Grandma’s recipe #1: Sally Lunn

After my cousin Jessica gave me grandma’s recipe box, it sat on my desk for months patiently waiting on me. It waited partly because of schedule restraints, wanting to have enough time to take it all in without feeling hurried: partly because I found it intimidating. What if I found the unexpected? What DID I expect? I didn’t know. I come from a long line of good cooks. My grandma memories are picture perfect, skewed to a four year old’s memory, void of the conflict that comes with life: I can’t say what caused the delay. What I do know is on a bright autumn day, when the leaves were gradually making their way from canopy to ground, I found both time and inner resolve to explore.

I sat down, and opened the faded brown box. There were alphabetical dividers not in order.  C, K, N, O, S, L, Mc and so the cards progressed, some facing forward, others backward. The order made no sense, looking instead as if the box had been upended, emptied and everything placed back in with no particular order.

This box and recipes are probably 60 yrs old. It contained yellowed newspaper cut-outs from the Des Moines Tribune, some recipes typed on index cards, others hand-written. There was the recognized script flowing like calligraphy from my mom’s pen. Others were similarly decorative yet different, probably from the hand of my aunt before she lost her thumb in a car door and started using her left hand to write. There were names of contributing cooks and bakers, names recognized from family stories, others unknown to me or simply left anonymous. Memories of those few years I knew my grandma, were added into the bowl of relational tales told throughout the years, mixing together into a warm sweet fragrance wafting through my mind.

The first recipe I chose to try was from a well-worn newspaper article from the Des Moines Tribune, written by Food Editor Jean Tallman. Jean wrote for the Tribune from the 50’s to the 70’s. Upon her death Richard Raeke wrote, “As for what she ate? That would be stew, pig stomachs, rattlesnakes, chocolate-covered bees and everything in between.” Sounds like an early Andrew Zimmer. Jean had not only given a recipe, she also included the history of Sally Lunn bread.

It is said Sally was a Huguenot from France. In 1685 Louis XIV banned the practice of any religion except Roman Catholicism. Over a half a million Protestants (including many Huguenots) fled north, and for Sally, that meant England. Solange Luyon (her French name) became a pastry chef in Bath where she made bread and selling it on the streets for over thirty years. There are several stories about Sally and her breads, including a mention by Charles Dickens in this book, The Chimes, where he describes a dreary evening as “the sort of night that’s meant for muffins..likewise crumpets. Also Sally Lunns.”

Go figure – the first recipe I choose has connections with Dickens and Louis XIV. I love this recipe. While it is compared to a brioche and described as “airy.” Mine was dense. Considering I was paring it with a fall Chipolte Beef and Vegetable Soup, it was perfect.

Sally Lunn Bread

1 c. Milk                                1/2 c. Warm water

1/4 c. Sugar                          1 pkg yeast

2 t. Salt                                 3 eggs, well beaten

1/4 c. Butter                         4 c. Sifted flour

Scald milk.  Stir in sugar, salt and butter and cool to lukewarm.  Measure water into a big bowl, add yeast and stir until dissolved. Add milk mixture and stir in eggs and flour. Beat until smooth. Cover with cloth and let rise in warm place free from draft until doubled in bulk.  About 50 min.

Stir down and pour into oiled pan (8x11x2) Cover and let rise again in warm place until doubled in size.  Bake at 400 for about 30 min. Remove from pan and cut in squares.

That is all for this recipe experiment.  Next time, maybe something sweet….

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