When I was a little girl, we visited my grandparents (both sets) and all of our cousins who all lived near Pittsburgh, PA four or five times each year. I have many special memories of these trips and the people we visited, but this weekend, as every Easter weekend, I am really remembering my mom’s mother, my grandma Mary (Balog) Honnef.
That’s her on the right, circa 1965 at my baptism!
My grandparent’s house was an old place with an alley between theirs and their neighbor’s, creaky stairs, a sink with separate handles for hot and cold water and a tub with no shower! I remember that Grandma always had KDKA radio playing to hear the news or a ball game and she always had a cup of coffee (which was lots of milk with a splash of coffee, sort of the way I like it!) But the most vivid memory I have of my grandma was the smells at her house!
My grandma was fanatical about cleaning her place so her house always smelled like Clorox bleach (which she used to clean everything) and yeast! My grandma, until the day she died, baked bread twice a week. My grandma’s bread was rich and sturdy with a glossy crust and a perfect crumb. She used it at meals and for sandwiches, and while she never thought it was anything too special, she had neighbors pay her for a loaf each week because it was a real treat! Grandma made other delicious treats like nut rolls and iced poppy seed rolls, home made egg noodles that she rolled and cut by hand, but it was her bread and the smell of the yeast that are part of my permanent memory.
My grandma’s bread recipe was in her head…and her hands. She measured using a coffee cup and teaspoons, and she kneaded the dough until it was ready, she just knew from all her years of making it when exactly that was. One time my mom stood with her while she made bread, and measured the ingredients with accurate measures, transferring the coffee cup of flour to measuring cups, to try and capture the exact recipe. But try as she might, the bread was good, but it wasn’t grandma’s!
At Easter, grandma made a special bread. We call it Easter bread, but it’s nothing like the Italian version, but more like a Brioche. It’s rich and buttery with eggs, milk and sugar to make it just a bit sweet. This recipe we did get written and with tweaking and practice, I can now make a loaf of grandma’s Easter bread almost as good as I remember hers being!
I usually share my recipe at this point in my entries, but this is a recipe that I really can’t part with. It’s part of family lore and legend, and it’s one that my kids will have as their own secret recipe! (I think everyone should have at least one!)