Monday, July 28, 2008

Swedish Rye Bread

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine, Hazel Johnson taught me how to make Swedish Rye Bread. That doesn’t sound like a big deal; many people learn to cook from others. What makes it remarkable is Hazel was legally blind and taught me from memory and by touch.

I had Hazel’s rye bread before and knew how good it was. Her rye bread was legendary throughout the church. For years, those magnificent loaves showed up at potlucks, were served at numerous meals following funeral services, and went to families receiving meals during a time of crisis. Hazel loved making that bread as much as others loved receiving it.

We met at her daughter and son in law’s house where she was living. Sharron, her daughter, made sure we had all the necessary ingredients. Making rye bread is an all day process so it didn’t surprise Hazel or I when Sharron and Char disappeared.

Hazel instructed me on what to do from memory. She would ask to touch the dough and then instruct me with kind and gentle words.

“Honey, it’s still a little sticky add just a pinch more flour.”

“It’s close, but Honey, it needs to be kneaded more.”

“It needs to rise a little longer, Honey.”

Whenever she instructed me on what to do she called me “Honey”. Over the years, Hazel and I had developed a friendship. “Honey” was a term I heard her call many, many people who had a special place in her heart. I don’t know what I did to deserve that place but it always made me smile when she called me “Honey”.

As soon as the bread came out of the oven, Char and Sharron reappeared. The wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen was calling to them. We immediately sat down to enjoy a slice of bread.

While I would like to say the bread came out perfect – it didn’t. Hazel took a bite and I could tell something was wrong. So, I asked, “What’s the matter Hazel?”

She replied, “It has a good flavor but it’s a little denser than I like. I don’t know what I did wrong.”

“Hazel, you didn’t do anything wrong. Most likely it was the fault of your assistant,” I replied. There was more laughter.

A little dense or not, those were great loaves of bread. The bread is gone but the memory is not.

Tonight all of Heaven is feasting on Swedish rye bread. Hazel Johnson started baking in Heaven on July 27, 2008.


Blogger Oh great One said...

What a great story! I have been trying to master the art of bread baking and I can't imagine doing it without sight. She sounds incredible.

I saw the title of your post on Grannie Annies blog. I'm glad I stopped by.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Cliff said...

Superbly written Ralph. Thank you for a heart warming story before bedtime.
Except now I have to go find something to eat.
2 thumbs up.
Yes the corn was to die for. But I'm trying to avoid that for as long as possible.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Aravis said...

Heaven has just been made even more special, then. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend, Ralph.

10:17 PM  
Blogger bobbie said...

Baking bread is a very satisfying occupation. I used to do it a lot when the family was growing. I'm sure that Hazel enjoyed every minute. I'm sorry that your friend has gone from your life for now. I'm sure you'll meet again one day.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Granny Annie said...

You earned the title "Honey" with this post. She would be so honored by this tribute.

5:49 AM  
Blogger Paul Nichols said...

An inspirational post, Ralph.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

I'm sorry for the lost of this dear lady Ralph. There is nothing as good as homemade bread fresh from the oven. It does take awhile to make and I guess that's why I don't make it often.

Great post remembering your friend!

9:07 AM  
Blogger Jerry said...

That's a great story, Ralph. I'm sure Hazel would approve.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

Mabel was our Swedish Rye bread baker. She was a part of my husband's family since he was very little. All of them called her Gramma Mabel even though she was no relation. I have her receipe for the bread, but it just isn't the same.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Janell said...

I'm sorry to hear of the loss of your friend, Ralph. But "absent from the body, present with the Lord." Your memories of her are a treasure.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Ralph! I am sorry for your loss. If Mabel read this I think she would have said, "Oh Honey. It was a pleasure baking bread with you." Lisa

3:39 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Ralph, Mabel sounds like a wonderful lady with a sweet and gentle heart. I am sure she is happy again to be with the Lord. I wish I had her recipe, I would love to try it.

5:44 PM  
Blogger LZ Blogger said...

Ralph ~ What a sweet memory and tribute to Hazel Johnson! Thx for sharing! ~ jb///

3:22 PM  
Blogger Mountain Mama said...

This is a sweet story. Thanks for sharing it.
Hazel has her sight again too.

11:27 AM  

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