Subscribe|Advertise|Contact Us|Order Photos

Voyageur's Best Generally Speaking Columns of 2002

Evelyn and oven

Cooking with Evelyn
by Lynne Gilfus  | April 9, 2002

I've been in this area now for about two years, and am still acquainting myself, personally, with the local tastes and legends in cooking. Every time I hit a peak, I find out there's one more on the horizon. My latest peak? Spending a few hours with Evelyn Swedberg making bread with her recipes. No doubt about it - this is an event that will be difficult to top.

I arrived at the McGregor school and was ushered into the back recesses I'd never seen before, wondering all the while where this would wind up. Then, we walked through a big swinging door and into a well-equipped, well-lighted kitchen. Whew! Familiar equipment and the smell of bread dough wafting through the air - I had arrived.

I was certainly one of the more fortunate people in the area before this class, as I'd already sampled some of Evelyn's breads at a couple of local parties. Yes, you can go to a bakery and buy something similar, but there is no getting around the magic in Evelyn's breads. To our great, good fortune, she stood in the kitchen waiting to share her secrets and show us the way.

We were about to embark on some serious bread production and there wasn't a moment to waste. We started with Evelyn's Basic Bun Dough recipe, and everyone had a chance to sniff, stir, beat and handle every step of the mixing. Question after question tumbled out of all of us and Evelyn just kept answering and working away.

While we worked, we watched the dough go from a collection of raw ingredients to a fragrant, foamy mixture that all of us knew was actually the chemical formula for precious gems. Following Evelyn's lead, we arrived at a bread dough with the texture of a foamy silk cushion, and the color of pale fresh butter. As we students finished the kneading process, Evelyn set up a space to set the dough to rise - the kitchen sink. Evelyn ran enough warm water in the sink to reach about halfway up the bowl and carefully set the covered bowl in for its first rising of an hour.

One might ask, "What do you do with an hour to wait?" Evelyn came prepared to keep us busy for the duration of the class, believe me. While our basic dough was rising, we worked with cardamom dough braids, fruited cardamom dough and rye bread dough. Each of us had the opportunity to handle, roll, braid and place, with Evelyn coaching.

"After the braid is done, turn the ends under and pinch it a bit. If you don't it'll all come apart." So, we braided, pinched and tucked.

"You have to get just the right amount of oil on your hands and on the countertop to roll the dough out just right - see?" Her expert hands constructed another braid.

Then, our dough was ready, and it was time to learn the punch, pinch, squeeze and roll moves required to finish the construction. Evelyn showed us at least a dozen times how to get the shape just right for a small dinner roll, but where the dough seems to just become part of her hands, it was definitely fighting with some of us that night. My sympathy was with the dough. After all, if I had the choice between a professional and a rookie kneading me, which would I choose?

At last, we finished all of the shaping, and everything was carefully placed on baking trays to rise. Then, the cleanup began. Six women in one kitchen with four or five batches of bread dough could bring some fairly messy pictures to mind, but the cleanup went smoothly, and by the time the first buns and loaves came out of the oven, we were all ready for the tasting.

The moment we had all been waiting for: proof that we could all take part in the creation of a masterpiece and not spoil the dough. And what proof it was! Fresh bread, butter and peanut butter (of course) with some cold milk to wash it down. Now, to find the words to describe the flavors and textures…

Here, I have to give up and let imaginations prevail. There is no experience like that of standing in a kitchen when the bread is coming out of the oven, and being the first to taste the batch. The fact that it was Evelyn's recipe made the tasting that much sweeter, more savory, warmer and more fulfilling.

Perhaps, part of the enchantment was in knowing that the bread would go home with each of us, where we could show our loved ones our handiwork and share the flavors of the evening. Perhaps it was having spent a few hours with good people who enjoyed each other's company. Perhaps it was the idea that a local kitchen artisan like Evelyn Swedberg would share her time and her bread secrets with us, and keep us happily on task for over three hours.

All I know is that my stash of bread was gobbled up by everyone who came by my house for the next few days. However, I have the recipes now. I can remember the aromas, the texture, the tastes - all a tantalizing reminder that I have a new 25-pound bag of flour in my kitchen and no excuses for not spending an afternoon with it very soon.

Thanks, Evelyn, for sharing your time and your secrets. It was delightful, and after I've lost the 10 pounds I gained, I hope you'll have another class so we can do it all over again!

Bon apetit!

This article first appeared in the April 9, 2002 issue of the Voyageur Press.