Industrial Harvest

Wanda’s tasty southern dinner rolls by sarah kavage

Must be something in the stars – on the same day as the delicious whole wheat bread, I also managed to rock a super tasty batch of dinner rolls.  I spent 11 summers of my life (5 as a camper, then 6 as a counselor) at Camp Appalachia, a summer camp for girls up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.  It was sort of a family tradition – my mom and aunt went there as kids/young women, and when my mom got a job as head counselor in the 80s, my sister and I got to go for free.  Mom’s Camp Appy career spanned 26 summers.  My dad thought it was some sort of cult. 

Anyway…..Wanda Bartley, our cook, was a delightful local woman who drove 60+ girls and young women into a starch frenzy every Thursday and Sunday with her fresh dinner rolls.  Wanda would patiently put one industrial-sized tray of rolls after another into the oven until supplies ran out.  Sophisticated distribution systems were devised within (“who’s had 4 rolls already?”) and between (“you guys have any rolls left?”) tables.  At the end of the meal we’d be practically dozing off at the table; fortunately rest hour took place shortly afterwards.  I ate one right after they came out of the oven.  It took me right back to those camp days (triggering an inexplicable longing for canned green beans), and promptly made me want to take a nap. 

Mix together 2 pkgs fast acting yeast & 2 1/2 cups water
Add 3/4 cup sugar and 2 1/2 tsp salt (although I have read that this kills the yeast, I was faithful to Wanda’s tried and true method)
Add 3/4 cup melted butter or margarine, and 2 eggs
Add 8 – 8 1/2 cups flour to make a sticky dough.  I was not sure if Wanda meant sticky in the same way that the “real” bakers define it, but 8 cups was a little too many for my dough & I ended up adding more water to it.  For this to be real southern cooking, the flour absolutely has to be white flour. 

Put in airtight container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  Shape into balls 1/2 the size of roll and let rise 1 – 1 1/2 hours before baking.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until golden brown.  Makes about 45 rolls.  Dough will keep in refrigerator for 3 weeks. 

Yes, I made this whole recipe although I ended up with about 35 huge rolls as opposed to 45 more moderately sized ones.  The occasion?  My friend Anne Elizabeth Moore is going to Cambodia to do this awesome independent publishing project with young women, and a group is having an “Old World Bake Sale” fundraiser on her behalf (good old Southern cooking is not technically old world, but more old school, and I’m all about following the spirit of the law).  Anne leaves town in about 10 days and still needs to raise a couple thou to cover her expenses.  Her project is completely community funded, so if you haven’t already donated, you should seriously consider doing so!

Wanda's Southern Style Dinner Rolls

Wanda's Southern Style Dinner Rolls

A bit more practice before going “live” with the bake sale thing would have been better.  Wanda’s rolls always came out perfectly shaped and smooth, and I really meant to underbake them so that the buyer could put them in the oven for the final stretch.  Oh, I really hope they sell…the thought of them sitting on the bake sale table at the end of the night triggers all kinds of insecurities and anxiety (and also seems a little sad, cuz they taste so good).

Tacky and Sticky come to dinner by sarah kavage

This past weekend, Anne and I spent our afternoons trekking around the city visiting different farmers’ markets.  At the cute little downtown farmstand I picked up some locally grown organic flour from Ackerman farms in Chenoa, Illinois – located about 100 miles away, they also grow organic edamame soybeans, corn and other produce.  I also scored some cinnamon-infused honey from another market the following day.  The honey whole wheat bread featured on the Fresh Loaf therefore seemed to be the logical, easy and delicious choice.  Measured by weight, my ingredients would make a bread that is over 75% local and organic. 

I tried to be a little more anal with this recipe, but there was still some improvisation required.  The recipe calls for some a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, which is made by sifting the bran out of the whole grain flour.  There is no sifter at InCUBATE, and I had to pick up window screen from the hardware store across the street to make an improvised version which totally did the trick.  The little kitchen scale at InCUBATE made it possible to actually follow the baking tips on the Fresh Loaf website, which strongly advocate measuring by weight as opposed to volume. 

Whole wheat dough needs to be more moist in order to get a good rise, but I had no idea what the difference was between a “sticky” (not good) and a “tacky” (good) dough.  I thought tacky was bad (smoking / eating while walking, loud gum chewing,  handbags that don’t match).  

Speaking of tacky, the dough rose in the bathroom right next to the heating vent – the warmest available spot.  The delicious smell was the best air freshener ever, permeating the bathroom and then the entire space.  The second rise got cut short due to time constraints, as I was taking the bread up to Mess Hall for Anne’s final Art Institute class presentations.  My loaf was therefore a little small and the crust a little thick, but tasty – especially paired with butter that we made ourselves; the act of doing so was part of one of the presentations.  The class was about creative resistance of corporate culture, and was, appropriately, a potluck (and damn, those kids can cook!). 

 As a footnote, a new acquaintance who is a baker from Floriole bakery (conveniently, their kitchen is located almost right next door to InCUBATE) told me that “tacky” means that there is no spackle-like dough coming off on your hands when you handle it.  Now we all know.  She also said it’s tough to screw up whole wheat bread – “it always tastes good.”  Music to my ears.