To break bread with family and friends is a ritual of sustenance and belonging. But to bake your own bread, according to a recipe handed down through the generations, is sweeter still. Now you too can try this life-changing loaf for yourself

One of the things I loved most from my married days was my mother-in-law’s homemade bread. When we used to visit, there would always be a loaf around, a crusty dark oblong, dense with nuts and seeds and oils. It was a loaf that measured the passing of the day, as its thickness reduced with each smattering of thickly spread butter and cheese.

This bread, toasted, ranks amongst the most exquisite culinary delights I have ever known, so when I lost my connection to it after my divorce, it added a little poignancy to the sadness I felt. The bread was no longer shared, as an emblem for a marriage that had ended. There were just crumbs, where the loaf had been.

So, we weren’t on bad terms after the split up, just sad ones, perhaps. I had dropped my children off at her faraway home before, where they waited for their mother, and felt ill at ease when asked to stay. It brought up too many ghosts. This time, things were different. Seven years after the rupture, things changed.

A friend had offered me a family cottage near my ex-mother-in-law’s place, on the Garden Route. My kids and I arrived with a set of keys in the late afternoon, to find a rodent-infested nightmare, a house abandoned for a year, a switched-off fridge full of putrefying food. It was like something out of Chernobyl – vacated, in an instant. I understood my friend’s trauma too, at that time, and what he must have been through with his own divorce. But still.

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“Dad, we can’t stay here.”

I called my ex-wife for a chat. I headed with my brood towards the ex-mother-in-law’s place nearby, totally unplanned, with feelings that were a mix of relief, gratitude and a little bit of shame.

We stayed a happy week, just the three of us. I did some repairs and kept busy, we swam at the beach, the kids got to watch some DSTV. While I was taught to make Roswitha’s bread. It’s so easy, and so delicious, a child could make it. That I still am a child, at the age of 48, is therefore beneficial.

Roswitha Robb is the name of the woman who gave the recipe to my x-m-i-l, or Lali, as she is known, nearly 30 years ago. Roswitha (rhymes with Ryvita) in turn got it from her domestic worker, Mary, surname unknown. What’s lovely about the provenance of this bread is that apparently, Mary and her employer were on such good terms, years and years before apartheid ended, that both of them and their husbands sat down to dinner together regularly, when they no doubt shared this bread.

I chat with Lali on the phone now. It feels like the re-configured family, once split, has settled. The yeast on the healing has risen.

Now, even my fussy-eater children eat it. I walk home from my office to enjoy a sandwich for lunch instead of being tempted by a takeaway. The recipe yields two loaves, which means that I can often give one away, as a gift of peace.

Here’s how you make it, give or take. These measurements work for me, and every oven is different. Note: no kneading is required. Once you get the hang of it, it takes only 10 minutes or so to make the dough before you leave it to rise.

Lali’s Bread

Makes two loaves in 30cm loaf tins – coat them with butter beforehand to prevent sticking.

Stir one sachet instant yeast in slightly warm/tepid water.

Now sift dry ingredients into large mixing bowl

  • 5 cups Eureka Mills stoneground wholewheat flour
  • 3,5 cups Eureka Mills stoneground white bread flour

Add

  • 2 tsp salt
  • Very generous handfuls of sunflower seeds, linseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, etc. I’ve also used raisins.

Mix the above together

Add a very big glug of olive oil to yeast once it starts activating

Add – including the yeast/water/olive oil mix, 5 cups of tepid water, bang into the middle of the mix. Stir in with a wooden spoon. Should be sticky – at this stage you can add either more water or a little flour.

The moist mix should plop into loaf tins, not pour. This is icky part, getting out of mixing bowl into tins. It doesn’t matter if they’re not equal but try for that.

Allow to rise to almost level or level, doesn’t matter. This can take a few hours, less so in summer. Cover with cloth. I’ve also let them rise and then placed in fridge overnight and baked in the morning.

Bake at 180 degrees – mine come out perfectly after about 30 to 40 minutes. Lali bakes hers for an hour.

Article by: Sean O’Connor