When I was a kid, the bakery in Wautoma sent a truck throughout the countryside, stopping at each farmer’s place with the hope of selling bread, sweet rolls, doughnuts and much more.
The panel truck would arrive about once a week at our farm and back up to the kitchen porch. Ma would come outside as the bakery truck driver opened the backdoors of the truck and pulled out trays of fresh bakery products. If the “baker man,” as we called him, came on a Saturday, my brothers watched as he showed off his delectable wares. For a growing boy, the smells coming from the bakery truck were almost overpowering. The smells were just like our home kitchen on days when Ma was baking.
The “baker man” had to be the ultimate optimist. Ma never bought anything, not even a sample of something — say a sweet roll that she didn’t make, or a filled doughnut, the kind that oozed with jam of one kind or another when you bit into it. Nonetheless, the baker man stopped by every week, snowy days of winter, as well as hot and humid days of summer.
I knew why Ma didn’t buy anything from the bakery truck. It was because of Pa. He had a negative attitude of anything made in a bakery especially that which was sold on the road like a peddler making his rounds. His favorite saying, when talking about bakery bread, “It’s no good. All air. No power in it.” Of course it was Ma’s homemade bread that he preferred.
For years, I had never tasted bakery bread, so I had no basis for comparison. I did know that I liked Ma’s bread baked in our wood burning cook stove’s oven, as well as the doughnuts, sweet rolls, pies, cookies, cake and everything else that she baked.
Nothing beats the smell of homemade bread baking in a woodstove; the smell permeates the kitchen, sneaks into the dining room, and immediately engulfs anyone who enters the kitchen when Ma is baking. It’s a smell filled with memories, a comforting smell, and for a hungry kid, anticipation of feasting on a thick slice of bread, smeared thick with butter and overwhelmed with homemade strawberry jam.
Every couple of weeks Ma made a batch of doughnuts. We carried doughnuts in our school lunches and we ate them at home.
If she happened to make doughnuts on a Saturday we sometimes helped her. We couldn’t wait for the freshly made doughnuts to cool so we could eat them.
Besides homemade bread and doughnuts, she made sweet rolls filled with homemade jam — strawberry, grape, raspberry — often baked a pie for Sunday dinner or when we were expecting company, and produced a steady supply of molasses, sorghum and sugar cookies. All baked in a wooden burning cookstove with no thermometer.
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