Balloon bread: this was our childhood name for Wonder Bread back in the 50’s. Today it has the name because it is so light and fluffy, it might float away, but then we named it for the red, yellow and blue circles that reminded us of clown balloons. Our town had a Wonder Bread Bakery that welcomed school children on field trips. I remember going there several times in my elementary years, and each time was as fascinating as the first.
Making bread on an industrial scale is very different from home baking or even the 1960’s era Easy Bake Oven (which heated by means of an incandescent light bulb!). Huge portions of flour, water, sugar,yeast,salt, vitamins and dough conditioners are put into giant mixing vats and blended with huge blades until the dough glistens. Then it’s balled up, put into a warm room to rise, kneaded by machine again, separated by a cutter, popped into loaf pans, conveyed on a belt into another rising room, and then moved into a cavernous oven that would engulf the entire kitchen in which my Mom made our family meals. The size of this process always took our breath away, but when we came up for air, I and all my classmates could smell only one fragrance: the very bread of heaven.
These bakers knew how to win the hearts of children, and thereby win the pocketbooks of their parents. For each of us got at the end of the tour our own personal loaf of fresh baked Wonder Bread. Made just for us, each child sized loaf fit into the palm of our hands. Holding that warm loaf was no doubt the beginning of my love affair with food.
We children got to see, from a safe distance of course, what the adults did when they left home every day. In my great-grandparent’s day, folks still worked on the farm together or the children had after school duties in the dry goods store in town. In the 1950’s, life was more segregated, and not just racially. Men were the primary industrial labor force, many women could stay home to raise the children and we children were organized into schools, sports, and hobbies. Only at night did our families settle down together over the evening meal and talk about our day.
My family was big on dinner conversation. My younger brother didn’t get a word in edgewise until I left for college. Up until that time the folks thought he had a stuttering problem. My other brother and I just jumped in and finished his sentences. Give a guy a space and you might find out he can talk. Sharing daily life experiences around a meal knits a family together. Doing things together produces memories, but until you articulate your experience in words, even if you have to struggle to find a better word than “awesome,” you haven’t fully shared it. You may as well have been two separate loaves of bread, all cooked in the same oven, but held in different hands and tasted by different tongues.
We kids had bread for snacks quite often. We made kid friendly sandwiches of various condiments: mustard only; mustard and mayo; butter, sugar and cinnamon; peanut butter and jelly; butter and jelly; and I remember, but did not partake of, ketchup and mustard. I will not tell whose palette was so unsophisticated as to enjoy the latter concoction, but it was not one of my gal pals from the neighborhood.
Oddly, no one liked the ends of the bread or the crusts. My Nannie used to say, “These will give you curly hair,” in an attempt to entice me into eating these despised pieces. I did want curly hair, but not enough to eat the crust. We would save these pieces for feeding to the ducks and geese that lived along the bayou. This dodge didn’t work with my daughter either, as I recall, and she enjoyed feeding these beggar birds also.
We always bought prepackaged bread at the store, as my Dad used to say about anything new and improved, “It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” My great grandmother baked her own bread in an old cast iron stove. Her old wooden bread bowl, which I still have, has a burned out hole in the bottom from her trying to hurry the dough’s rising. Yet, by the mid 1920’s, my grandparents were buying the new modern loaves from their grocer and my Mother never looked back. As a young married couple, my husband and I wanted to live closer to the land, even though we lived in the city. We grew an organic garden fertilized with circus poo, ate deer meat from the fall hunting season, and I baked bread each week. It was a simple life and fit well with our self employed days.
Some thirty years have passed now, and I no longer have to meet the beck and call of others or punch the clock for the bossman. I am once again self employed, which is another word for retired. I have revisioned my life into another calling. Now I am an artist, a writer, and an explorer. Sometimes I explore spirituality, creativity, health, wholeness, or food. I can test my own ideas in the kitchen, the gymnasium, the studio, or in my blogs. I don’t really want a premade loaf that is uniform in size, texture, color, and weight. I rather like the accidental and unique characteristics of the individual loaves that come from under my hands, what we call “the artisan loaf” when we pay $2 more per loaf at the bakery.
Sometimes we might think, “If only we had a baker who would provide us with our daily bread, then we could have a good life.” Everyone would have enough and no one would be hungry, but we would only want more or different. When the Hebrews were wandering in the wilderness, God gave them a daily blessing of manna. If they gathered more than a day’s worth during the week, the excess spoiled. Only on the eve of the sabbath would the manna last two days in a row (Exodus 16). When Jesus fed the 5,000 with the five barley loaves and two small fish, the people wanted to make him their king right then (John 6:15).
Everyone wants a sugar daddy, a giver of blessings, a distributer of free bread and circuses, and no responsibility but to receive the gift and make it one’s own. The Little Red Hen baked bread the hard way: no one wanted to help her plant the seeds, cut the wheat, carry the grain to the mill, grind it into flour, carry it back to the farm, and bake it into bread. Then all the animals on the farm who could have had a hand in the making of this bread wanted to claim a share of the finished product, but the Little Red Hen ate alone. If we want a simple life and a healthy life, we have to invest our time and energy into it.
Like I say, everyone wants a sugar daddy or a baker of free bread, but if we want a healthy and whole life, we have to share in the lifestyle.
CORNIE’S KITCHEN Low Sodium Whole Wheat Bread
History of Wonder Bread