40 July/August 2014
The first time I worked with yeast, I was trying to prove I was good at something. That morning, I’d lost he part-time job I hated because I
couldn’t set type on an IBM Selectric typewriter.
(In the newsroom of my previous job, I’d been
setting it by computer for more than a year.) I
came home, dejected, and poured myself into the
latest issue of Redbook, wondering if I would ever
be any good at anything again.
Buried in the back section, I found a recipe
for homemade bread. I’d watched my mother
make yeast rolls for years, so I knew it couldn’t be
all that hard. So off to the Piggly Wiggly I went,
returning with flour, yeast and loaf pans, and
set to work pretending to be my mother. How
impressed my new husband would be with fresh,
hot bread served to him for supper! Who cared
about the lousy job.
I followed the directions, mostly, and soon
had two nice loaves ready for the oven. I popped
them in, waiting for my masterpieces to come
As the timer buzzed, the sweet smell of fresh
bread filled my kitchen, just like it had my mother’s. A moment of home in my faraway apartment. But when I pulled
the loaves out, I found not
perfect brown domes but
two one-inch-high crispy
bricks, so hard I could
have used them to hammer nails.
I wrote my mother,
asking her for advice, and
a few days later a letter
arrived, complete with the
recipe for her homemade
rolls. “Let the dough rise
until double, then bake ...”
Were those the directions?
I tried again. And
again, until I created soft
pillows of dough that
rivaled my mother’s. Not
too many years passed before she handed the roll-
ing pin to me.
My mother’s recipe card is now so covered in
butter and milk stains I can hardly read it, but I
know it by heart. I make dozens of rolls to share
with co-workers, neighbors and friends; now the
church ladies, many of whom I taught this lost
art, make the rolls as a fundraiser for mission.
When the family gathers, I bring in the rolls,
piping hot from the oven, to share. The litmus test
for any prospective in-laws? They have to love my
What do I love so much about making them?
The way the dough feels in my hands — soft and
light — and how the process empties my mind
of what seems to matter and fills it with moment
My masterpiece-in-progress would not appeal
to any television cook. It’s a sticky mess, but in
the end, the perfect blend of flour, yeast, butter
and egg, weighing almost nothing. Their cloudlike
quality, airy and light, is best sampled right out of
the oven, the butter dripping down the sides of
My daughter, my niece and even my sister
now make rolls for their families, but I’m not
quite ready to pass on the
rolling pin. On a recent
visit home, my sister asked
me to make them for her
mother-in-law, so I pulled
out my sifter and roll-
ing pin and set to work,
happy to share, for even
a moment, the smell and
taste of home.
Susan Byrum Rountree
’ 79 is the author of Nags
Headers, a regional history,
and In Mother Words, a
collection of essays. She blogs
com and is director of
communications for St.
Michael’s Episcopal Church
PHOTOS BY BRIANA BROUGH ’03
Roll With It
by Susan Byrum Rountree ’ 79