Quick and Easy Rolls
by Luke Osteen
Wilma Gordon, forever known to generations of Highlands children and their parents as Miss Wilma, the teacher/administrator/driving force behind Highlands Preschool, is a local institution.
In fact, when she retired from Highlands Preschool, it was renamed The Gordon Center for Children in her honor, three classrooms for kids ages one to five.
But Miss Wilma is also known around town for her celebrity baking status. Virtually every bake sale for a local cause will feature something from her kitchen. Community meals will almost always serve several varieties of her breads, and her cinnamon rolls have made bearable many a long, boring committee meeting at Highlands United Methodist Church.
It turns out that Miss Wilma’s passion for baking grew out of her deep love for educating children.
In the 1950s, she and her husband John, eager for adventure, agreed to become the sole teachers of a remote Alaskan Eskimo village.
How remote? They received food and pantry supplies, medicine (husband John, an educator by training, became the village’s de facto ER doctor, always on call), oil, and household necessities, once a year, when a supply ship could get through the ice-bound Arctic Ocean.
“I knew the basics of cooking, but I had no idea about baking,” she says.
It was the nature of the Alaskan backcountry that she had to be prepared to house and feed unexpected guests – oil workers, engineers, geologists, doctors and nurses – who could arrive at any time.
That meant that she had to have something to eat – something baked – at all times.
Fortunately for Miss Wilma and her family and the scores of guests that would arrive on her doorstep, the previous tenant of their house had left behind a well-worn booklet from the 1920s : “The Art of Making Bread by The Northwestern Yeast Company.”
Inside this answered prayer were pages and pages of recipes for breads and rolls that still pop up all over the Plateau.
“The Art of Making Bread by The Northwestern Yeast Company” allowed Miss Wilma to be recognized throughout her village and a large swath of western Alaska as a wonderful hostess and a compassionate neighbor, whose lessons extended far beyond her one-room schoolhouse.
Quick and Easy Rolls
(Creates two dozen medium-sized rolls)
1 Package of Yeast
1 Cup of Lukewarm Water
1 Teaspoon of Sugar
1 Cup of Scalded Milk
2 Teaspoons of Salt
4 Tablespoons of Sugar
4 to 6 Tablespoons of Shortening
1 Beaten Egg (if desired)
6 (or more) Cups of Sifted Flour
Pour yeast into the lukewarm water, add 1 teaspoon of sugar, stir and let stand about 5 minutes.
Pour scalded milk into mixing bowl, add the salt and remaining sugar, and the shortening. Let cool.
When the milk is lukewarm, add 3 cups of flour and beat smooth
Add softened yeast and beat again.
Next, add the beaten egg if used. Then stir in 3 more cups of flour. Knead into a smooth, elastic dough, using a little more flour or liquid if necessary, but keeping the dough somewhat softer than for bread.
Let the dough rise in a greased bowl until doubled.
Fold down and let rise again until nearly doubled.
Shape into rolls.
Let rise in greased pans until doubled.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a moderately hot oven – 375 to 400 degrees.