One might wonder with a bakery as famous as Dietz Bakery in one’s hometown why anyone would bother to make their own bread. Well, for one reason, my father insisted upon it. Local homemakers who made their own bread had two choices in those days. One was to purchase Fleischmann’s dry yeast or pick up some yeast cake at a local bakery. We did that on occasion as my dad drove home from work since my mom hadn’t learned to drive. He could not be bothered to make the effort to drive around the block to park in front of the bakery so while he parked across the street, it was left up to me to run across to buy 10¢ worth of yeast. At that time, Dietz Bakery was located in the building where der Lindenbaum restaurant is now.
Dietz’s bread cost just 17¢ a loaf in the late ‘50s. Sometimes, I just think of the time and work my Mom could have saved by buying bread, but my dad wouldn’t hear of it. Consequently, my mother baked bread nearly every day in addition to all her other tasks that involved prepping five children for school. Preparing lunches, milking 2 cows mornings and evenings — there were once 3, but one had died before my time. I don’t know of anyone today who would do all that, but I know my mom was not alone in what husbands expected of their wives in those days.
She apparently had to begin her daily tasks right after breakfast and after mixing flour, water, salt, and a tad of that yeast cake she set out a bowl of dough and covered it with a kitchen towel. There, left in a warm place it would rise. It gave her time to finish washing all the dishes, making all the beds and doing all the other household chores that needed to be done every day. Perhaps by that time the dough had risen sufficiently to be kneaded down. It was allowed to rise a second time before being divided and placed into several greased bread tins. Covered again, they were allowed to rise a final time. We had no air-conditioning, so the kitchen was consistently the warmest room in the house. Perhaps about 2 hours before noon, she placed them into the oven of her wooden-fired, kitchen stove to bake. The aroma of baking bread permeated throughout the kitchen and was always a welcomed one — the kind that time simply cannot erase.
My dad was always home promptly at noon for his dinner. (Today we call it lunch — supper was our evening meal.) Shortly before his arrival, she turned on the radio which sat atop our Kelvinator icebox. It was always tuned to WOAI radio station. It took a moment for radios to warm up, but directly the voice of Red River Dave could be heard singing the theme song with which he closed every show — Red River Valley. Then Henry Guerra’s booming, deep voice would bring the serious news of the world. It was seldom good, and I remember well how somber the latest war reports of the Korean conflict sounded. He spoke with authority that sort of silenced us all. There was little conversing between my mom and dad while the news was being reported. I supposed it was good that my dad turned it off upon finishing his meal and leaving the table. The thought that anyone might have wanted to hear the next program completely escaped him. I witnessed this only during summers. While in school none of us ever came home for lunch. For supper, we had leftovers and the idea of turning on the radio was thought a waste of electricity. I don’t think that my dad ever knew that after his daily afternoon naps, after which he had returned to his office, my mom turned that radio back on to listen to her soap operas. I can specifically remember Stella Dallas and the Guiding Light as some to which she did her ironing and other afternoon choirs.
In case you don’t know, the above-mentioned Henry Guerra was a San Antonio native who possessed a deep baritone voice that became the signature of WOAI radio. His wife became a dear friend of mine who visited das Peach Haus often. She even invited me to attend one of the first Nights in Ol’ San Antonio, and I was able to sell our jams and jellies there. Many years later, I heard Henry’s voice as I was working in the rear of the store. I knew instantly that she had returned for a visit, and I had the pleasure of meeting her husband for the first time.
Back to the bread: To most Germans everywhere, bread was an essential part of every meal. I don’t believe we ever thought a meal complete without it. For me, it was also often my dessert. Nothing could surpass a thickly sliced piece of homemade bread lathered with a copious amount of home-churned butter and topped with my mom’s peach preserves. If there had been a bowl with whole cream set on the table, I spooned that over the top as well. Dunking a slice of Mussbrot (jelly bread) into coffee, always seemed the best way to enjoy it. I must have eaten uncounted slices. And, yes, we were allowed to drink coffee at a very early age. With three teaspoons of sugar and half an inch of cream poured on top, coffee was beyond fantastic.
Yet life by the late ‘50s had brought a lot of changes to Americans. More consumer goods appeared within reach of average Americans. For one thing, my mother was able to buy frozen bread dough at our local Red & White or Knopp & Metzger’s grocery. Like so much else, one could now buy many things ready to use or bake that saved housewives countless hours in their kitchens. Most husbands likely never knew. Finding frozen loaves of un-baked bread must have seemed like a Godsend to her—had it only been possible earlier! Unknowingly to my father, she now simply thawed these frozen loaves of dough, allowed them to rise and had only to bake them in time for his lunch. The finished bread was so good that my dad never caught on and she had lots of fun bragging about this charade to her friends. Life was beginning to be good to her without the daily drudgery of having to bake bread from scratch.
The recipe that follows is straight from the 6th edition of Fredericksburg Parent Teachers Cook Book and was submitted by Mrs. T. W. Knopp. She called it her “Never Fail” recipe for reasons that should be obvious.
1 cake compressed yeast
1 ½ cup water
1 tbsp sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tbsp melted shortening
5 to 5 ¼ cups flour
Soften yeast in warm water.
Add sugar, salt and melted shortening.
Add flour gradually, beating thoroughly after each addition until dough is stiff enough to knead.
Turn on lightly floured board and knead until dough is smooth as elastic.
Cover and set in warm place until doubled in bulk.
Work down, cover, and allow to rise a second time.
Then work down lightly and form into 2 loaves.
Place in well-oiled pans and cover.
Let rise in a warm place to double in size.
Bake at 450ºF for 15 minutes.
Then reduce heat slightly for another ½ hour.
Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack to avoid sweating.