (100-115 degrees)
1 cup lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups flour

Let yeast stand in potato water and sugar for 5 minutes to proof. Add additional cup of water and gradually add flour, beating until smooth. Cover and put in warm place to rise until double in bulk.

2 cups milk, heated to scalding
4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons shortening (Anna used lard)
2-3 cups flour

Mix hot milk with salt, sugar, and shortening. Let cool and then add to the risen yeast batter. Gradually add two cups of flour to make medium firm dough. Knead on floured surface for about 20 minutes, adding more flour as needed to make dough smooth and satiny. Cover and let rise again until doubled in bulk. Separate dough into three portions and place in greased loaf pans. Dough can be shaped into rolls and put in greased 8x12 baking pan. Let rise to ¾ in bulk. Bake 50 minutes (15-20 minutes for rolls) at 350 degrees.

Mom’s cobalt blue Fiestaware cookie jar usually contained at least a few cookies, and the lid made a distinctive clinking sound whenever one of us kids raided the jar. It was so much the centerpiece of the kitchen that Dad used to say, “Anna May, when I die you can just put my ashes in that cookie jar.” She thought this was vaguely indecent of him, which was exactly the reaction he wanted.

We were quite free to take a cookie when we felt hungry, because Mom firmly believed in feeding her family well and had none of the present-day aversion to sugar and fat. In fact, she had her own disdain for the low-fat, sugar-free products that have grown popular in the last twenty years. Anna’s cookies contain both sugar and fat and, needless to say, lard is the preferred shortening.

Anna’s Sour Cream Cookies
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 cup lard or butter
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ginger; only ¼ teaspoon if using butter
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Approximately 5 cups flour

Cream lard or butter with sugar and beat in eggs. Add sour cream, then add soda, baking powder, ginger, salt, and nutmeg with enough flour to make dough soft enough to form into long rolls about 11/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Cut into thin slices and put on greased baking sheets. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 325 degrees until lightly browned.

As it turned out, Mom needed that cookie jar after Dad died and was given a more appropriate final resting place. She maintained her diligence in providing cookies throughout the years that her grandchildren came to visit. They could always count on being welcomed by their grandmother with her blue jar full of cookies. Chocolate chip with walnuts, spicy ginger, oatmeal and raisins, buttery peanut butter, sugar cookies with jam in the centers, whatever might be their current preference. She always asked ahead of time what kinds of cookies they wanted. And a surplus supply would be stored in plastic containers in the basement freezer, just in case the cookie jar got empty. They were even allowed to eat cookies before breakfast, because isn’t spoiling the grandkids what grandmothers are for?


Recipes are from the collection of Anna May Cullison.

©Margaret Cullison for SeniorWomenWeb

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