My family might be the only in America that eats something called "moosebread."
It’s a poppyseed loaf topped with a citrus glaze that my grandmother started making in the 1960s, at least the best that my mom can recall, but it wasn’t until about 20 years later that it earned its unique name and nuzzled its way into family history.
The name comes from my uncles, Curt and Chris, who at some point during their early adulthood adopted the word "moose" as kind of an inside joke.
Curt, the youngest in my notoriously short family, was a 6-foot-plus football player who also played the piccolo in the marching band. ("He was taller than anyone at your folks’ wedding, and he was only in the eighth grade," my grandmother recalls.)
My uncle Chris, a musical prodigy who is the oldest of the trio of siblings, has probably never played a game of football in his life, but the brothers are notoriously squirrely when they get together.
At one point, they shared "the moose car" and invented a moose call that they’d sing out as a term of brotherly endearment, perhaps after a bout of roughhousing or charades gone wild.
By the time the first grandchild was born (me), Curt became "Uncle Moose." As a kid, it made sense because he was so tall, but I’ve learned over the years that moose is a state of mind, not a physical condition.
Last week, I talked to both of them to get the story of moosebread, or "moose food," as they call it, straight from the moose’s mouth.
"I was moose before moose was cool," says Curt, a longtime employee of Bass Pro Shops who knows a thing or two about trends in lodge decor.
As he remembers it, the bread got its name in January 1990, just a few weeks after my grandfather died after many years of illness.
"We had pre-planned this trip to San Diego (to visit Chris and his wife, Betsy) and weren’t sure if we should go with the timing of things," he says, "but it ended up being a really wonderful time of being together after his passing and burial. It was a way of saying, ‘We’re going to look forward to being together again.’"
He remembers munching on a loaf of poppyseed bread that my grandmother had tucked away in her suitcase. (She has been known to schlep plastic-wrapped baked goods all over this country.)
Devouring the bread, Curt remembers saying something along the lines of, "You know, this is moose food." Chris realized that Curt hadn’t just made a passing comment; he’d added another layer to the moose tradition, which by then also included a moose dance, the goofiest prancing you’ve ever seen, which is usually performed on New Year’s Eve and accompanied by tissues sticking out of one’s nose and ears.
Yes, it’s wacky, but don’t dare call it trivial.
I’ll let Betsy, a longtime principal in San Diego who has a Ph.D., explain: "It’s a way of acknowledging human fallibility," she says. "It’s a free pass out of the corner."
"You have to recognize this human propensity for less-than-ideal behavior," says Chris, the only other member of our family with a doctorate degree.
"When you give the moose call, it’s a way of saying, ‘I caught you being less than your best, and we’re going to celebrate it.’ It makes it possible to laugh at things you wouldn’t usually laugh at."
Ultimately, acknowledging your inner moose is about embracing your inner child.
"We never really grow up," Chris says. "We only learn how to behave in public."
Meyer Lemon Poppyseed Bread (Moosebread)
This poppyseed loaf, which half of our family calls moosebread and the other half calls moose food, is easily one of the most treasured treats in my grandmother’s recipe box. Her recipe calls for butter extract and oil instead of butter, which gives you an idea of when the recipe was likely developed in some unknown Midwestern kitchen, and to honor that legacy, I’ve kept them in this modified version.
The only real change in my version is swapping out orange juice in the glaze for Meyer lemon juice, one of my favorite ingredients this time of year, for my friend and fellow food blogger Kristina Wolter’s 12 Days of Meyer Lemon series on her blog, Girl Gone Grits. Wolter has what might be the largest, most productive Meyer lemon tree in Austin, which last year gave more than 1,000 lemons.
Between the lemons she gave me for this challenge and the lemons from my own small tree, I squeezed almost two quarts of juice and grated enough zest for a large batch of limoncello, the recipe for which you can find on her website. I also ended up making one loaf and a dozen poppyseed muffins from this batch of batter. I put too much batter in the loaf pan, which made the top crack, but it still tasted as good as I remember it.
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
2 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup milk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 tsp. butter flavor extract
2 tsp. Meyer lemon zest
For the glaze:
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. butter flavor extract
1/2 vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine baking powder, flour, salt and poppy seeds. In another bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, milk, oil, extracts and zest. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for about one hour until middle of the bread has set.
During the last 10 minutes of baking, make the glaze by heating the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer for a few minutes and then turn off heat.
Right after you remove the loaves from the oven, slowly pour glaze on top of each loaf. Once the loaves have cooled, remove from pan and wrap in plastic wrap. Serve slices of bread at room temperature or warmed slightly. Makes two loaves.
— Addie Broyles