Marilynn and Sheila Brass
Authors of Baking With The Brass Sisters
We are two roundish women in our seventies who have a combined total of 128 years of home baking and cooking experience. We have always felt comfortable in the kitchen because we learned to bake and cook at a very early age. Our mother, Dorothy, was an inspired home baker and cook, and the recipes she prepared when we lived on Sea Foam Avenue, in Winthrop, Massachusetts, more than 70 years ago are still memorable. We still re-live the glories of the cakes, cookies, breads, pies, tarts, pastries, and desserts that came out of that sunny home kitchen to honor and nurture family and friends.
Sometimes, it doesn’t seem so long ago that we were two hopeful young girls walking the sands of Winthrop Beach, sharing our dreams of the cakes, cookies, breads, and pies we looked forward to baking for family and friends.
We think that there is nothing more comforting than taking a loaf of Honey Molasses Bread or a Whole Wheat Soda Bread with Raisins, hot and fragrant from the oven. We believe that a cookie is like a secret kiss between the giver and the recipient, and that chocolate is a necessary indulgence. Because of this, we are on a mission to bring old-fashioned American home baking back to everyone’s kitchen.
Both of us have always felt comfortable in the kitchen because we first learned the basic kitchen skills from our mother. When we could barely reach the kitchen table, we were already turning scraps of dough into miniature braided challahs, and jam tarts, lovingly brushed with an egg glaze to make them shiny.
We remember the smell of sour cream coffee cakes, yeast breads, and fruit pies, baking in the idiosyncratic oven of our cast iron stove with its green enamel trim. We still cherish the good times we had with our mother when she patiently instructed us, transferring her love of family and baking and cooking to her two young daughters. The time she invested in us has made us who we are. We love being in the kitchen; it is there we feel the most happy and creative and adventuresome.
Some of our fondest memories are of those summer Fridays with Mama, baking and cooking, learning, and tasting our creations. Music and food went together in our family. With the cooking underway and the aroma of chicken soup and parsnips wafting through the house, Mama often “took a break” while the challah was rising by sitting down at the piano to play our favorite songs.
Almost seventy years later, we still remember what it was like to lie on the oil-cloth-covered glider on the back porch, reading and eating an egg salad sandwich, watching our mother through the window as she put together one of her blueberry pies or frosted her Chocolate Velvet Cake.
More than thirty-five years ago we discovered manuscript cookbooks, those collections of personal recipes compiled by home bakers and cooks. Handwritten notes on crumbling scraps of paper or the pages of old, well-worn cookbooks led us to “lost” family recipes. Recipe collections that survived were typically gathered together in small bundles, stitched, tied, stapled, or boxed, and handed down to the next generation. These forgotten bundles of culinary history often turn up at yard sales and flea markets, in used bookstores, and on the pantry shelves of friends. Over the years, we have acquired more than 200 of these collections of living recipes.
Writing Baking With The Brass Sisters has been a labor of love. We are dedicated to recovering, updating and — above all — enjoying the best home recipes from America’s past. By presenting these recipes simply and with a contemporary flair, we are hoping to help a new generation of bakers and their families discover and enjoy the special tastes of the culturally diverse American kitchen.
In Baking With The Brass Sisters, we carry our culinary childhood memories of baking with Mama into the exciting 1960s and 1970s when we used to refer to ourselves as “Sweet Young Things.” Then, we were experiencing the joy of our first apartments and the baking of quiches and flourless chocolate cakes.
We’ve taken a culinary journey across America, traveling through the South, the Midwest, New England, and Canada, meeting old friends and making new ones. It has been a sentimental journey because these visits with home bakers and cooks reinforced our belief that every family has a story and a recipe that document its own personal history. Sometimes the stories are sad; sometimes they are funny; but all are touching and worthy of remembrance.
These encounters were precious, but the message was always the same. Baking and cooking are the ways we show our love for others. It’s the way we nourish and support our family and friends. Baking with the Brass Sisters is our latest journey in defining comfort food.
We continue to believe that there is nothing that tastes as good as something baked by someone who loves us, unless it is something we have baked and shared with someone we love. Times change, and more and more, we are all faced with greater challenges to re-create and preserve the nurturing, comforting presence of the home kitchen.