In a coffee-obsessed world, tea reigned during my childhood. If you were sick you drank tea with toast. If you came in from a brisk walk with my Dad, we put on the kettle. Holidays? Add a little somethin’ to the brew. Just because? Let’s have some tea. And while visiting grandparents, tea was never poured without a freshly baked slice of something fresh. Nain (Welsh for grandmother) produced loaves of rich, moist raisin bread while my Nana claimed fame with her nut bread. And these were quick breads requiring no yeast. It doesn’t take so long to whip together, yet I never do this kind of baking. Probably because we eat so differently today and folks don’t do the Sunday afternoon visiting tradition like they did long ago. That was prime tea and bread territory and routinely served when nearby relatives or friends dropped in, which was pretty often.
Today a wealth of local blueberries drove me to a recipe created by the Pennsylvania Power & Light Company (now known as PPL) for its Home Service Bulletin. The utility company did a lot for its female customers 50 years ago. In addition to publishing recipes the company provided monthly “Homemakers’ School” programs. I know that because all of the handouts were in a box of old recipes and booklets I bought at a local antique store a few months ago.
In my youth PP&L was a big name in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania—my home turf–and I remember its headquarters in Allentown was located along bustling Hamilton Street (and steps away from Hess’s Department Store, Allentown’s glamour capital in the 60s) in the city’s only major skyscraper. Inside there must have been a squad of home economists developing the recipes that I found and prepared this morning.
The rainy day demanded something warm from the oven, and I can’t remember the last time I baked. How differently I live than my grandmothers, who were constantly in their aprons in front of their stoves. While the bread baked I tried to find out–officially–how women today have gotten away from the baking habit. Google led me to a 1955 USDA study, “Home Baking by Households in the United States–by Region.” The findings were not altogether surprising, but I learned that “three out of four households in the US did some home baking of batters or doughs in a week.” We’ve come a long way baby. I don’t think I baked on a weekly basis ever. OK. Maybe the week before Christmas. The study went on to report that farm families beat out urban families in the baking department and women in the Northeast did the least home baking. The South finally got its revenge and won the battle of the bakers, at least in this study. If you care to know more, read the findings at http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12355000/pdf/5556/hfcs5556_rep_13.pdf
I felt it was my duty, as a slacker from the Northeast, to turn things around this morning. Here’s the PPL Quick Blueberry Nut Bread recipe. I believe “quick” refers to the variety of bread rather than its ease or speed in assembly. There were a lot of moving parts going on. Here’s the proof from all the dishes.
But don’t let a few bowls, scrapers, measuring cups and beaters deter you. The bread incorporated the local berries and heart-healthy walnuts and wasn’t overly sweet. I ate mine warm with a thin swipe of butter. This is hard to explain but it tasted old-fashioned. Wholesome. Not cake disguised as bread.
Quick Blueberry Nut Bread
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons melted shortening (I used butter)
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder (seems like a lot, but this is correct)
1/2 cup broken walnut meats (I used my mini-processor to grind the nuts until coarse)
1 cup blueberries
Beat eggs, add sugar gradually. Mix thoroughly. Add milk and melted shortening. Sift flour, salt and baking powder. Add to liquid mixture and beat only until blended. (I ditched my beater for this part and used a wooden spoon so I wouldn’t over mix the batter). Carefully fold in blueberries and nuts (then I ditched the spoon for a spatula so I could fold the fruit very gently). Pour into a greased loaf pan (5″ x 10″) and bake at 375 degrees 50-60 minutes (this is a dense batter and I baked mine a bit longer). For a midsummer luncheon, include thin Blueberry Nut Bread sandwiches (I love that last line because I imagine ladies at lunch, dining on a sweet little sandwich. Cream cheese filling, I’m betting).