EXCHANGE: Woman uses yeast handed down through generations
Published 1:05 am, Saturday, December 2, 2017
STEELEVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Part of Paula Owen's family history lives in her refrigerator.
In two jars sits yeast that Owen said was given to her 42 years ago by her mother when she married, just as her mother had done in 1918. Owen said the culture, made by feeding the yeast with sugar and the water discarded from boiling potatoes, was at least a century old if not older. In fact, while Owen knows for certain her grandmother kept it, she said it is the family story that her great-grandmother actually brought the culture from Germany.
The yeast and the special family sandwich bread recipe that is made with it has always been a part of Owen's life.
"I watched my mom bake all the time," Owen said, remembering how her mother baked bread for the family at least once a week. "She made it every week and sometimes other people in Percy, where she lived, they would call her and ask her to make them some and so she did."
When Owen married and started her own family, she kept the tradition up, baking for her family and though her household is a lot smaller now — she lives with just her husband, Gene, in Steeleville — she still feeds the starter once a week and tries to bake at least every other. She said she gets a good feeling every time she bakes with it.
"You know, it makes you feel good that you are still keeping it going," she said of the tradition. Owen also said she enjoys remembering her mother every time she bakes.
Bread was not the only thing Owen's mother made with her special yeast culture. There were coffee cakes, cinnamon buns and donuts, too. As for recipes though, Owen said those are hard to come by.
"When she had recipes, she didn't write it down. She said, 'You just use a pinch of this and that,' and she said, 'You do it by feel,'" she said laughing.
Owen said her mother was very secretive about the yeast culture.
"She wouldn't give it out to anybody and when she gave it to me, I was really happy about it," Owen said.
Indeed, the yeast has likely only left the family one time. Owen said when her children were small, she baked her family's special bread for a school bake sale. One customer loved the bread so much she got in touch and asked Owen how to make it. Owen said she gave the woman a portion of the yeast, but isn't sure if she kept the tradition going.
Owen, a second-shift worker at Gilster Mary-Lee, said she doesn't have much time to bake. However, she took days off for Thanksgiving to mix up four loaves, which she divides into halves — she planned to make the stuffing for Thursday's meal with it.
"They know it's homemade bread and they said it's better, it tastes better with it," she said of her children.
Owen said, as of right now, she is the only person still keeping the yeast that she knows of — she is the only girl in her family and her brothers didn't express interest in keeping up the family tradition. She said one daughter has expressed an interest but, because of her schedule, has not been able to keep the yeast Owen gave her alive.
At 67, Owen still has years of baking left, but said she is hopeful the tradition won't die with her — hopefully a child or even a grandchild will keep the family tradition alive.
"I'm hoping that as they see me doing it all the time that they will eventually do it," Owen said.
Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, http://bit.ly/2Af5izf
Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan.