In the 1970’s we took a field trip to the Hillbilly Bread factory, a place where everyone had a job and the world smelled like fresh baked bread, a warm place in the middle of a blizzard-marked winter. I was in grade school in Michigan. Serious women in wispy hair nets ran the machines, everybody dressed in shades of blue in my memory. After showing us the factory, a representative gave each child a fresh loaf of Hillbilly bread to “take home.”
None of those loaves made it home.
We opened our bread bags on the bus back to school, smashed gummy white bread between our grubby palms until it was half the size, or tore light, fresh pieces into small strips. We handled that white bread until it was dirty and we ate until it filled our stomachs, bloated against our eight year old ribs. It was the best. Each one of us ate an entire loaf.
Now I see Hillbilly Bread seems to be a subsidiary of Aunt Millies with the slogan, “At Aunt Millie’s, we bake more than bread–we bake memories.” So true! I remember that as one of the best field trips ever, even if we all overindulged, ate bread until our stomachs turned to knots, ate light and lovely bread until it was heavy in our guts.
These days everyone I know is swearing off gluten. We have gluten-free crackers, gluten free pizza, and it’s kind of crazy. What’s gone wrong with gluten?
We were once gluten gluttons, I know, I know.
Today my daughter and I swung by a bakery–she’s the age I was, in the days of Hillbilly Bread–and bought a loaf of homemade Italian. She told me it was good, swore I’d like it. She offered me a sample at the bakery and I waved it away, though bought the bread for her anyway. It was for her, for this skinny kid.
At home, I broke my gluten-free binge. This Italian bread is chewy and light, marked with bubbles, and springy. It welcomes a slather of butter.
It’s time to pull out the cookbooks, the old James Beard, Beard on Bread, the book my mother gave me back when she moved out, when I was a junior in high school, the year I learned the drive a car, the year I was freezing, the year I had to drop out–the year I baked bread so many nights, to stay warm in a cold house, when the snow piled against the windows and the furnace had no oil.
My daughter and I? We’ve eaten half the loaf, this evening. We’re overindulging, watching movies, ready for the first day of a new school year tomorrow, third grade looming large. I remember that day of Hillbilly Bread, how young I was.
Inside that cookbook my mother left me with, she wrote, “For we hope that your life will be full of many things as good and pleasurable as homemade bread. Love, Mom.” That was Christmas. Then she packed the car, collected together my sister and brother, and together they drove away, west, before New Years.
Bread is still good, and yes, somebody is baking memories. xoxo