Saturday, December 23, 2017


Among Dad’s great truisms was one he often voiced while eating Mom’s home made rolls during fancy dinners.  Mom’s potato rolls were scratch baked little gems formed by stuffing three tablespoon-size wads of dough into each cup of a standard muffin tin.  Out of the oven they’d come fragrant and piping hot, the perfect complement to standing rib roast at Thanksgiving, split pea soup (also home made) on Christmas Eve, grilled T-bone steaks on New Year’s Eve or ham at Easter.

The handsome heap of aromatic delights would sit near the main course in a plastic wicker basket wrapped in a tea towel (which on any other occasion would be referred to simply as a dish cloth) and passed round the table followed by a stick of real butter placed on a saucer.

Dad would grab a roll with one hand and slice off an extra thick pat of butter with the other.  Deftly, dividing the bread into its natural thirds, he’d sweep the buttery end of his Royal Danish butter knife – the good silverware – across one piece, then pop it in his mouth.  As the now warmed butter began to slip off the silver’s blade, he’d pivot another third under the butter like Willie Mays basket catching a fly ball and, again, pop the savory little morsel into his mouth.  Left, then, would be the final third of a potato roll and a naked butter knife – affording just cause for him to cut off another chunk of butter and, seconds later, reach across the holiday board for a second potato roll.

“Boys,” he would intone to my brother and me as he did this, “When you grow up, I think you’ll find that no matter what you do, the butter and the roll never come out even.”

Mom had long before perfected an exasperated gasp, but I knew it was simply her way of covering up the pride that welled within her when something she created was so universally appreciated. 

It didn’t happen nearly often enough…

Here’s her recipe:


1 cake yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (I use the water where the potato was boiled)
2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed potato (I simply mash the hot potato through my strainer)
1 cup scalded milk
2 eggs, well beaten
Flour to make stiff dough

Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water.  Add shortening, sugar, salt and mashed potato to scalded milk.  When cool, add yeast.  Mix thoroughly and add eggs.  Stir in enough flour to make stiff dough.  Turn out on a slightly floured board and knead thoroughly.  Put into bowl large enough to allow for slight rising, cover with cloth and set in cold part of refrigerator.  About two hours before ready to serve, pinch off dough, shape and let rise until light.  Bake in hot oven (400 deg. to 450) 15 to 20 minutes.  Split, butter and serve hot.

Mom died this past October at the age of 95; 95 being “just about enough,” she believed.       

My daughter, Maria, had copied the recipe, packed up the ingredients – bringing them 165 arduous-with-kids-miles from Chico to Sonoma County – and baked a double batch for our Thanksgiving feast. 

Mom (well, Grandma) would be so proud.

And, as the rolls were passed, followed by the butter, Dad’s adage again held true.  I, a grandfather now, while reaching for a second one, felt compelled to share this tidbit of wisdom with the children there assembled: “…the butter and the roll never come out even.” 

Moments later, uttered was a familiar, exasperated gasp. 

Mom, it seems, was spending a final Thanksgiving with family.

© 2017
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. A beautiful story. The best recipes are the ones passed down.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family and the very best in 2018.

    1. Back at you for the holidays. A 2018 resolution will be to cross paths with you and yours some time when Candi and I are traveling north (with Edward, of course...)