Laura Dean Bennett
If you grew up with homemade bread on the table, then you know it is nearly impossible to settle for “store-bought.”
There’s just no comparison.
“My husband and I both grew up in families in which the baking of homemade bread was a way of life,” Green Bank resident Malinda Meck said.
“I guess you could say we were spoiled. All the bread we ate was homemade, and it was so good.”
Malinda is married to Jacob Meck, of Meck’s Construction, and she currently runs the company office.
Baking and construction have been constant themes in both her life and the life of her husband.
“Jacob’s family had Meck’s Bakery, and my mother, Laura Rohrer, baked wonderful bread,” Malinda said.
Malinda learned to bake from her mom, but she also had lessons from Jacob’s father, James Meck, during her time at Meck’s Bakery.
For eight or nine years – from the time she was 15 years old – Malinda worked at the bakery during the summers.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. “And whenever they were shorthanded, I’d go back and help out.”
Malinda also helped her dad, Wendall Rohrer, in his construction business.
“There were four of us girls, so when my dad needed help, we all pitched in,” Malinda remembered.
Knowing her way around the kitchen as well as the construction industry gave her a good foundation.
“I guess I really learned how to manage in the kitchen and bake bread when I was ten years old,” she said.
“My mom was pregnant and had some complications, so she had to go on bed rest. I can remember a family friend was helping by bringing in loaves of store-bought bread, but we were not used to that.
“We were all begging my mother to get well so she could bake bread again.”
Malinda recalled that moment like it was yesterday.
“Please get better Mama, we don’t like this bread!” she said, laughing.
“That’s when I learned how to bake bread. And I was proud to do it.
“We grew up eating German rye bread, Dilly bread, gingerbread and, of course, light breads.
“I still bake bread all the time. I bake a variety of breads because I like all kinds, and I like to try all kinds of recipes.”
Jacob and Malinda’s daughter, Jennalee, is a senior at Pocahontas County High School. She’ll be heading to West Virginia University to study engineering after graduation, but she takes after her mother in the kitchen.
“Jennalee’s turning into a good baker, and a really talented cook,” Malinda said proudly.
“She was about eleven or twelve years old when she began baking bread on her own.”
Malinda remembers when the whole family realized Jennalee had achieved bread baker status.
“I know exactly when it was,” Malinda said. “It was before her Pappy- Jacob’s father, James Meck, passed away.
“It was Thanksgiving 2013, and Jennalee baked the bread and rolls for Thanksgiving dinner.
“And it was a big deal when Pappy gave them his seal of approval.
“Jennalee still talks about that,” Malinda said, smiling.
Turns out, Jennalee, like her mother and her grandmother before her, is a natural in the kitchen.
“She’s really getting good,” Malinda said. “I call myself a ‘dump it’ cook – you know, I don’t always follow a recipe exactly.
“I like to experiment and just dump this or that in. I’m teaching Jennalee to cook like that, too. I’ve come up with some pretty good main dishes by experimenting with recipes, and so has Jennalee.
“But this style of cooking works best with main course stuff.
“With baking, the dump it method doesn’t always work,” she warned.
“Not long ago, Jennalee tried to get creative when she was baking a hummingbird cake, and it just wouldn’t finish baking.
“It never did.
“You have to be careful with baking – it’s usually wise to stick pretty close to the recipe.”
But for an experienced baker like Malinda, sometimes liberties can be taken.
“Actually, I find that a lot of bread recipes don’t call for enough water or fat,” Malinda said. “So I usually increase the amount.
“I think adding a little more makes a softer, nicer bread.
“Another thing to watch out for when you’re making bread is the temperature of your water or milk. The warmer the liquid, the more flour you’ll use, which can cause you to end up with dry, crumbly bread.
“The temperature of your liquid has to be warm enough to dissolve your yeast and make it grow – but not too warm.”
Working in the kitchen is a lifelong passion for Malinda.
“I love cooking – especially grilling,” she said.
“One thing I really enjoy is creating interesting marinades for meat.
“And I love baking.
“It’s my way to unwind and decompress.”
“I love my mom’s old recipes, and she finds recipes for me these days, too.”
The three generations of women, Malinda, her mother and Jennalee, delight in sharing their love of cooking and baking.
“Mom loves that I’m a baker like she is,” Malinda said. “And we’re proud that Jennalee loves it, too.
“Lately I’ve been fooling around with a lot of the starter breads.
“It’s fun trying new recipes.
“My recent favorite is a rye bread recipe I found in a cookbook Mom gave me for my birthday a couple of years ago.
“The book is called Better Homes and Gardens – The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking.
“And the recipe is for Finnish Sour Dough Rye Bread.
“My mom has occasionally used a bread machine in recent years.
“I still don’t use a bread machine, but I like the recipe,” Malinda said.
“So, being the ‘dump-it’ cook that I am, I just adapted it.
“It makes a nice bread that’s halfway between a German rye and a white rye – not as heavy and dense but more flavorful.”
Finnish Sour Dough Rye Bread
From Better Homes and Gardens
The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking
For a 1 ½ lb. loaf
1 cup beer or water
½ cup rye flour
2 tsp. shortening or cooking oil
2 cups bread flour
½ cup rye flour
1 Tbsp. gluten flour
2 tsp. brown sugar
¾ tsp. salt
1 tsp. active dry yeast or bread machine yeast
To make the starter:
In a medium mixing bowl, stir the beer or water into the 1/2 cup rye flour just until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature (75 to 85 degrees) for two days or until the starter bubbles and has a slightly fermented aroma, stirring two to three times a day.
To finish the bread: Add the remaining ingredients to the starter and mix.
Instead of using a bread machine to mix the dough, Malinda uses a Kitchen Aid mixer with dough hooks.
“I mix it until the dough balls up and pulls clean away from the sides of the mixer bowl,” Malinda says.
“Then I continue mixing for another five to ten minutes – depending on how much of a hurry I’m in,” she laughed.
“The longer you mix it, the softer the bread will be.”
When mixed, pat the dough into shape, and let it raise.
“Remember,” Malinda cautions, “because the sour dough starter is what raises it – rather than yeast – this rye dough is much slower to raise. It might take a whole day.”
She lets it raise in a floured bamboo basket – which is how most rye bread is raised – or you can grease a loaf pan and raise it right in the pan you’re going to bake it in.
Bake at 400 degrees about 25 to 30 minutes.
(To finish using a bread machine: Place raised starter in a bread machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If available, select the whole grain cycle or select the basic white bread cycle. Note: For the 1 1/2 lb. loaf, the bread machine pan must have a capacity of 10 cups or more.)