I’ve always been intrigued by bread. To me, it’s total alchemy – to take the simplest and plainest of ingredients (flour, water, salt, and yeast), mix ’em all together, and come up with something that’s so totally morphed and changed from those original components as to make them unrecognizable. It’s almost like …. magic. And, besides that magic and alchemy, there’s probably not a better smell in the world than fresh-from-the-oven bread. On top of all that – it tastes good! Not to mention that it’s often quite beautiful:
Bread also has a fine symbolic history. We talk about our livelihood, sometimes, as our “bread and butter.” We call it the “staff of life,” we “cast our bread upon the waters” in an effort to help someone else, and, the communal sharing of a meal with others is often referred to as “breaking bread.” Our most famous prayer asks to “give us this day our daily bread.”
Here is J.H. Macadam, from A Collection of Proverbs on Bread and Baking (It’s a book written in 1924 and has 160 pages worth of worldwide sayings about bread. You can find the whole book here), exalting about the substance:
“Bread is one of man‘s greatest discoveries. It is his basic food. But bread is not only food. It is one of the most omnipresent symbols in the ethnology, cultures, and religions of the world. Bread is the symbol of hope, of honest toil, and of general wealth and well-being. Rituals involving bread follow man through life, from his birth to his death. It is mentioned not only in many toasts, sayings, games and oaths but also in curses and imprecations.”
But, in my awe, admiration, and love of bread, I’ve digressed. I’m not here to tell you about bread, in general, but to tell you, specifically, about Ivy’s Butterhorn Rolls.
We found the recipe for Ivy’s Butterhorn Rolls in an issue of Gourmet many many years ago (mid-80’s maybe? Neither of us can remember.) The magazine published readers’ favorite recipes, and Ivy Slack, of Burlington, Vermont, had written in with hers:
I was intrigued by the fact that she’d made 90 dozen rolls! Holy Moly – that’s over a thousand rolls! So, of course, I was inspired to make them that Thanksgiving. They were awesomely good (and pretty) and made great itty-bitty sandwiches with leftovers.
Ever since then, we’ve made Ivy’s Butterhorn rolls for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other special occasions (we did make 10 dozen once for a friend’s wedding, but couldn’t imagine making 90 dozen. Kudos to Ms. Ivy!).
This past year, as I was making rolls for Thanksgiving and happily into kneading the dough (I do change her recipe a little in that I like the whole present-moment kneading process, so don’t use the mixer to work the dough), I had a thought – I should try to find Ivy Slack and thank her for her recipe and tell her how much it’s meant to us over the years.
So, I Googled “Ivy Slack” + “Burlington, VT” and, sadly, found her obituary. Ivy had died last spring, at age 104. But I was happy to discover that she was well-known in her community as the “roll lady” and had even made her famous butterhorn rolls for the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
But, I took one more step, and Googled her daughter, who was mentioned in the obituary. I found an address, sent a letter explaining everything above, and my gratitude for her mother’s rolls. A few days before Christmas I received a wonderful email from Ivy’s daughter, Caroline, who was just finishing her batch of 14 dozen rolls for the holiday, and who appreciated knowing that we, too, were enjoying Ivy’s rolls.
Ivy’s obituary also mentions that she was “an inspiration to all who knew her.” Certainly she’d inspired me with the gift of this recipe for many, many years, And I’d never even met her! So that made me think that maybe the gift of just being – and sharing – our best selves ripples out into the world much further than any of us can imagine. And what’s a better thing to share than “our daily bread!” Thanks, Ivy!
I will end with sharing another use for large pieces of less-than-perfect fluffy white bread. Have some fun by borrowing a cat (if you don’t have one handy) and creating your own In-Bread Cat: