Dusting off my old cookbooks recently, I encountered two little notebooks with all the recipes I have collected through the years, some written, some glued, some barely hanging on by a strip of now-yellowish tape. Flipping through the pages, memories popped like kernels of popcorn hitting hot oil.
Some memories, like the recipes themselves, have faded over time, while others remain crystal clear. Funny how certain moments in our lives are written indelibly on our minds while others become lost to time.
I started my first “cookbook” when I was maybe 10 years old. As artsy as I am, these notebooks couldn’t be just "plain subject, wide-ruled" notebooks. No way! I spent so much time decorating them.
My oldest cookbook was covered in black felt, adorned with a cherry-topped cup of ice cream. I probably spent more time decorating and writing recipes than actually making them. Those notebooks contained more recipes than I could ever hope to make.
But it's who I made those recipes with that lingers pleasantly in my mind. My dear grandmother. We spent many delicious moments together over those recipes. I fondly recall snacking on her cookie dough and sampling whatever she was cooking at the time.
These memories are priceless to me.
All this reminiscing inspired me to ask some good friends to share their memories of our friendship and what “breaking bread" means to them. Below is the first part in a series of articles about bread and its influence on building family, community, and memories.
First up, my dear friend Marie Demeroukas, a photo archivist and research librarian at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale. And, as you'll see, a gifted writer.
Here's Marie, writing about "Growing Up Greek & the Bread of Life"...
The first word I learned to say in Greek was yiayia—grandmother. But language was always a barrier between us. Despite having lived in Chicago for nearly 50 years, she never learned to speak English. So she communicated her love through gestures and food. When we’d arrive at her house on Sunday, there was a perfect round of fresh bread on the kitchen table, ready for the evening meal. Seeing the question in my eyes, she’d slip a slice to me. The warmth of the bread, the scent of the yeast, that was yiayia’s house.
We attended services occasionally at the Greek Orthodox church. St. Basil’s was a mystical realm, spiced with resinous incense and alive with the glow of dozens of flickering candles set in red glass votive holders. After the service came the ritual of communion and the awkwardness of having to kiss the priest’s ring. My eyes always went to the cloth-lined basket filled with cubes of simple, honest bread. So much nicer to eat than the bland, pasty wafers I had at the Lutheran Church, where I went to school.
As a teenager, I learned to cook a few Greek dishes from my old man, who worked hard to perfect his recipes. At Easter and on New Year’s Day he’d make a monstrously huge sweet bread made with sugar and eggs and flavored delicately with pickling spice—bay, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, mustard, and cardamom. My brother and I took turns at kneading the massive ball of dough, popping pinches of sweet, yeasty goodness into our mouths when we thought no one was looking. For New Year’s, a silver dollar was pushed into the dough during the final rise, to bring good fortune to the lucky recipient. At Easter, long ropes of dough were rolled out and coiled atop the bread to hold red-dyed eggs, symbols of the blood of Christ. The bread was rich, moist, and just the right kind of dense. We cut our slices thick and slathered them in sweet butter.
After a move to Arkansas, one spring I found myself yearning for the taste of Easter. I had always helped with the meal, but had never made it on my own. So I spent a few days cooking my way into my childhood and—amazingly—everything turned out, even the bread. I’ve recreated that feast more than a dozen times over the years, adding new dishes to the menu and new friends to the table.
One of those friends is Daymara, who offered to bake the family recipe for the last Easter gathering. She put her own spin on it, keeping the flavor I loved but altering the texture a bit to suit her own breadmaking style. That’s the thing with recipes.
They may change, but not the baked-in memories.
The Rockin' Baker
Hi, I'm Daymara Baker, founder and CEO of Rockin' Baker. Venezuela native. European-style baker. Proud American and Northwest Arkansan.