Berry Pudding: The greatest thing since sliced bread

How often have you heard some wonderful new development heralded as “the greatest thing since sliced bread”?

These days all kinds of supermarket breads are available pre-sliced, and every neighborhood bakery has a bread slicer. But whenever I hear that expression, I always think of the cottony Wonder Bread-type stuff.

For me, today’s recipe may be the greatest thing since the invention of Wonder Bread. But while I was thinking about the recipe, I thought I’d look into the history  of sliced bread. It turned out to be a lot more interesting than I’d imagined.

The inventor

The one-loaf-at-a-time bread slicer was invented by Otto Rohwedder, who grew up in Iowa as the son of German immigrants. At 20, he moved to Chicago where he earned a degree in optometry and did an apprenticeship with a jeweler.

In 1905, Rohwedder moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, acquired three jewelry shops, and used his profits to invent new tools and machines.

As he started thinking about a bread-slicing machine, he wondered how thick he should make the slices, so he put a questionnaire in several large newspapers, garnering responses from 30,000 housewives.

In 1916, he sold his jewelry stores and used the profits to built a prototype bread slicer. Even a fire at his warehouse, which destroyed his machine and all his blueprints, failed to deter him.

One of the problems with pre-sliced bread was the perception (mostly justified) that the bread would get stale faster than a whole loaf. By 1927, Rohwedder had built a machine that solved this problem by tightly wrapping the

sliced loaves in waxed paper. This kept the slices together as a loaf and preserved freshnhess.

A tough sell

Bakers weren’t interested. The machine was bulky, five feet wide by three feet high. Finally Rohwedder asked a baker friend, Frank Bench, to give it a chance. Bench was on the brink of bankruptcy, but he decided to invest in the slicer.

The machine was installed at the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri, and on July 7, 1928, the company sold the first loaf of commercial sliced bread, called Kleen Maid.

(According to Wikipedia, Battle Creek, Michigan has a competing claim as the first city to sell bread sliced by Rohwedder’s machine; however, historians have produced no documentation backing up Battle Creek’s claim.)

Frank Bench’s bread sales increased by 2,000 percent within two weeks.

The New York-based Continental Baking Company started using Rohwedder’s machines in 1930 and created Wonder Bread.

By 1933, 80 percent of the bread produced in America was sold pre-sliced.

A ban on sliced bread

While housewives of the 1930s were thrilled not to have to slice bread every day, U.S. Food Administrator Claude R. Wickard ordered a ban”on sliced bread in 1943, citing wartime conservation efforts.

The government capitulated less than three months later, after a tremendous outcry from customers. Wickard said the War Production Board decided the industry’s use of waxed paper would not affect the country’s defense.

The bread slicer may not be the most important invention in human history, but Otto Rohwedder couldn’t ask for a better tribute than describing something new and exciting as “the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

My husband loves to bake bread, so I hardly ever buy sliced bread, especially the puffy, white supermarket variety. But I made an exception when I found this recipe, which makes a lovely dessert for this time of year when berries are plentiful. It’s from the New York Times, which is a little surprising considering how easy it is to make.


Saloma Furlong’s Amish Sticky Buns as seen on PBS

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 ….



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.



Bolani: A vegetarian treat from Afghanistan for Ramadan

Parwin Anwar’s suburban Detroit home was bustling. She had offered to show me how to cook some of the dishes her family eats during Ramadan, which falls during the longer summer days this year. Her two daughters-in-law had come to enjoy the fruits of her labor, bringing with them two friends and three toddlers. The room hummed with activity and love.

In addition to learning how to make some Afghani foods, I wanted to get a sense of how Muslims cope with the month-long fast, especially when Ramadan falls in the summer when the days are so long. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, with no correction to bring it in sync with the solar calendar, Ramadan occurs approximately 11 days earlier every year.

Ramadan: It’s a long, hard fast in the summer

Going without food and drink between dawn and dark would be hard enough in the winter, when there are about 10 hours of daylight. How much more difficult it must be in the summer months, when—in Michigan anyway—the fast stretches on for more than 15 hours. And, when it often is hot enough to easily dehydrate anyone, let alone a fasting person.

In Muslim countries, schools, stores and offices close or modify their hours so that people can eat and do their business after dark and sleep during some of the daylight hours. In countries where Muslims are a minority, Ramadan is a challenge.

Parwin says many women start shopping and cooking weeks in advance for Ramadan and for Eid al Fitr, the festival that marks its end. She often makes curries, soups and other dishes and freezes them for use during Ramadan. Then all she needs to do to make a meal after the fast is defrost something, cook up some rice or noodles and throw together a salad.

Iftar: Breaking the Ramadan fast

Muslims like to break the fast by eating dates and sipping water—something the Prophet Muhammad did to break his fast. Many then get together with family or friends for the iftar meal.

Parwin and her husband, Qadir, are empty nesters with four adult children. Every night during Ramadan they go to communal prayers at the mosque starting about an hour and a half after the fast. That doesn’t leave them much time to have a large meal.

“By the time we get home it’s close to midnight, and we don’t want to eat a lot,” said Parwin. “So we eat something simple before the prayers, then rest for a few hours. We eat our big meal for sohor (the pre-dawn meal)—around 2:30 or 3 a.m.—so we can be finished before daybreak.”

The Anwars’ Ramadan meals usually start with a soup. They often eat pakora—thin slices of potato dipped in a chickpea-flour batter and deep fried—and bolani, a pan-fried turnover filled with chopped scallions, pumpkin or potatoes. The meal often ends with fresh fruit.

Ramadan iftar favorites—
cooked with love … and memory

Getting a recipe from Parwin posed a problem. Like many traditional cooks, she does not measure her ingredients using standardized cups or weights. She knows from memory how much of what should go into each dish and she cooks by sight, feel and taste.

This week’s Feed the Spirit recipe for bolani—the Afghani stuffed fried bread that they enjoy in their home—was adapted from what I saw Parwin do in her kitchen and recipe resources I found online. The best online recipe I found comes from an Afghani family in Australia. The web page includes a good video showing how to make bolani and links to other Afghani recipes.


Wish your friends and colleagues well in Ramadan

To all my Muslim friends and readers: “Ramadan mubarak!” (That’s “A blessed Ramadan!”)

Would you like to greet Muslim friends and colleagues? All this week, the popular Our Values column is reporting on 5 surprising things about Ramadan—and the first column is about how to greet our Muslim neighbors. Want to read more about the holiday itself? Stephanie Fenton’s Holidays column has a complete report on the fasting month and the way it affects communities around the world. Finally, if you like this recipe, today, please share it with friends: Click the blue-“f” Facebook icons and “Like” this column and recipe; or you could click the little envelope-shaped icons and email this to a friend.

Enjoy a good movie after dinner? Film critic Ed McNulty serves up A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Best Films on Food and Faith, which includes Hollywood favorites as well as one feature film about fasting in Ramadan.

Come back next week!

Come back to Feed the Spirit next week, when I’ll share another one of Parwin’s recipes, along with the dramatic story of how she and her family left Afghanistan.

Challah tops our list of holy breads

WELCOME to FeedTheSpirit with host Bobbie Lewis. 

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?

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!


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!

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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