Hefariebala and the German Bake Oven
By Alfred Opp, Vancouver, British Columbia
Edited by Connie Dahlke, Walla Walla, Washington
Bread making has been known to mankind nearly from
the beginning of time when grains were taken into
the diet. In the beginning, grain was pounded into
a mash, then cooked - often on heated stones. From
this simple preparation developed the varieties of
breads that we know today.
The first "raised" dough likely was invented
when leftover dough was incorporated into a new batch
of dough, the older dough having had time to incubate
wild yeast to a more active ingredient. This accident,
however, bore little resemblance to modern yeast.
In Teplitz, Bessarabia, for making raised bread we
used a residue from wine-making that was called Hefariebala
or yeast patties.
The details of how these were made has nearly been
lost. Most of my own relatives that might be old enough
to know this information are gone. I had to search
long and hard to find someone who still remembers.
With the help of a friend in Germany I found a lady
in her 90's who remembers it well. She passed on to
me the secret of how these were made.
The beginnings of Hefariebala started with wine that
had begun to ferment. At that point, the wine was
warmed in a big pot and another pot of corn flour
was placed close by. When the warm wine began to foam,
the foam was ladled off and mixed into the corn flour
to produce a mash. The mash was worked into a thick
paste which was then allowed to rest. Then the mash
was shaped into round patties about 3 inches across
and about as thick as a finger. These patties were
then set out on a clean sheet to dry. When dry, the
Hefariebala patties were stored in a fabric bag hung
in a cool area.
The day before bread was to be baked, the required
Hefariebala patties were broken into pieces and placed
in warm water to dissolve. Into this mixture, flour
was stirred to make the bread dough. This was covered
and allowed to sit overnight. Early the next morning,
the women began kneading the bread dough. Kneading
the dough broke up the air bubbles and also developed
the gluten in the flour. Both of these processes were
necessary to produce bread with a fine, light grain.
This was hard work, especially when making the many
loaves of bread required to feed large families and
often farm workers as well. Each loaf of bread contained
3-4 pounds of dough, and most women made 6-10 loaves
of bread at a time, depending on the size of their
families. Each portion of dough was shaped into a
round loaf and placed into a round baking pan. Then
the loaves were brushed with an egg wash to give it
a nice brown top when it was baked.
Our bake oven in Teplitz, Bessarabia was spacious
with a round ceiling. To heat the bake oven, my mother
used scrap wood and shavings from Dad's wagon-making
shop. Other women in the village used corn stalks
along with other fuels. Fuel in general was hard to
come by. For that reason, baking was carefully planned
to utilize the entire capacity of the oven in order
to conomize on the fuel use.
Along with bread baking, the women in my village
often also made Suessbrot (braided sweet-bread or
egg bread) or Streusel Kuchen (sweet-dough in a shallow
pan, basted with egg and topped with streusel). On
occasion, a ham was wrapped in a sheet of bread dough
and baked in the oven along with the bread. The result
was a tasty and juicy ham. The bread-crust from such
a ham did not go to waste. It was a delicious snack!
On bread-baking day, mothers often had left-over
bread dough. We kids really looked forward to bread-baking
day, for snacks were often made from the bread-dough
scraps. Mom would make one or more Bezel or Blazeda
made from round pieces of bread dough rolled flat
and then brushed with bacon fat and sprinkled with
coarse salt. When baked to a crisp, these were a treat!
When the bread-baking was finished, the heat of the
oven was not wasted. Mother would use the warm oven
to dry pans of fruit to make fruitcakes we called
Huzla or Schnitz which were essentially slabs of dried
fruit which were then sliced. Oven-dried fruit was
also stored to later make Doerrobst-Suppe or Fruit-Soup,
a popular way to serve dried fruit in the winter-time.
If the oven heat was not needed for food-related tasks,
Dad would use the warm oven to dry hubs and spokes
for his wagon-making business.
We especially enjoyed our home-made bread when it
was fresh. Our bread and Kuchen were stored in the
cool cellar on a board that was suspended from the
ceiling so that no rodents could nibble on the goodies.
The cool environment also helped keep the bread fresh,
but after several days the bread did start to become
stale and was not relished as much. My mother generally
made bread every 10 days to two weeks - more often
in the summer when the work was more demanding and
often hired help also had to be fed. My grandmothers
turned old bread into a treat by dampening it, and
then spreading it with goose grease and sprinkling
it with a bit of sugar.
Here is a story about Hasenbrot that the old-timers
might relate to. What is Hasenbrot ? One day my grandfather
took his team out to do some field work. Oma packed
his lunch Brotsack - a fabric bag - with bread, sausage
and wine. I greeted Opa in the yard as he came home
late in the day. Before Opa unhitched his horses he
said, I have something for you. Oh? Yes! What is it?
Hasenbrot. In the kitchen, I ask Oma if I can get
my Hasenbrot. She opened the Brotsack and pulled out
a piece of Grandpa's bread that looked the same as
the bread on the table. I must have looked a bit surprised,
and so Oma explained. After Opa had eaten his lunch
out in the field, he placed the Brotsack under the
wagon and covered it up. While he was back at work
a rabbit came by and sniffed it, trying to get in.
In the process, he jumped over the Brotsack a few
times. "Now you know," Oma said. I ate the
bread eagerly, and remember well even today how good
it tasted. And for you, I am glad to share this story!
Alfred Opp is the author of "Pawns
on the World Stage" - the memoirs of his
childhood in Teplitz, Bessarabia and the experiences
of his family in war-torn Europe (Poland during 1941-1945
before they fled to East Germany in 1945, then the
reconstruction of West Germany 1945-1955).
Note: Many of these recipes can be found in "Bessarabische
Spezialitaeten:aus der Kolonisten am Schwarzen Meer,
1814 - 1940", 1999, 82 pages in color, compiled
by Gertrud Knopp-Rueb.
English translation of the cookbook title is "Bessarabian
Food Specialities: From the Settlement Period of the
German Colonies in the Black Sea Region, 1814 - 1940".
This cookbook is available including a translation
of the recipes at this webpage: library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/cookbook/knopp2.html.