French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilGreat Grandma Lill CookingI was so spoiled this Christmas. I received a Le Creuset pot, a Cutco knife, a macro lens and so much more for my kitchen and blogging. While I am genuinely appreciative of everything I received, there was one kitchen gift that was a total surprise and was so meaningful. My grandma gave me my great grandma’s bread board ~ the board she used daily to prepare bread, strudel, kolacky and more.

Unfortunately, I don’t have many memories of Great Grandma Lill because I was only 12 when she passed away, and I lived hundreds of miles away. When I was 15, my grandma gave me some folklore, recipes and photos of Lill, but unfortunately I was too young to truly appreciate them.

As soon as I opened the bread board, I remembered a picture of Lill using it, so when I got home, I looked for the book of recipes and there she was ~ my Great Grandma Lill rolling out dough on this very bread board for her famous strudel.


So amazed, I immediately began reading my grandma’s writings, something I hadn’t done in years. Here is an excerpt:

My mother Lill was born in 1900 of Bohemian born parents in Chicago, Ill. Baking and cooking were part of their daily lives. The way I grew up one would think that a person could live on flaky pastry or bread alone, and I really did have an uncle who tried it, well almost. Uncle Frank didn’t weigh very much either.

My mother baked almost every day for a small family of four. When she wasn’t baking she was always looking for recipes. Then, when she’d find one she could hardly wait to try it. Of course, it didn’t live up to her expectations, and she was sure the person who gave it to her left something out. Bread making was of special importance to her and most of the Bohemian people that I knew. A Bohemian type flour by Pillsbury was used, ½ rye and ½ wheat.

She was a tiny woman of about 92 lbs., and I can still see her kneading the dough for what seemed like hours. For most of her life, she cooked on a Universal combination gas and coal/wood-burning stove. This of course provided a wonderful warm place for the yeast dough to rise, and perhaps, that’s why she never liked her newer stove as well. She used cast iron pans and crockery. I think she was born with a wooden spoon in her mouth, as this also was an important tool.

When she wasn’t baking or talking recipes, she was copying them over and over again. It was her love.

Handling the dough seemed to have a special meaning. It was done carefully and much thought went into its making. The Strudel was as important as bread. You were known for those two efforts that everyone loved. I haven’t included a recipe for my mother’s strudel here because I think you would have had to have seen it done. It was a labor of love, and it showed. The dough was rolled out almost paper thin, then you had to be able to handle it, but not too much. After filling with thin sliced apples, nuts, raisins and spices, it had to be rolled several more times, not tearing it. Also, my mother’s directions and way of measuring is not clear. She thought everyone knew how things were done, as a result I never learned the art of baking, but the memory lingers on.

Folklore ‘89

How had I forgotten this part of my ancestry? I guess at 15, that’s just not what you think about. After reading this history, I couldn’t wait to use Lill’s bread board. It had so much character.

Bread BoardYou can tell it was handmade (perhaps by my great grandpa). Every scratch and line is sure to hold a hidden story of kitchen memories.

I was tempted to delve right into one of Lill’s recipes, but they don’t all have measurements, and I want to give them the time and love that they deserve. I could have turned to one of my tried and true bread recipes, but instead, I turned to one of my other gifts of 2011 ~ new foodies that I have grown to love through this blog.

In December, one of my favorite bloggers, Ann at Sumptuous Spoonfuls, posted a recipe for French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh Basil. Unfortunately, with all my traveling, I missed this post.

But one of my other favorite foodies, Heather at Basilmomma: A busy mom that likes to cook, baked and shared the recipe on facebook. She raved about it, so I knew if Ann and Heather loved it, it was definitely worthy to be the first bread made on Lill’s bread board.

Kneading DoughAnn’s recipe calls for a bread machine, which I don’t have. But that was no problem. Later in her post, she explains how to make it the traditional way. I used fresh cake yeast, and I didn’t proof it. I just put all of her dough ingredients into my stand mixer. When they formed a ball, I dumped them onto the bread board and kneaded it for a couple of minutes. The dough was beautiful and soft. I didn’t need one bit of flour on my board.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilI let it rise covered with an upside down mixer bowl for one hour. Then, I followed the rest of Ann’s recipe (kind of).

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilI rolled out the dough.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilSpread some olive oil on it, sprinkled plenty of Gruyere cheese and basil inside like it called for and added some sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilI rolled it up.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilTucked the ends under.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilPlaced it on one of my French bread pans, covered it with a damp towel and let it rise for 30 minutes.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilRight before baking, I scored it with an X-acto knife, sprayed it with Pam and sprinkled with salt, sesame seeds and more cheese.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilThen I baked it at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh BasilWhat a great recipe and a fitting tribute to Great Grandma Lill’s bread board. Thank you so much to her and my family for passing it on, and thank you to Ann and Heather for sharing this recipe.

French Bread with Gruyere Cheese and Fresh Basil recipe ~ from Sumptuous Spoonfuls.

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Christie Vanover

About Zestuous

Hi. I’m Christie, the head cook and award-winning competitive pitmaster for Team Girls Can Grill. I have won multiple grand championships and have dozens of top ten category finishes. People know me as the girl who is forever hovering over a grill, smoker or campfire with tongs in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

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  1. This is such a sentimental story and honestly, it’s very touching. This may sound corny but I believe that the bread that was kneaded by hand is a lot better than any bread made by machine. Why? Because it was made with love. Happy New Year and thank you for sharing this lovely and touching story.

    ~ ray ~

  2. The bread looks wonderful and the story of the bread board is so well told i don’t know what to eat first the bread or the board.
    Love, Grandma

  3. This is such a special and meaningful blog post. The bread board was actually Grandma’s Grandma’s bread board – or Great, Great Grandma to you. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story and your hands on the bread board too! I know Grandma Lill is smiling down on you! xo Mom

  4. I feel so honored to have given you the first recipe to try on your new bread board! I think there is nothing more special than having a treasure from the past. Your bread looks so beautiful and I LOVE the story … btw it’s not my recipe either … I got it from Taste and Tell who got it from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, who got it from The Sister’s Cafe so this bread is really making its way around the blogosphere. Thank you my friend for sharing. 🙂