Mamie’s Oat Meal Bread

I have an accordion recipe file, the kind that has a pocket for each category, and when you want to find a recipe you have to dump everything in the pocket out — the index cards, the magazine clippings, the scraps of paper torn from whatever legal pad was handy at the time — and sift through them one by one for the one you want.

I’ve had it since 1982, and I don’t use it too much any more, but there are certain old recipes in there that I use regularly but that never made it onto the computer, like my mother-in-law’s pork tenderloin and Christmas cookies, and many more that I never used and never will but never got around to tossing. It’s a mess, really.

I can’t even tell you what I was looking for in “Cakes, Pies & Baked Goods” the other day — it won’t be cookie season for a while — but what I found was this:

It’s a recipe, in my grandmother Molly’s unmistakable hand, for Mamie’s Oat Meal Bread. Mamie was her mother, who died long before I was born. Molly herself died in 1988, and the steadiness of the writing tells me this was written well before that, so I have to have had that recipe for a good long while. But honestly, I never knew I did. In all the times I’ve rifled through that file looking for Russian Tea Cakes or Candy Cane Cookies, I swear I never ever saw it.

Now here’s what I want to say about this bread: I want to say that it was as essential to my childhood as kickball and cartoons. That on a cold Maine summer morning, the molasses aroma of this bread wafting up through the floorboards of the drafty cottage to my bedroom above was just about the only thing that could entice me out from underneath my toasty comforter. That a warm slice slathered with butter, eaten in the kitchen while Molly puttered around doing grandmotherly kitchen things, was as close to perfect as any breakfast I could imagine.

I do want to say that, but it would be a lie. It would be the truth about Molly’s Tollhouse cookies (that’s Tollhouse, not chocolate chip, and yes, Mom, she gave us cookies for breakfast!), but a lie about the bread. The truth is, I don’t remember this bread, or any other, coming out of my grandmother’s oven.

And yet, that recipe didn’t just materialize in my file of its own accord. There was bread in my grandmother’s kitchen, of course there was, although I don’t remember it; bread was not as exciting to me as cookies, in those days. Which one of us knew that, although I was not a bread baker when she was alive, I would one day want to have this recipe? I imagine it was Molly, that she offered and I accepted it politely, because you don’t argue with your grandmother and because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but inwardly rolling my eyes a little, certain I would never use that recipe. I imagine that it was she who knew that it would someday matter to me; it was she who knew me better than I knew myself.

Here’s the recipe, exactly as written by my grandmother and exactly as made by me, right down to the packets of Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast, which I never use and had to buy especially for the occasion, because you don’t argue with your grandmother.

Mamie’s Oat Meal Bread

2 pkg Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup water with 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon sugar

4 cups milk scalded and poured over

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons salt [Next time I would use a bit less.]

Let cool till luke warm.

Combine yeast with oatmeal mixture. Add flour to make stiff dough — about 7 cups. [My dough took almost 9 cups, but everyone measures cups differently.]

Turn onto a floured bread board. Knead 8 to 10 minutes. Turn into lightly greased bowl. Turn over to grease the top. Let rise till doubled in bulk — 1 1/2 hours. Punch down and let rise until nearly doubled — about 1/2 hour. Turn onto board. Let rest 10 minutes. Place in four 9 x 5 x 3 pans. Let rise until almost doubled. Bake 1 hr 15 minutes at 375°. [Mine was done in about 50 minutes.]

It is ready to bake when an indentation made with a finger does not rise. [This took my loaves about an hour and 45 minutes.]

If temperature is not 80° put a frying pan full of boiling water in the oven. Place the bread above it.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    This looks like it would make excellent toast with a bit of butter and jam. An “honest loaf of bread,” as James Beard would say.
    I only started baking a little over a year ago, and [re]discovered my Mom’s stash of baking supplies when I went home for Christmas. It’s strange how I don’t remember much about the things she baked (she stopped baking when I was maybe 8 or 9), but I’ll be sure to ask for her recipes the next time I see her.
    p.s. My parents used to let me have apple pie for lunch.

  2. says

    Marvelous story, and marvelous-looking bread. You didn’t say, but did it taste as good as the memory you wish you had of it did? (If that makes sense!)

  3. says

    This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I want to give up wheat for about a week and I’m tired of my oatmeal breakfast. It’s the kind of bread I can build on, add my cinnamon and raisins, walnuts, etc.

  4. says

    After reading about the cottage I had a sneaking suspicion that the story was a load. Cookies for breakfast is what grandmothers are all about anyway. That’s very neat that you found this recipe – it seems to have produced a couple of tasty loaves.

  5. says

    What a wonderful find! This reminds me of a Christmas Oatmeal Bread that my mother makes around the holidays. Same sort of process … oats, butter, and molasses soaked in boiling water and then the addition of flour and yeast. Unlike the recipe above, I do associate this one with my childhood as an essential comfort food. My mom still sends me a loaf every year in the mail. I hope this one becomes a good tradition for you!

  6. says

    Astrid, it’s a soft, rather sweet sandwich-type loaf. Good for PB&J, the ultimate childhood comfort food.

    rainbowbrown, believe it or not the cottage part is absolutely true! Corny but true.

  7. says

    I love the idea of making recipes that come from generations back – make me wonder what they were thinking when they made it – I bet your grandmother would be proud of all your breadmaking! it always impresses me

  8. says

    I love these recipes that are handed down to us through our grandmothers! I bake an angel food cake today that was my grandmother’s recipe in her angel food cake pan. I thought about her all day as I was baking it. What a great way to honor them. I will post it in the next few days. Thanks for sharing.
    Dana Zia

  9. jacquie says

    i wonder what your grandma “saw/knew” before you even were aware of it. it does make one wonder – doesn’t it.

    what a yummy looking loaf. i’m assuming you used
    regular white flour – correct? how do you think whole
    wheat would do? either alone or in combination w/ white. thanks.

  10. says

    It looks really nice. Nothing like a homemade loaf of bread from your grandmother or mothers old according recipe collection. I love it! I too have inherited such recipes, it is always so nostalgic to go through.

  11. says

    Bittersweet and beautiful; your story captures the charm and love that dances between a family. I loved reading this, Susan. Magical moments that will last a lifetime. And, I have my own idea as to how you stumbled upon that recipe, that very day, at that very moment: Mamie’s hand touched your heart as your hand touched her note. And then your hand touched her hand in the baking. The two of you were in cahoots this day. (They never leave us, they simply are away until we call them forward.)
    I love stories like this. Thanks so much for sharing it.
    Perhaps I will bake this bread soon, but today, FINALLY, is my day to make your cracker recipe. Toaster oven and all!

  12. says

    I love recipes like this that remain dormant, hidden in some cookbook, ready to reveal themselves to us at an appropriate time. I always feel they are magical. How wonderful also to come from your great-grandmother.

    Susan, do you have a badge for your Yeastspotting event? I’ve been participating often enough recently that I’d like to add it to my blog with a link to you, but I haven’t found one.

  13. says

    What a great colour! I haven’t tried a bread like this. Looks like it would be great for breakfast.
    My grandmother embraced quick foods and packaged fare, but she did have an uncanny ability to carve two layers of perfect squares into a half pineapple. I have no idea how she did it.

  14. says

    Hello Susan, I wanted to believe the first part of your story, thanks for shattering my illusions. My grandmother, we called her “Nanny”, was an inveterate recipe collector and sharer. I have all sorts of her recipes written down in many notebooks and scraps of paper. Nanny was from Illinois and descended from (she claimed) Leif The Lucky. She taught me how to make stewed oysters, “Cambrick Tea” and Chicken Fricasee. When she was in her late 80′s I escorted her to a tee-totallers wedding at Casa Loma in Toronto. On that occasion she brought her cane which was hollow and contained half a dozen good sized glass vials that contained Martel VSOP cognac, she really knew how to have a good time.
    I hope she reads this and smiles!

  15. says

    I can not wait to fill my home with the fragrance of molasses and Mamie’s Oat Meal Bread.

    Thank you for sharing your memories and the recipe!

  16. says

    Jacquie, yes I used white flour. If you use 100% whole wheat you’ll be challenged to get something that’s not too dense, which is not to say it can’t be done. I’d start with replacing about 25% of the flour with WW, and go from there.

    Joie, no, I know it’s lame but I don’t have a YS badge (yet).

    David, I don’t know if she smiled but I did.

  17. says

    What a charming recipe, handwritiing and all… I wouldn’t dare substitute instant yeast for this.
    Your post reminds me of my grandma’s recipe notebook. I always got the back of my hand slapped whenever I doodled on it. I would give anything to get my hands on it.

  18. says

    Bet your grandmother saw something in you that you didn’t know existed….glad she did. The recipe sounds delightful. Love oats and molasses in bread.

  19. says

    Hello Susan,
    thats a wunderfull story. And things like cookies for breakfast reminds me on my granddad, showing us how to trink milk out of the milkbottle (when my grandma did not look in our direction) ;-)
    This oat meal bread looks so delicious, and I love rolled oats in Bread as well as in my musli :-D
    So I would like to bake it, too. But I have two questions: What kind of roll oats do you use? In Germany we have to different kinds: the normal ones, fitting to musli and granola, and fine ones, that are rolled twice. The finer one soak easierly. And thats my second question: is the molasse you use from sugar beets or sugar cane?
    Thank you

  20. Mom says

    I realize I am late to this discussion, but I just discovered your story about Mamie’s bread. How I loved that bread, and the aroma wafting from the kitchen was just as you imagined it. Mamie was a lifelong bread baker. Widowed when her three girls were five to ten years old, she managed to raise them by baking bread. Using coal and kerosene ovens, she baked 200 loaves day, which Mother and her sisters delivered in a little red wagon to the local grocery stores. Yes, Susan, you have your great grandmother’s genes, and your your grandmother was perceptive enough to recognize this.

    Please, will you make me some of that luscious bread sometime?

    Love, Mom

  21. cc says

    Mamie is what I, my sister and my cousins called my grandmother who lived in Canada’s East Coast. She was French Canadian and was a terrific cook. She liked to keep her recipes a secret, though! lol

  22. Chrissie Sheldon says

    For the oatmeal bread, where you have written just ‘flour’ does that mean oat flour or some kind of wheat flour or all purpose flour?
    I am gluten intolerant and if this uses oat flour it would make a wonderful gluten free loaf!
    Many thanks for your help.

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