As I walked into the historic home at 5200 Anderson Road in Montague with my mom, Diane, sister Mariel and both grandmothers, we seem to have traveled back in time. The house was huge, with tall ceilings and wide hallways, and housed our next adventure: a heritage experience baking bread.
Last year for Christmas, my family decided to get both of my grandmothers gift certificates to Bygone Basics, a business in Montague that teaches you how to “put food by” as it was done many years ago. Started by Valerie and John Hanson in Whitehall, Valerie decided to take her experiences as one of eight children growing up on a family farm, and put them to use.
My family gathered together on Saturday, a rainy, cold day and headed out to the Hanson’s home, also now a bed and breakfast. While my mom’s mother, Nita, had made bread before, the closest the rest of us can come to baking bread was buying it the store.
Both Nita, and my other grandmother, Betty, were excited, but once they walked into the house, it was obvious; not only were we learning a new skill, we were all together. While we started making our bread, Valerie gave us our recipe sheets for white bread, and helped us through every step, giving little tricks along the way.
While our bread was proofing, we enjoyed a farm-style meal, which included a vegetable stew, homemade bread and jams and slices of apple and cheese.
While we were enjoying our meal, my grandmothers began telling stories of when they were younger. I had heard some before, but these were different. Most of the stories revolved around things in the house that reminded them of past times. An old sewing machine, a Victrola, a player piano and even an old telephone (which led to a story about “party lines” and how the neighbors would constantly listen in on my grandmothers’ conversations).
After the first rising of our bread, we were served dessert which just so happens to be the best pie ever: the bottom layer was cheesecake while top layer was pecan pie. I don’t even like pecan pie and thought it was amazing. When we went to put our bread into the oven, Valerie noticed my loaf looked a little different. Mine was a lot bigger than the others, but my grandmother Betty’s loaf was smaller (she was sitting next to me when we made them). We came to the conclusion that she tried to sabotage my loaf by putting her flour into my bowl. She didn’t disagree.
While our bread was baking, we got a tour of the house, which led to more stories. My grandmother Betty told us about the “octopus” in her first home, while my grandmother Nita told stories about people she knew who played the accordion (Valerie’s father-in-law’s accordion is in the front room).
As we were reminiscing, the smell of freshly baked bread brought us back to the kitchen. Each loaf turned out perfectly, even my sister Mariel’s, whose only cooking skills include an egg sandwich made in the microwave.
We were each sent home with our loaf and a certificate of completion, which is now attached to my fridge.
While the act of breaking bread was a great experience, the best part of the day was being able to spend time with my family. Hearing all the old stories and making new memories was what that day was about. We plan on going back to maybe make soap or can fruits and vegetables. I personally can’t wait.