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Old Bread Memories

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ithaca is gorges. It's waterfalls and snow, and for me it was also daffodils just peeking up through still-cold ground; phoebes just arrived and singing tentatively. I keep traveling north this spring, and I act like a big baby when I have to get my down parka and gloves back out. Looking at the bright side, it makes it all the more delicious to return to sun and warmth, such bits as we have. This is a view of the valley plowed out by the glacier that passed through what is now Ithaca. Winter keeps a grip on the place for a long, long time.

And yet...the first Ithaca Farmer's Market of the season was happening, and I joined my old friend Alan Poole for a visit to the land of hearty-looking breadladies and spun maple sugar. We got some white bean soup and braved the cold wind off the lake to enter the open-air barn that houses a very robust farmer's market. Oh, what wonderful things!We bought bread from this artisan stand. I bought a loaf of Amadama bread, a curious rolled around and around in my mind; I knew I'd baked it in the past; I knew I loved it, but I couldn't remember any more than that. Alan jogged my memory. "It was a recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book." Yes! Back in the late 70's I lived in a big old house in Petersham, MA, where we baked breads from that collection of monastery recipes. So I bought the loaf and brought it home--so sweet and brown and good. Here's what I've found about it on the Web, from a Los Angeles Times article from 1922:

"Amadama Bread--One pint of boiling water poured slowly over one-half cup of
Indian (fine corn) meal, stirring all the time. When cool, add one bread spoon of lard,
one-half cup of molasses, one dessert spoon of salt, one-half yeast cake
dissolved in one-half cup of luke-warm water, and flour to make a stiff batter.
Knead well and rise in again, let rise in the pans till almost double in bulk,
and bake."
The name "Amadama" is a curious one. It is almost impossible to find anyone
who can explain its origin convincingly. Perhaps the most feasible story
regarding it is the following:
When Mrs. John Johnston of Gloucester, MA first introduced the bread, she called
it "Epidemic Bread,"which name was mispronounced by an ignorant maid in one
customer's home, who called it "amadama" housewives clamored for it and it became
most popular. For this reason Mr. Johnston called it "Epidemic Bread," which name was
mispronounced by an ignorant maid in one customer's home, who called it "amadama"
bread (instead of "epidemic.") From that time on many customers, who heard of
the maid's mispronunciation, called it "madama" in fun--which name became a fixture.

I'm doubting that these women have lard anywhere near their kitchen, so perhaps butter would suffice. As you know, lard is a staple in my kitchen, if only for Zick dough. The amadama bread is the toasty looking loaf at the very bottom margin of the photo. I was to regret my purchase upon climbing on the scales back home. Bread and pasta are now struck once again from my diet. Sigh. Travel eating is the worst. Somehow, you think it won't count, until you get home. Why do carbs have to taste soooo good? Begone. No more.

I always get a kick out of kids in college communities like Ithaca. They all look like fortune-tellers.
There were some mighty thrifty looking winter carrots and taters, too. Alan says the carrots are incredible.
Later, Alan and I went to the Johnson Museum of Art, where there happened to be an Easter egg hunt and celebration going on. I was amazed at the biomass of mini-people crammed into the lobby. In my college days in Cambridge, children were an anomaly, evoking double-takes on campus. Things have changed. Graduate students and professors now reproduce. I was also amazed at the fortitude of this single stalwart folksinger, armed only with a gut-stringed guitar, who was belting out "Puff, the Magic Dragon" without benefit of mic or amp to what felt like several thousand chattering kids.
This would, for me, define the Gig from Hell. Give the man a Pignose.

Our Swinging Orangutangs gig at the Whipple Tavern last Friday night was anything but. We had a steady full house and the most marvelous time, and our tips plus the spaghetti dinner hosted by the tavern brought in over $500 for pocket money for the sixth grade class trip to Pittsburgh. We played a mini-set of songs from "Boogie Nights" that I'm fairly certain have never been played in that space, including "Best of My Love," with screaming female vocal harmonies between me and Jess; "Jungle Boogie," sung by Bill of the Birds, "Get Down Tonight," sung by JZ, "Brick House," by BOTB (he does a real nasty job on that one.) Jess does an amazing job on the vocal and antic keyboard of Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good." Yes, it was something completely different. It was such fun that we looked up and it was 12:30.

More Ithaca anon.


Well, here in New England it's ANadama bread, and the myth is that an old fisherman got sick of the cornmeal and molasses his wife kept feeding him -- cussing her thus: "Anna, damn her."

Woo hoo, did we have fun at the jamboree! Says I to Margaret on the way out, "Makes me regret my misspent youth -- all those years I *didn't* hang out in taverns listening to rock & roll."

Brick House? Chaka Khan? Get Down Tonight? I could shriek right now!!!! I'd love to be there with ma dancin' shoes on, ya know.

Glad you enjoyed your outing with Alan. I could make a meal of the that bread with real butter.

Looking forward to more Ithaca.

I am in full sympathy on the cry "why must carbs taste so good." I am to limit carbs and it is a CONSTANT struggle as I love, love, love bread.

Mmmm... me too Julie. Have to say no. Have to stay away from the breads. Lord help me but I love them. I figure there's a special room in heaven where you get to sample breads like this for eternity and never gain weight. Enough to make me want to be a good

Glad the gig went so well! Mary and I could have sung along all night long! Pass the Boone's Farm Easy!

A post that must have everyone salivating...
And I ask again, is there no one in Whipple who can videotape the Swinging Orangutans and put them on YouTube for the rest of us???

I always knew that the food of poor people who worked outdoors is no longer suited to our lifestyle, but you’d think a chimp who scrambles around the backwoods of Ohio would get a bit of a carb break.

I also know this bread as Anadama, complete with "Anna, damn her,” and I have made it from the Sterns’ "Square Meals" book of recipes and food lore. Of course, they also have a recipe for Undescended Twinkies (I leave that to your imagination), so this is a cookbook in which one should tread gently, fisherman, lumberjack, chimp or not.

Julie - loved this post. Felt like I was there.

I smiled at the end; we did 'Tell Me Something Good' in CHURCH on Sunday! Message was on the powerful impact of words, and so we encouraged people to do as Chaka Khan said and said something GOOD.

I think Jesus is a Chaka Khan fan.

Don't let your kids go to Pburg. They will never find thier way back out!!

I have a feeling places like Ithaca will be like your seeds long slumbering in the forest floor. The spirit and skills of such places will blossom as the oil runs out. Local, handmade food and music will soon take on value beyond our current comprehension. (Yes, I've been reading James Howard Kunstler again.)

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