bread on tabletwo loaves on racktwo loaves on rack

bread on table

bread on table

While shuffling along the potluck supper line at my cousin’s wedding I paused frequently to scoop. I found myself worrying that the surface area of my plate was not equivalent to the desires of my palate. I had to choose carefully as the choices and arrays of foods were mighty.

I came to the section of breads and there was a label that caught my eye. “Grandma Fran’s Orange and Anise Rye Bread.” The baker, a man named Duane, known to me and most others as “Whitey” is my uncle’s brother. He lives only a handful of miles northwest of our house. So given that I know the baker and I remember the late Grandma Fran as a woman easy to smile, I gently placed a slice on my heap of celebratory grub.

Half an hour after eating my small feast, I spotted Whitey so I waddled over to him to commend him on his bread baking skills. It turns out he has been baking the bread for years and has built up quite a reputation in the community. I soon learned that his offerings always disappear whenever his church has a bake sale.

“Come on over sometime and I’ll give you a lesson,” he offered. Of course I smiled and nodded.

In two weeks time, I was standing next to Whitey in his kitchen. We were surrounded with sacks of flour, bowls, measuring cups and spoons, graters, mortar and pestle, a pastry sheet to keep the mess of kneading bread off the counter.

But before we began he insisted on a ceremonial fueling. He poured us cups of coffee and what else . . .two pieces of toasted rye bread with Whitey’s rhubarb/strawberry jam.

Soon he had me grating orange peel, grinding anise seeds, preparing the yeast, mixing molasses into the blend of sugar, powdered milk and molasses before adding the rye and white flour.

He explained that as a young man he had badgered his mother into teaching him how to bake her famous bread. Whitey was the youngest of four sons, so it was likely that Fran was pleased that he showed an interest.

Whitey and I each worked on a batch of five loaves of bread. Finally it was time to let each of our batches sit in a warm place to rise for a couple hours. My rotund flour mass sat tucked in a big covered Tupperware bowl in a warm bath of water in the laundry sink.

By this time we had worked up a hunger again and so Whitey fed me another of his signature items . . .northern pike fish cakes. Excellent.

After eating, things had progressed with the flour and we began the physical part of baking bread. No machines here, Grandma Fran would never approve. We each dumped our flour in front of us, rolled up our sleeves and began the work of adding flour and kneading.

“More flour,” barked Sgt. Whitey. “You’ll know when you are there.”

I could feel the pleasant to almost painful workout my forearms were getting while I dug my fingers and kneaded the flour.

“More flour. You’ll know when you are there.”

And so I kept on. I was getting into a groove like when you are on a long arduous run or bike ride. You find a zone where you are able to displace the pain.

“More flour. You’ll know when you are there.”

My brow was breaking out in a sweat line and I wondered if the batch of bread would be tainted if I added more salt that dripped off my forehead. Luckily Whitey called a halt. We then divided our respective batches into five equal loafs. He showed me the geometrical trick in dividing a large round of bread dough into five similar bodies.

We sculpted and primped our loaves before placing them carefully in the greased round pans. Each rounded, “smooth as a baby’s butt” loaf was covered with dishtowels and placed in a slightly warm oven.

By now we needed to cool down so we bundled and booted up to head outdoors. It was on this stroll that I learned another value of baking Grandma Fran’s bread.

Whitey directed me to his evaporating cooking set-up when he boils down his maple syrup in early spring. He showed me how he built it up with cement blocks that he had procured a few miles away near Weber.

“Guess what I paid the guy for the cement blocks?”

I shrugged and Whitey smiled, “Some loaves of bread.”

Then as he showed me the welded steel door that is part of his wood burning syrup-cooking operation. It was custom done.

“Guess what I paid the welder for his work?”

Another smile, “Yep, some fresh bread.”

Strolling to his garden we noticed some deer tracks. This brought up the subject of hunting. Whitey has a yellow lab that has been his primary pheasant hunting partner. Surrounded by farmland, sloughs and woodlots, Whitey is able to secure permission to hunt on neighboring lands. He never leaves his house on a day of hunting without several loaves of bread in the back seat of his truck. He smiles when he shares that he is often urged to return for a hunt.

He has even bartered bread for other foodstuffs. At the above -mentioned church bake sale, there is a woman who makes equally legendary homemade pecan pie. They always make sure they keep one of their baked items from the sale table so they can exchange them before heading home.

We returned into the house, delicately lifted the bread shrouds away and then put them into the now-hot oven for half an hour or so of baking.

I went home with five treasured gifts of manna that night. I’m thinking of giving Whitey some . . . . No, that won’t work.


Just days ago, maybe a month after my lesson, I tried my first attempt at baking without my mentor at my side. I’m so proud of my efforts that I took photos.

Yesterday we got a fresh dumping of 3-4 inches of snow and wouldn’t you know my good neighbor had me plowed out before I could get out and shove snow around. So even though the wind-chill is a bit nippy, I’m going to take one of my loaves of bread for a one-way walk.

Thanks for the lessons on bread baking and generosity Whitey.






His mom, Frances Sundberg, moved with her family from central MN when she was 18 years old,

Didn’t take long and she was dating a native I. Falls fellow named “Swede”Clarence Sundberg.

She had four sons. So taught Whitey how to bake the bread after he badgered her on how to bake it.

She never measureded out ingredients. A bit of this a bunch of that and son on.


First time he baked he kept asking, “Isn’t that enough flour?” More flour.

“You’ll know when you’re there.”


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