The 3,500 columns I have written since 1949 have included almost that many recipes. I am sometimes asked what my favorite recipe has been. Here’s the answer, in a column I wrote about a dear friend.
Hay Hand Rolls
“I have connected you with Hay Hand Rolls since I first heard you give the recipe on the radio, and I always wondered where it came from,” a friend said recently. “Where did it come from?”
I told her that my long-time friend Erma Faye Polk, who lived with her husband Charlie on a farm two miles north of Sidney, had introduced it to me.
Long ago I happened to drop by the Polk farm for a visit. Erma Faye was bustling about the neat country kitchen, a gingham apron tied over her print dress, her red hair shining as brightly as her smile. She was preparing the noon meal for the hay hands helping her husband that day.
The men were out in the alfalfa fields. With his tractor and farm machinery, Charlie had cut the alfalfa, let it dry for several days, raked it into rows, then baled the hay. The crew of hay hands was stacking the bales on a big wagon, driving it to the barnyard, and hoisting the bales into the haymow—the upper level of Charlie’s barn—where it would be available through the winter to feed livestock.
It was the custom for a farm wife to prepare a generous noon meal when there were hungry hay hands to feed. Some were neighbors who knew that Charlie would come to their farms to help them with their crops, too. Hay hands who had been hired would be more likely to return for the next cutting of hay if they knew that a delicious meal was part of the day’s wages.
Erma Faye took a pan of gorgeous brown rolls out of the oven. “This is my favorite yeast bread recipe,” she explained as she pulled open one of the hot, fragrant rolls, spread it with her country-churned butter, and handed it to me. “They’re made with refrigerator roll dough.”
It was the most delicious roll I’d ever eaten. Erma Faye kindly copied the recipe from one of the blue-bordered recipe cards she kept in a box on her counter, and wrapped up two more rolls for me to take home for our supper.
I gave the recipe on my next radio broadcast, calling it Erma Faye’s Hay Hand Rolls, and it became an instant success. Cooks entering hay hand rolls in county and state fairs almost always won blue ribbons.
Erma Faye had become my friend in 1935 when I moved with my family to Sidney, Iowa. She and her classmate Charlie Polk married soon after they were out of high school. She moved to the farm and learned to do what farm women of that era did—grow a garden, process the vegetables and fruits, help feed the livestock, milk the cows, mend and sew clothing, and make the home pretty and neat. She and Charlie raised two sons and then enjoyed nurturing their grandchildren.
Several months ago Erma Faye and Charlie moved from their farm home to the Ambassador retirement home in Sidney. Charlie had suffered a stroke and Erma Faye was finding it increasingly difficult to get around. A few weeks ago, she passed away in her sleep.
Erma Faye is no longer with us, and I miss her deeply. But the memory of my good friend will stay with me for as long as I live, especially when I bake a batch of her Hay Hand Rolls.
Here is the recipe as Erma Faye gave it to me. It is as delicious today as it was back then.
HAY HAND ROLLS
1 cup lukewarm water
1 Tablespoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups lukewarm water
4 cups white flour
1 cup salad oil
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 eggs (optional)
Additional flour to make a soft dough
Dissolve yeast in 1 cup lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon sugar added. When mixture is bubbly, add 4 cups lukewarm water and 4 cups flour. Mix well and let mixture set, covered, in draft-free place until mixture bubbles up, making a “sponge.”
Add oil, sugar, salt and eggs and combine well. Gradually add enough flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on floured bread board and knead until smooth, adding a little more flour if needed. Place in a greased bowl (or two—this is a large recipe). Turn the dough to grease on all sides, then cover and let rise until double in bulk. Take out the portion of dough you want to bake immediately. Put the remainder, covered, in the refrigerator for another day.
Knead the dough you kept out on a floured board for 4 or 5 minutes until dough is smooth and springs back in your fingers. Shape into loaves or rolls or whatever shape you wish. Put into greased pans and let rise until double. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes or until nicely brown on top. Turn out on cooling rack to keep the bottom from “sweating” and coat the top with butter for a tender crust.