If there is one food I am most in love with, it is bread. If I had to live on just one food, it would be bread. If I could only learn how to make just one thing well, it would be bread. I have not been happier than when my brother Tyler and I were taking bread making lessons last June at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for a week. I think I could eat freshly baked bread for three meals a day, and never complain. (Unfortunately, bread is directly connected to weight gain, it’s only fault).
The most vivid memory I have of my great grandparents, Paul and Mary, is in the 1960’s, when they were over 85 years old, and I was about 4, my brother Tyler, 3. We visited them on their apple farm, and these two ancient people, related to me in some way I could not comprehend at the time, were sitting at their kitchen table, excitedly speaking in a foreign language and cutting into a big loaf of crusty bread. The house smelled wonderful, with the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through the farmhouse, and bread crumbs littered the kitchen table and covered their lips. Their eyes lit up at the sight of my brother and me, and we had to wipe the bread crumbs off when they gave us suffocating hugs and covered our faces with kisses.
Paul and Mary had a love affair with bread too, I think. There was their first bakery, in Akron, Ohio, and then another soon after moving back to Soljani, which Mary ran while Paul was fighting in WWI. Later, there would be more bakeries for them too, and stories of Paul’s famous kifle, a Slovak croissant. And of course, there are my memories of them always eating their own delicious homemade bread.
As I learned more about the Legion, I became curious about their lives on the trains in Siberia. Various stories are told about how industrious they were, running woodworking shops, a postal service, a newspaper, and yes, even a rolling bakery. Some creative Slovaks had jiggered together bakeries on boxcars of some of the trains, and there in one picture out of an old book, I was sure I was looking at Great Grandpa Paul with a pastry brush in his hand brushing freshly baked loaves of bread with butter, perhaps.
This baker had the same thick, black handlebar mustache and seemed to have similar facial features as Paul. I mean, how many Slovak bread bakers could there have been, riding the Legion trains? Paul was an expert at setting up bakeries quickly and efficiently, and I am sure he could have had several boxcars up and running in no time as moving bakeries.
And so as I read more about how the brave volunteer Legionnaires successfully fought against the Germans, the Russians and the Austro-Hungarians, what satisfies me deeply is the belief that what helped sustain these men through Siberian winters and harsh battles was a delicious piece of bread, baked fresh daily by my great grandfather Paul and his unit. Bread rules.
Rolling Bakery pictures are from the http://www.CzechLegion.com website.