I woke up early every morning to read my science textbook and cook breakfast burritos before my dad left for work. I wrote essays in front of the fireplace after I had finished shoveling snow off our driveway. I discussed Dostoevsky’s novels with my mom and sister while we prepared spaghetti for dinner, growing so absorbed in the conversation that I accidentally burnt the tomatoes. From kindergarten through senior year of high school, my education took place completely within my own house, and I am a proud graduate of the Lisko Home School.
My mother’s gifts to me were incredible: she gave me an education, she taught me how to run a household, and, on top of that, she always offered me time and encouragement to pursue my own interests and passions as well. The household that I grew up in was a unique fusion of rigorous academia alongside the arts of home and life, and in this place—where the books, pencils, and scribbled notes of English assignments constantly mingled with the simmering of chili or chicken soup and the smell of fresh-baked bread—I came to view everything, whether school, work, or play, as an act of creativity.
My family’s homemade bread, a staple throughout the years, perfectly reflects the artistic and adventurous lifestyle of my childhood. My first memory of this bread is a dark, stormy afternoon when I was six years old. Our next-door neighbors, also homeschoolers, had dropped by for a visit, and our mothers had decided to bake together. After lingering in the kitchen doorway to watch as the grown-ups measured ingredients and pounded the dough on the flour-dusted counter, my friend and I scurried away to the living room.
We had finished class earlier in the day, and, as often happened, our studies slipped easily into our playtime. Inspired by a story about the Irish monasteries where books, art, and culture were preserved during the Dark Ages of Europe, we turned off the lights in the hallway and pretended to be explorers lost in that era. The crashing thunder and dark gray skies outside lent themselves perfectly to the atmosphere.
As we trooped up and down the hall, imagining that we traversed through dangerous far-away lands, warm yellow light spilled out of the kitchen and the rich, yeasty scent of baking bread began to float through the air. Taking this development as our cue to bring the game to its climax, we knocked on the kitchen door, weary travelers delighted to have stumbled at last upon the refuge of civilization. Our mothers (who were, of course, also our schoolteachers) quickly jumped into the game as well. They welcomed us “inside” and led us to the kitchen table, where they cut into the thick golden-brown crust of the bread and served a hearty slice to each of us. We watched as the knife crunched crisply through the outer layer, and we bit into the soft, warm center. Then, while the storm raged outside, we huddled safely in the cozy, fragrant kitchen.
Over the years, our bread remained a constant component of my life, and as I grew up, so did my relationship with this food. When I was in seventh grade, Mom taught me how to make it myself, and from then on, I held the duty of preparing a loaf every morning. It would rise during math lessons, and then, before turning to my grammar book, I would stick the pan into the oven. By lunchtime, the warm, fresh bread was ready to eat.
I threw myself eagerly into this new assignment, and, while my first efforts were a clumsy albeit enthusiastic mess, I gradually developed more skill. I mixed the flour and salt and yeast together, I poured warm water and melted butter over them, and I immersed my hands in the mixture, sending cloudy ribbons of flour into the air. The dough would squish and bend, and finally it would turn itself into a tough, sticky lump. I kneaded and shaped this stuff—thick and rough like potter’s clay, yet malleable at the same time—until I was satisfied with my work. Once I finished, the dough rested on the stovetop in our beat-up old silver bread pan, growing paler and lighter as it rose, until I returned to the kitchen and slipped it into the oven.
My creation expanded in the glow of the warmth, blossoming up over the edges of the pan. The elastic dough transformed itself into soft, silky bread, and the top turned chestnut brown. After a quarter of an hour, the warm, hearty scent of baking bread began to waft through the oven door. The inviting fragrance spilled into the kitchen and living room, and it flavored the stairwell to the finished basement that served as our classroom.
I ate homemade bread while I studied for school. I ate homemade bread while I studied for fun—which I often did, checking out an entire shelf’s worth of books from the public library whenever some new topic caught my interest. Then, finally, I ate homemade bread while I pored through college catalogues, filled out university applications, and wrote admissions essays.
While today, I am a state university sophomore, living by myself and attending class outside my house every day, I still cherish the memories of my homeschool life. I miss my house and my family, and I devour both the camaraderie and the homemade bread whenever I return for visits. And yet, while I sometimes long for those days, I’ve never truly left them behind. My enthusiastic worldview, forged in the deeply creative household that my mother cultivated for me, has never faded. My day-to-day routine may appear simple, but I don’t see it that way. Like the humble homemade bread of my childhood, everything in my life—from studying literature to cooking dinner to going to work—holds a new chance for adventure, imagination, and creativity.
The specific bread recipe that we use comes (rather appropriately) from a book of activity ideas accompanying our elementary school history curriculum, Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World. We photocopied the page years ago, and that well-worn scrap of paper, covered with penciled-in edits and suggestions, occupies a place of honor, taped to the kitchen cabinet just above the stand mixer.
Lisko Home School Homemade Bread
½ stick butter, melted
1 tablespoon quick-rise yeast
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups of bread flour (and more for later addition)
1 cup water
butter or Crisco to grease the bread pan
1.) In a large bowl, mix together yeast, sugar, salt, and the first 2 cups of flour.
2.) Melt the butter in the microwave, and then add the water and egg to the melted butter.
3.) Pour the butter-water-egg mixture into the flour mixture. Combine.
4.) Gradually add more flour (around ¾ cup total) until the dough forms a soft ball.
5.) Knead for ten minutes.
6.) Shape the dough and place into a pan greased with butter or Crisco.
7.) Allow dough to rise in the pan on the back of the stove or in another warm place for 1 hour.
8.) Bake at 370° for 38 minutes.
9.) Allow bread to cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely.