Mr. MarthaAndMe’s grandmother was known to her great grandchildren as Gaga. Gaga was a character. Mr. MarthaAndMe has nice memories of her, but even when he was a kid, she was a lovable kook. Her name was Matilda, or Tillie for short, but when she died, her birth certificate and marriage license had a completely different name (Melinda, I think). Gaga was a bit of an anxious gal and relied on Valium to get her through. Once we arranged to visit her and showed up and she stumbled out of bed, hair sticking out, having forgotten we were coming. She had taken a Valium and had a little nap. You never knew what to expect from Gaga. She told stories of relatives in the “home land” (no one is sure what country) who were royalty and how her family gave it all up. She was born dead and miraculously came back to life. And her husband was a no good you know what.
She lived in a tiny mother-in-law apartment behind her daughter, with a tiny kitchen, living room, and bedroom. Gaga did not have many material possessions, but those she did have had meaning, or were at least iconic. She had a big picture frame on the wall where she stuck in photos. At Christmas, she had a wreath made of hard candy that had scissors hanging from it so you could snip a piece off. She had a stuffed Alf (I don’t know why). She had an ashtray that was a weird guy in a monocle with his mouth open. She had a beautiful drop front desk/secretary that now sits in our living room (and, strangely, is an exact duplicate to one my parents have). I love that desk, but associate it with the photo of her mother in a casket that she kept inside it (apparently people used to take treasured photos of corpses “laid out”). And then there was her tiny, stained, Formica kitchen table. Whenever we visited her, she would get us into the kitchen at that table and make tea (with an old, used teabag) and water heated in a saucepan and scoop sugar out of a bin. And she would always have a batch of cheese bread for us.
No one knows where the recipe came from, but she had been making it as long as anyone can remember. I have a photocopy of the recipe card in her handwriting with its vague directions (and to add to the kookiness, it’s called “cheese rolls” although she always made it as bread). It seemed that whenever she made it, she altered it, so it was never quite the same.
The cheese bread has two variations. First is an actual cheese bread, made with golden raisins and farmer’s cheese. I think she always used some cheddar too, although the recipe does not suggest that. Then there is the poppy seed version, which has no cheese at all. Once she made me a batch of cheese bread with no raisins because she remembered I didn’t like them. Often her batches had burned edges or black bottoms, which we cut off when we got it home. Even so, it was always delicious.
Gaga has been gone for quite a few years, but I still remember her fondly. And I make her bread a few times a year and think about her when I make it. Somehow, like hers, each batch seems to have its own personality, but that quirkiness just reminds me of her.
Gaga’s Cheese Bread
6 cups flour (I use 2 cups whole wheat and 4 regular)
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sour cream
1 packet yeast
1/2 cup warm water
Mix the dry ingredients, then mix in the butter, eggs and sour cream. I usually end up using my hands to combine this. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it sit for 5 minutes, then mix that into the bread.
Now you need to decide what kind of bread you want to make.
For cheese bread:
Add in 1 lb of farmer’s cheese (you can substitute cheddar for half of it) and 2 egg yolks, and a cup of golden raisins.
For poppy seed bread:
Mix in one can of poppy seed filling.
Form into a long loaf on a greased baking sheet and allow to rise one hour. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes.
The bread is a very moist and slightly sweet bread. It’s great with dinner, but it also yummy toasted for breakfast. The poppy seed version is sweeter. Sometimes I divide the recipe in half and do half cheese and half poppy seed.