Grandma Chris’s Rye Bread

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“Grandma Chris’s Rye Bread,” Ensign, Jan. 1996, 62

Grandma Chris’s Rye Bread

I was teaching my children all the wonderful traditions that had made my home special. But what about my husband’s family traditions?

Today was a memorable day for me. I honored my mother, who lives far away in another state, and I also honored the memory of another woman I have never met, my husband’s Grandma Chris. To me these women represent the many mothers and grandmothers who are part of our family tree. This morning our shared history came down to one small and seemingly insignificant act: I made homemade bread.

I started a new branch of the family tree when Allen and I were married and sealed for time and all eternity in the temple, like my parents and his parents before us, and like our grandparents before them. With the start of my own little family, I was determined to follow all the advice I heard about keeping family traditions alive. I had every intention of celebrating Christmas just how I remembered it, preparing the same good Thanksgiving meal that my mother so lovingly cooked, and savoring good family recipes on special occasions. Amazingly, it never dawned on me that Allen had his own family traditions to pass along.

When I was expecting my first child, Allen’s mother compiled a binder full of Bramwell family recipes. It included family heirlooms such as Grandma Chris’s and Grandma Bramwell’s special recipes, each in the original handwriting. Allen lovingly began to make Danish thin pancakes as a special breakfast treat. I halfheartedly made a few Danish cookies and other items from time to time, not recognizing them as anything more than recipes. I was blind to my children’s birthright from their father’s side of the family.

Last Thanksgiving a small menu detail finally opened my eyes to all that I’d been missing. Allen suggested getting root beer to drink because that’s what his family always had with their turkey dinner. I dismissed it, declaring that my family drank water with our Thanksgiving meal. Suddenly, I became painfully aware of my rudeness. I realized I’d been so intent on my family traditions that I had completely ignored Allen’s family traditions.

That seemingly insignificant incident opened my eyes and gave me a new awareness that my children also had a paternal heritage. Soon after, looking again at the recipes my mother-in-law had lovingly collected, I discovered Grandma Chris’s Danish rye bread.

Allen loves rye bread. He fondly told me of visiting Grandma Chris and eating her homemade rye bread, for which she was well-known. Her rye bread was a labor of love for her grandchildren and other guests. I had never liked rye bread because of the caraway seeds so commonly used; and so, much like Allen’s other family traditions, I had dismissed Grandma Chris’s recipe. But one day I discovered that her rye bread used no caraway seeds.

The first time I made her rye bread and tasted it, I was disappointed. I said nothing, but remained somewhat puzzled at the praise her bread received.

And now, today, I was going to make it again. As I mixed and kneaded the bread, many memories came flooding back of my own youth. I had learned to make bread at my mother’s side. At first I had watched her while sampling the dough from time to time. Then came the time when she gave me my own piece of dough. I kneaded it and kneaded it, adding flour the whole time. Then she let me bake my stiff little loaf in a small pan. I was surprised at all the memories that flowed back to me while I made my bread.

As I sifted and mixed, I was struck by the symbolism of the ingredients. The bread is made from a blend of rye flour and white flour, which gives it just the right flavor and texture. I realized that just as our family was a mixture of maternal and paternal influences, so was my bread a legacy of my mother’s skills and my husband’s ancestral family recipe. I smiled at the perfect blend.

As I finished my kneading under my two-year-old’s watchful eye, she asked for a piece of dough. I gave her a little portion, but instead of eating it, she reached for my flour and pounded it into her little piece. I smiled. Grandma Chris’s rye bread was helping me pass along a family legacy. I determined that in the years ahead, with my apprentice bread makers at my side, I would tell them about their grandmothers and their great-grandmothers, on both sides of the family tree.

I put the bread in the oven and thought again about all the mothers who came before me. Without their efforts we never would have had those treasured recipes and family heirlooms. My home filled with a wonderful aroma of homemade bread. I hope it lingers for years to come.

Let’s Talk about It

This article may furnish material for a family home evening discussion or for personal consideration. You might consider questions such as:

  1. Which of our family traditions come from our mother’s side of the family and which ones come from our father’s?

  2. Why is it important to learn more about our spouses and their forebears and consider righteous family traditions?

Photography by Index Stock/Black Box Photography and Maren Mecham