This holiday season 5-year old Ella Anania is going to learn an intricate and delicious part of her family history. And while Ella will have fun in the process, she won’t realize its significance, at least not for a few more years.
That’s how it was for Ella’s grandmother Kathy Anania anyway. “Neeny,” as Ella calls her, grew up treasuring the times she got to savor the delicate taste and sweet aroma of the homemade yeast rolls made by her own grandmother, Mary “Mae” Comfort. These days Kathy is the only one left in her family who has the original recipe and makes the traditional rolls.
“They take a lot of work,” Kathy explains. “And I make them using Nana’s original pan. It’s sacred.”
That’s how Nana Comfort did it, turning out just one small batch at a time in the old, battered tin pan. Nana Comfort was widowed young and raised her children, including Kathy’s mom, on wages that didn’t afford many luxuries, but she made a practice of baking the yeast rolls for her family, and always performed the time-consuming labor with love.
“I had no idea how much time and work went into making them. Each batch takes me five hours from start to finish. I remember how I couldn’t wait to eat them, and I always asked for more,” Kathy says.
Ella has already come to love the rolls, and this year gets to learn patience and a few kitchen skills, as she and Neeny work to turn out the treasured baked treat. Ella and Neeny will work at making the rolls every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas from now on…for a couple of reasons.
“I want her to know this part of her history,” Kathy says. “And I don’t want this tradition of love to die.”
Nana Comfort passed on several years back, and Kathy’s own mother, Marilyn Colbert, from whom Kathy learned to bake the rolls, died just weeks before Ella’s birth.
“This is a way for Ella to learn a little something about two very important ladies in her past, even though she never actually knew them,” Kathy says.
So Ella and Kathy will be in the kitchen this holiday season, sharing the tradition of a treasured recipe passed down from a beloved grandmother. For this family, the taste and fragrant aroma of these delicious yeast rolls are the essence of comfort.
Mary “Mae” Comfort’s Yeast Rolls
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup hot milk
3 tablespoons shortening
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 egg, beaten
4 cups all-purpose flour, or enough to make stiff dough
Dissolve yeast in warm water. Mix hot milk, shortening, sugar and salt in large mixing bowl. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in yeast and beaten egg. Add 2 cups flour and beat until smooth. Stir in more flour until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and rubbery, about 8 to 10 minutes. Place in a large buttered bowl.
Turn over once to grease both sides of the dough. Cover dough and let rise in warm area until it almost doubles in size. This will take about an hour. Pound the dough down into bowl to remove the big air pockets. Grease hands. Divide dough into small pieces. Roll into balls and place in shallow greased baking pan with sides touching.
Cover loosely with damp dishcloth. Let rise again for about an hour. Bake in preheated 400° oven 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter while hot. Makes approximately 2 dozen rolls.