Going gluten free has not been easy for me. I have this emotional attachment to bread that up until the other day I could not put into words. It wasn’t till I turned the channel to a cooking show on the Create channel that it clicked. Whoever it was that was cooking, was working dough. Handling soft, pillowy dough that stretched and relaxed with each push, fold and turn. It was beautiful, like a waltz between two partners who have spent a lifetime keeping step with complicated classical pieces—perfection and creation intertwined. Hypnotized by the beauty that is mastering the art of kneading, I had a flashback to working in my Grandma Kathy’s kitchen.
The bright yellow walls with white curtains and an oval kitchen table that supported a giant metal bowl filled to the rim with dough. My Aunt Mary, my ‘Nother Grandma, and Grandma Kathy taking turns holding the bowl, while the other kneaded the large quantity of dough that would soon be turned into copious loaves of Hawaiian Sweet Bread. The kitchen smelled sweet of flour, eggs, and milk. Flour coated the table, the floor and anyone who walked into the kitchen. I watched with wide eyes as they repeated this process for hours, from mixing wet ingredients into dry ingredients, to blessing loaves before a final rise, each step had a purpose and a method.
This bread wasn’t just a recipe out of a cookbook. It was a recipe that was handed down from generation to generation, over many years, from mother to daughter. It had superstition too; it could never be sold or made for a sad occasion, it was a bread to be shared and celebrated. My father found this out when he attempted to make it for my Grandmothers wake, if something could go wrong, it did.
Sadly my Grandmothers passed before I could truly grasp the art of making this bread. I’ve tried many times—the recipe lacks the wisdom of my ancestors. Only my Aunt can make this bread as the women before her could. I live very far from my Aunt and now that my body revolts against me in the presence of wheat, I don’t know if I will ever enjoy the tradition. At least before this allergy I had hope that one day I would feel the energy of my foremothers fuel my arms as I tirelessly push and pull the dough into shape.
It spoke so loudly to my heart that I became an avid baker. I mastered the art of kneading and working dough till it danced back with every push. I baked bread weekly and even though it wasn’t “the” Hawaiian Sweet Bread, it filled the hole that was left when my Grandmother passed. I felt her arms around me, holding my hands as I manipulated the soft mass between my fingers, she spoke through my heart and my soul listened. I no longer had her here physically but she still stood behind me, just like she did when I was her shadow—me, trying to do everything Grandma did.
I’ve tried many times to feel that way while making gluten free bread, it never happens. The dough is soft, more like cake batter and it doesn’t dance, there’s no need for Grandma to place her hands on mine and knead dough with me. I’ve lost that piece of her all over again—it hurts to feel so empty.