I almost didn't do them this year. It's a lot of physical effort, and I've become something of a wuss in the last couple of years (i.e., my accelerating dotage). Also, I'm not really sure than anyone else in the family (save Joyce) is as crazy about them as I am. (Each year I send the large one--pictured above--to my brothers in Massachusetts, who generally have Christmas together with their loved ones, including my mom.) I don't know how much of it actually gets consumed there.
It was Mom, as I wrote about in 2012, who made the first ones I remember from boyhood. She probably got the recipe from one of those homemaking magazines--but I'm not sure. I am sure that she would not remember now if I asked her: She's 96--holding on, but her traitor memory is being his treacherous self.
I can't remember when I first started baking them. I started baking bread early in our marriage (Dec. 20, 1969), entirely for pecuniary reasons in those days: We were struggling graduate students living on Joyce's $2500 teaching assistantship at Kent State and my paltry public school teaching salary, which was $7506.00 in 1969-70.
Anyway, we got so fond of homemade bread that we've very rarely had "store-bought" bread of any kind in our house since the early 1970s. I cannot remember the last time. (I make loaves, rolls, pizza dough, muffins, scones, etc.)
In the summer of 1986, on a trip to Alaska and the Yukon with our son (who had just turned 14) (I was in the early stages of my Jack London-mania), I bought some sourdough starter in Skagway, Alaska, and I've been using it ever since. It will turn 30 this August. I have baked with it just about every week since then.
I can't remember if I made the tree bread with yeast before I began my sourdough era. I think I did. But I know I've been making it for at least a quarter-century with the sourdough.
The recipe is one I sort of improvised, then tinkered with over the years: sourdough, oat and wheat and white flour, honey, salt, milk, candied fruit, slivered almonds, sliced apricots (my favorite!). Later--after the baking (on the day of consumption)--I heat it a little, spread an icing (looking like snow, of course) over it, sprinkle more candied fruit (tree decorations!) with a maraschino cherry atop. It is a sweet-ish bread but not like a donut or something--definitely not like a fruitcake. It's more a bread--somewhat sweet and fruity and nutty--but not offensively so (to me). Does that make sense?
|2011, slightly fuzzy!|
This year--as is my wont--I posted pictures (see top and bottom pix) on Facebook--and got some questions from Friends, queries which I hope this post has answered.
I do know this: There are several things we eat here on Christmas that help make it Christmas: one is the tree bread, another is the white fruitcake (from a recipe my grandmother Osborn used--I've posted about it here), another is that same grandmother's steamed pudding, a concoction so sweet that, as I told my mom on the phone the other day, you need to go to the dentist immediately afterwards, for your teeth begin to rot the moment you take your first bite. (Mom was kind enough to laugh.)
Hey, Christmas is for calories, right?
PS--The recipe I now use makes two large trees or four smaller ones or (my custom) one large and two small. As I said, I send the larger one to Massachusetts; we eat one of the smaller ones; we freeze the final one, sometimes taking it to social events in the summer. Just for fun.