There is just something about interacting with the curious mind of a child that sets my world smiling.
This past weekend was full of a bushel basket of those smiles as our grandchildren, Little Missy , age 4-1/2, and Little Sir, age 2-1/2, spent an afternoon and overnight with us. The little eyes and minds of these precious babes soaked in all of the activities that were ongoing in our farming operation, and their world was enlarged because of them.
Our Little Missy absolutely loves to bake and was so ready to become acquainted with the bread machine. How delightful that at her age, she could find great fulfillment and reward in creating and later tasting that first slice of homemade bread. When using a bread machine, having capable measuring skills is the key as the machine does the rest of the work. At her pre-kindergarten age, she is quite adept at the basics of measuring ingredients, largely in part to the time she and her mommy have spent in the kitchen together. My baking time with this little darlin’ opened the door to discuss fractions since one of the ingredients called for 1-1/4 teaspoon. By visually reviewing the sizes of measuring spoons, she was able to note how many ¼ teaspoons it would take to make 1 teaspoon. The recipe we used was for basic wheat bread, but when I mentioned that she could be creative and add her own chosen ingredient, the wheels started turning. It was so much fun to “hear” her mind work when she chose the additional ingredient of toasted flax seed to add to the basic recipe. She had never tasted this little seed before, so upon tasting it, she crunched on it and deemed it to taste “nutty” and worthy of use in this baking project. Little Missy said, “Let’s add some to the dough, Grandma.” So she did. I was quite surprised after the loaf was baked and cooling that her first question was, “Now what can we put on top of it?” (In other words, how can we make it pretty?) A little brushing of butter and a sprinkle of toasted flax seed gave the polish that turned Little Missy’s first homemade loaf of bread into a recipe of which she is fully capable of making and entering into the Iowa State Fair. Oh, how I love to bake with this little girl!
Our family tradition of baking homemade bread began generations before my time. However, my remembrance of being exposed to this art was observing my mom’s weekly bread-baking ritual. I have fond memories as a youngster of just sitting at the kitchen table talking with Mom as she took the heavy bread crocks from the bottom cupboard in our farmhouse kitchen. She would buy 25 pounds of flour at a time which took residence in the tilt-out flour bin built into the row of cupboards. Even though Mom baked bread out of necessity to feed our family, I have always imagined that the time-consuming job of kneading the dough was a time of reflection for her. That was a brief moment in her day’s schedule when her mind might have taken her to another moment in time. Perhaps the 10 minutes of hand kneading the bread dough gave her the well-deserved respite from more challenging tasks that she knew would face her as her day wore on. And on those days I would come home from school to the aroma of freshly baked bread… I felt loved all over!
Yes, learning how to bake bread involves gaining knowledge of both science and art skills. But the absolutely greatest reward of all is the time well spent when child and adult are lovingly involved in this bonding opportunity.