So this is what we did. It is what we do. We spent all day making the massa sovada, the bread of my ancestors. We baked it the way my dad’s mom had, which she had learned from her mom, and her mom had likely learned from hers. The recipe has changed a little, but with so few ingredients, it remains pretty similar. We do this to connect to my grandma. By connecting to her we connect with each other (which was her biggest passion anyway).
Togetherness and connection even if it’s not easy.
The bread which we call massa sovada requires that we get up early. The massa requires focus, concentration and kneading, lots of kneading. It isn’t easy. After the kneading, the massa must be covered carefully and allowed sufficient time rise in a warm room. So we wait, we play games, we laugh, we eat. Hours (and hours) later we knead some more, cut the bread and put it back to allow it more time to rise. And while we wait, we laugh, eat again and play more games.
And then we start baking. And baking. Until we end up with mounds of delicious sweet bread filling the kitchen to the brim. Bread that has been eaten for centuries in Portugal and is now part of our tradition. As a child this lengthy ritual seemed inconsequential. As a young adult it seemed like a lot of work for a lot of carbs. Yet as an adult I see the role it plays. The breads ties a thread from one generation to the next. While I work the dough, I feel my grandmother behind me. As I work the dough, I listen to my 70-something aunts who offer suggestions to make sure that specific ingredients have not been forgotten. They want the taste to be just right. My own daughter runs around with her cousins, occasionally stopping to help. Hopefully, on some level, she is soaking in what is going on around her, unconsciously feeling the thread, this recipe, that will be passed on to her.
The day ends with exhaustion. My mother’s home looks and smells like the old world. Dough, butter, pans and flour everywhere. We did it. We connected. We made the massa sovada.
Nicole C Weiss LCSW
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