When I was in college in Springfield, Mo., — the buckle on the Bible Belt, some say — I had a roommate, Beth Montgomery, who lived on a farm in a nearby town. Every chance I’d get I’d spend the weekend with her there. We picked black walnuts off the fields and cashed them in to make a few bucks, and we’d wake up early and ride through the pastures throwing hay off the back of her dad’s pickup truck to feed the cows. I learned what a Charolais was, pronounced “shar-lay” in the Ozarks, much like the little town of Bois D’Arc, which was always pronounced “bow-dark.” The area was beautiful, green forests and cropland.
Another reason why I loved going to Beth’s farm was that her mother, Jackie, was one of the best cooks I’ve ever met. She made their ketchup from tomatoes picked from their garden. The family still has a huge fish fry every year at Memorial Day, with a side of fried potatoes cooked in cast iron over a fire. But, of course, it was the desserts that really got to me.
Jackie’s Poppy Seed Bread, a recipe from her friend Mary Jane Miller, tastes unlike anything I’ve ever had. It’s the blend of vanilla, butter, and almond flavoring in the bread that’s repeated in the glaze that’s poured on top when the cake is still a little warm that makes it unique. The glaze also contains powdered sugar and orange juice, which only adds to the sweetness. It’s pretty much a cake that’s disguised as bread.
Some 30 years ago I entered a loaf in the Sandwich Sweet Meet when I lived on Cape Cod, and I brought home a blue ribbon. This was among the few contests I’ve ever won, this and that dance contest at the Vet’s pig roast when I was in college, but that’s a story for a different time.
I asked Beth to send me the recipe again a couple of weeks ago, and the sweet bread was a hit at The Times, giving me an opportunity to showcase the one recipe I can manage that falls into the baked goods category. The reason for my success with this recipe can be traced to the fact that you dump all the ingredients into a large bowl and stir. There’s no parchment paper, rolling pin, or sifting required.
Poppy Seed Bread
(Makes two regular-size loaves, or four small loaves)
3 cups flour (I like King Arthur)
1½ tsp. salt
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ cups milk
1 cup canola oil
2¼ cups sugar
1½ Tbsp. poppy seeds
1½ tsp. each vanilla, almond, and butter flavoring
Preheat oven to 350°. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat 2 minutes. Pour into two large or four small lightly greased loaf pans. Bake for one hour at 350°, checking for doneness after 50 minutes or so, careful not to overcook. After removing from the oven, let the bread cool slightly and remove from pans.
½ tsp. each vanilla, almond, and butter flavorings
¼ cup orange juice
¾ cup powdered sugar
Stir together with a fork and let sit while the bread is baking. Give it a stir again before brushing or slowly pouring over the top of the loaves.