Baking with Ruth Elison

(Originally written in 2009, just before my partner’s grandparents died. Think of it as a recipe in a time capsule.)

I went to John’s grandparent’s today to learn to bake bread from the Master. As everybody knows, Ruth Elison’s rolls are legendary in several states. I have tried on my own to emulate them. Today I went to watch and learn and be guided.

I have stood at my mother’s elbow many times, trying to be as good a cook on my best day as she is on her worst. This was a lot like that. 🙂

Grandma Elison is always welcoming, and this morning she answered the door with hugs and offers of breakfast. She and Grandpa made us oatmeal and pan-fried toast (OMG delicious toast) and put me directly to work. She prefers to use a bread machine now to save her hands, but a comedy of errors led to her teaching me to knead the old fashioned way. According to her practiced eye, I am far to gentle with dough. She favors a punching-bag motion, vigorously pulling up the sides of the dough and punching it back into the center. We kneaded twice and she was never quite satisfied with my violence with it.

I have here the recipe, amended with my own copious notes. I tried to ask as many questions as I could. She got the original from “Home Searchlight Cookbook” which looks older and in less spry shape than Grandma herself. So, if anybody wants to try, here’s what I’ve got:

1 cake of yeast
*Grandma uses Fleischman’s dry yeast that she keeps in the freezer, 2.5 spoonfuls to equal one cake
1.25 tsp of salt
*Grandma uses a small handful, then hems and haws and throws a little away. She cautions to keep the salt FAR from the yeast, or the yeast will die
4.5 cups of flour
*Grandma keeps a fifth cup of flour at the ready for sticking and moisture excess
3 eggs beaten
*Grandpa beats the stuffing out of them with an electric mixer for her 🙂
1 cup scalded milk
.5 cups melted butter
*Grandma likes to combine the butter and milk and microwave them, they do have to be hot. For the most authentic flavor, she uses Imperial margarine, which also helps with their yellowish coloring I think
1 spoonful/some(?) either sugar or honey, we used honey today

The salt goes into the bowl first, followed by the beaten eggs. Everything else is added, with the yeast going on top. The sugar or honey goes on top of the yeast, allowing for the yeast to activate. Grandma said the honey makes it a bit more moist, and that she mostly uses honey for rolls and sugar for regular bread. She kneads them VIGOROUSLY, like think of someone you have never, ever liked. Again, she pulls from the bottom and thumping it back into the middle. Cover the bowl, let sit until it doubles in size. Grandma warmed the oven, then shut it off and put the dough in there to rise. When it’s risen, drag it out and knead again. Let rise again, covered someplace warm and dry. When that’s done, it comes out again and gets separated into rolls. Pluck dough balls about the size of a two golf balls, knead again each roll in your hand exactly in the same way as before. Grandma pulls and thumps like a catcher with a new mitt. She picked on my sizing a lot and it was hard to figure out- I think it’s the size of -her- palm, but my hands are bigger. I’d say go with two golf balls. Also, she kept her hands greased with Pam. (For my purposes, I’d use butter, but she likes Pam.) When the rolls were portioned out, we laid them on greased cookie pans that were stacked on top of pizza stones warmed in the oven, then left out in the open to rise.

Bake at 450 for about 12 minutes, but keep an eye on them. Grandma has an innate sense of timing on these that I have not developed yet.

Today’s batch baked while I heard stories of wild Uncle Brent and what a “hellraiser” Grandma was in her youth, and how they were told they should not wed because Grandpa was too refined and gentlemanly for her. It was awesome. Then Grandma said that Grandpa had only married her as to not hurt her feelings. 67 years later, they are sleeping on the quilt she sewed and teaching a granddaughter-in-law how to bake bread. We should all be so lucky…

The rolls are not as good as her best, but the ones I made with her help today have been met with John’s approval. 🙂 I am eating one with butter right now and I can honestly say I would rather have this than a whole box of chocolates.

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