Saloma Furlong’s Amish Sticky Buns as seen on PBS

Photo from Saloma Furlong's kitchen today. Used with her permission.

Photo from Saloma Furlong’s kitchen today. Used with her permission.

A NOTE FROM FeedTheSpirit HOST BOBBIE LEWIS: I am traveling this week and am pleased to welcome Saloma Furlong to our online home for stories—and recipes—about faith, family traditions and good food. Stay tuned! I’ll be back soon with some special stories about foods for Christian and Jewish holidays. Here’s Saloma ….

A TASTE OF MY AMISH HOME

By SALOMA FURLONG

At the end of my new book, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds, I include some recipes from the Amish community where I grew up. Among them, “Mem’s White Bread” holds the deepest memories. When my older brother and sister started going to school and I was the oldest one still left at home, I would oftentimes make bread right alongside my mother, Mem. She would start first thing in the morning to make all of her loaves. When she reached the stage of turning out her dough for kneading on her breadboard, she would give me a blob of dough and let me knead it right next to her.

Of course, she often had to throw out the loaf I made because I was small and I sometimes would drop my dough on the floor while I was kneading it. It could get pretty dirty. But, sometimes, my bread would make it all the way through the process—I wouldn’t drop it—and then I’d be so proud to eat it!

When I did start going to school, I would come home on bread-baking day and I would tell her: “Oh, you made bread today without me!” So, Mem actually changed her schedule and made bread later in the day, when I was home from school.

When I was growing up, Mem was known as the best bread baker in our church district. I learned how to bake Mem‘s white bread, but it wasn’t until I was baking professionally that I wrote down the recipe. Here is the closest I have come to duplicating Mem‘s bread, including her way of teaching me what the temperature of the water or milk should be when adding the yeast.

She also would make cinnamon rolls from that white bread dough. I don’t have a written-down recipe for that, from her, but I did find a recipe for what I call the “Sticky Bun Stuff” in a Mennonite cookbook that seems to me a perfect way to recreate Mem’s sticky buns.

If you would like to learn more about my story, which was featured in two films about the Amish on the PBS network, please read my interview with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.

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Eat Pie, Love Life

Photos by Clarissa Westmeyer from Sweetie-licious Pies: Eat Pie, Love Life

Photos by Clarissa Westmeyer from Sweetie-licious Pies: Eat Pie, Love Life

Right after Christmas I read a wonderful story in the Detroit Free Press about a woman who loves to make pies.

Linda Hundt, a Michigan State grad, spent the 1990s and more working full-time as an aide to former Michigan governor John Engler. She liked her job–but her passion wasn’t in politics, it was in pies.

While still working for the governor, Linda found the time to bake 60 pies a week in her church’s kitchen. She sold them from a refurbished food case on the front porch of her farmhouse.

She finally left politics in 2002 and a few years later, with the help of a home equity loan, Linda opened the Sweetie-Licious Bakery Cafe, an almost-too-cute pink-drenched shop in DeWitt, a small mid-Michigan town. There’s another branch in Grand Rapids and one coming soon in the Detroit area.

A national pie champ

Over the years Linda managed to win 16 first-place ribbons and one Best of Show in the Crisco National Pie Baking Contest, a 100-Year Anniversary Innovation award from Crisco and the Food Network Pie Challenge. She’s been written up in dozens of local and national publications.

I smelled a good Feed the Spirit topic, but it got even better when I went to Linda’s website. There I learned that she had also published a cookbook called–surprise!–Sweetie-licious Pies: Eat Pie, Love Life. I had to have it. And I love it!

A Valentine of a book

I decided to write about Sweetie-Licious this week because Valentine’s Day is upon us. Linda’s book is like a hardback Valentine, all pink and frothy, full of super-saturated color photos and gushing with love. If the recipes don’t make you yearn to sink your teeth into one of those pies, Clarissa Westmeyer’s gorgous photos will.

Sweetie-licious 1My daughter took one look at the book and burst out laughing, saying it looks like something from the 1950s. It’s true: just look at this photo of Linda and her mom, Joan McComb, opposite the book’s foreward. In the book at least, Linda always wears shirtwaist dresses (usually pink or red) with poufy crinolines and a June Cleaver-style apron. But that’s part of the fun of the book.

In her introduction, Linda, 50, describes how she got her start in baking with a Kenner Easy-Bake Oven. It was her favorite Christmas gift when she was 6.

The Easy-Bake was destroyed in a house fire when Linda was a young adult. Years later, Linda’s husband bought her another one for Christmas. When she opened the package, she said, “all the joy and love I’d felt from cooking and baking throughout my life came rushing back. I realized that my mission in life, my dream of changing the world one pie at a time and loving people through my food, all started from that little oven.”

While in high school, Linda made her first pie, coconut cream, for her boyfriend, John Hundt, who is now her husband.

Recipes and values to live by

After telling her personal story, Linda launches into the recipes. First there are recipes for crusts and toppings. One surprising detail: Linda recommends freezing the pie crust before filling and baking it. Another surprise: Linda doesn’t make double-crust pies. Many of her recipes call for a crumb topping. Other pies are topped with caramel, whipped cream or meringue or simple garnishes.

Then come more than 50 recipes for pies, each with a beautiful photo, and each with a story – about a person who made that particular pie or a person who really loved it.

The recipes are divided into chapters – not divided by the type of pie but by values Linda holds dear, qualities like Character, Faith, Gratitude and Joy.

Linda in her bakery-cafe

Linda in her bakery-cafe

All about love

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ll tell you what Linda has to say about Love, in her final chapter:

Finding love in all things in life is, I believe, truly life’s purpose. A heart bursting with love brings happiness to all who encounter it. Love fuels us, and when we find the “loveliness” in everyone, the world is simply sweeter. Hugs, deeds words, and kind gestures are all expressions of this most powerful virtue.

But baking a pie for someone may be the ultimate testament to love, as the love you bake in it will be crimped into every corner of the crust and suffused in every bite of filling!

So if you haven’t already bought that overpriced heart-shaped box of chocolates or ordered a dozen red roses, consider baking a pie for your sweetie this week. He or she will taste the love.

A true honey pie

sweetie-licious 004I chose Linda’s West Virginia Honey Pie for this week’s recipe because the title is so appropriate for Valentine’s Day and because I’d never seen a honey pie before.

She created this recipe in memory of pleasant summer days spent with her grandparents at their farm in West Virginia. Her grandfather, a retired coal miner, enjoyed hunting, vegetable gardening and caring for bees.

Her grandmother would make pans of cornbread that Linda would drown with Grandpa’s golden wildflower honey. “My daddy always claimed that we all should work as hard as honeybees, as he too kept bees as a teenager during World War II,” Linda said.

(Come back next week for another Sweetie-Licious recipe in honor of President’s Day.)

Challah tops our list of holy breads

WELCOME to FeedTheSpirit with host Bobbie Lewis. 

Bobbie and Joe Lewis with our first challah!

Bobbie and Joe Lewis with our first challah!

BREAD is a cornerstone of faith and ritual, Lynne Meredith Golodner writes in her book, The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, the first in a series of books about the many ways food carries rich associations with religious traditions. In Judaism, Lynne points out, the bread known as challah is the hallmark of the weekly Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

What most people don’t know is that “challah” actually refers not to a loaf made with eggs and oil but to the separation of a small portion of the dough before the bread is baked. In Numbers (15:17-21) the Israelites were commanded to take some of the dough and give it to the Temple priests as a “contribution for the Lord.” Since the Temple no longer exists, we fulfill this commandment by taking a piece of dough at least the size of an olive and burning it. This small sacrifice also reminds us of the destruction of our holiest site. Separating and burning a piece of the dough is called “taking challah.”

How do you pronounce and spell challah?

One word; many spellings. I spell this type of bread with a “ch” because the first sound is guttural, like in the German “ach.” But below you’ll see it spelled with just an “h” because that’s the way the recipe creator spells it. It’s a Hebrew word – there’s no “correct” English spelling!)

How do you make challah?

Jewish Catalog

Our oft-used copy of The Jewish Catalog

For us, challah is a life-long tradition. Soon after my husband and I were married we bought The First Jewish Catalog: A Do-It-Yourself Kit. It became our guide as we created new traditions of our own from ancient customs. The book had a whole chapter on challah, including recipes and diagrams showing how to make braids with three, four or even six ropes of dough.

That photo of Joe and me with our very first challah was taken in 1973. We’re smiling—but the truth is: That loaf was hard as a rock! Completely inedible! We literally used it as a doorstop. I’m guessing we didn’t let the dough rise properly.

Needless to say, we’ve gotten a lot better at bread baking! Since he retired a year and a half ago, Joe has been baking all our bread. He tried a bunch of different challah recipes, but has stuck with this one, adapted from The Hallah Book: Recipes, History, and Traditions by Freda Reider. We eat it every Friday night to welcome the Sabbath!

HOW DO YOU WEAVE OR BRAID A CHALLAH LOAF?

Don’t worry! It’s easier than it looks!

Many cookbooks have step-by-step photos and sketches, but millions of cooks go online these days. Joe and I just added to the YouTube collection of challah videos with this little gem we produced in under 2 minutes! Most braided challah instructions show three strands. Joe likes to use four! So, if you really want to impress friends and family with an elaborately woven loaf—check out this 2-minute video featuring Joe at work.

Tah Dah! A four-strand challah!

today's challah

We’ve gotten better at this!

And here we are with the finished product! I put myself in the picture for symmetry’s sake—I can’t take any credit for this one!

Another good challah recipe comes from one of my children’s favorite grade school teachers. Riva Thatch taught Hebrew at Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, Mich. for many years, and gave this recipe to all her students. My daughter, Miriam Gardin, says she was impressed by Mrs. Thatch not only because she was an excellent teacher but because of her efforts to survive the Holocaust.

“It wasn’t just luck; it was a lot of her own initiative, strength and creativity that got her through,” Miriam says, looking back more than 20 years. “I also remember her teaching us that they made soap in the ghetto from ashes and I thought that was almost unbelievable. Soap from ashes? No way! But Mrs. Thatch was totally believable!”

You can find Mrs. Thatch’s wonderful recipe, along with many more, in Lynne Meredith Golodner’s new The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

Now it’s your turn!

Have you ever made bread “from scratch”?

What did you learn from the experience?

What bread traditions reflect your faith or your family’s culture?

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