Daily Bread is my middle-grade historical novel set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 1911. The story follows eight-year-old Lily, an American-born child of Sicilian immigrants, who loves to sing out her artist heart and prove she is not a little kid. She learns that it is not easy to be a big kid in the crowded tenement neighborhood, skirting old-world traditions, tackling bigotry, disasters, and screwy bakers, and learning to cross the street by herself.
Daily Bread was inspired by one of my grandmother’s stories. As I bring Daily Bread to publication, I will share the story’s character and plot developments, the fun research adventures, and my writing process. Get comfortable and join me on the journey. You may need to get something to eat. Share your impressions and your stories.
Mrs. Goldberg, the baker’s wife, is a fictional character in my middle-grade historical novel, Daily Bread. To 8-year-old Lily, the protagonist, Mrs. Goldberg, is a magical ballerina with glittering cheeks and an artist’s heart. Although Mrs. Goldberg and her loving baker husband struggle to make ends meet in Manhattan’s crowded Lower East Side neighborhood, simple acts of kindness eventually save the bakery and save Lily’s family. Mrs. Goldberg insists children need sweet treats to satisfy their hunger and brighten their day. She bakes Knot Surprises using bread dough, a little sugar, and bartered cinnamon and jams. The children who bake their families’ Daily Bread each day are treated to a Knot Surprise each morning and at midday. Mrs. Goldberg also manages to give away her sweet treats to other children for birthday celebrations and just to see them smile.
Mrs. Goldberg inspires impressionable Lily. The pretty baker’s wife flits and twirls about the bakery basement where bread baking takes place. She is always happy to see Lily, a girl who loves to sing and play despite the oppressive life on the Lower East Side. But there is a dark side to Mrs. Goldberg. She is prone to sadness and paralyzing depression. Her life before America holds unspeakable tragedy and pain. Mr. Goldberg, her hero, may have committed crimes to make their way to America and the bakery. Secrets weigh heavy on fragile Mrs. Goldberg making the sweet part of her day- dance, children’s happy smiles, and Knot Surprises, her means to survive.
I will admit that my grandmother did not have a recipe for Knot Surprises. She baked pies and beautiful bread and rolls but never wrote down her baking secretes. Instead, I experimented in adapting bread recipes my mother had to create my version of Mrs. Goldberg’s Knot Surprises. Be mindful that I am not an accomplished baker. Like a chemistry lab exercise, one must measure, follow directions, and pay attention. I barely passed required chemistry classes—saved only by my smart choices in lab partners. While making up the Knot Surprise recipe, I had a few baking mishaps( my finger burns are healing nicely), but this version worked out best.
If you bake Knot Surprises, please let me know if you like them and if the recipe was a success. Could you share your tweaks?
1 package of active dry yeast
1Tsp sugar plus a little extra for sprinkling
1 cup of warm water
½ Tsp salt
3-5 cups of flour
Optional: melted butter, jam, 1:1 mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.