My father, Robert N. Lynch, grew up in Canton, Massachusetts and graduated from Holy Cross and Harvard Business School. He retired as a Division Superintendent for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.
My mother was Virginia Burke, daughter of a C&O brakeman from Cabin Creek, West Virginia. Jenny was a fabulous cook who could get everything on the table at the same time, served piping hot. One of her specialties was homemade cloverleaf rolls, always made from scratch. The recipe probably originates from Grandmother Burke. Her photo below includes my brother Bob and baby Tim. I was the youngest child, just a thought when this photo was taken. They were hoping for a girl, but they got me instead.
The Chesapeake and Ohio railroad was my life as a young boy. As my father got promoted through the ranks, we moved five times. I’ve lived in Montgomery West Virginia, Peru Indiana, Clifton Forge Virginia, Covington Kentucky, and Upper Arlington Ohio. Of all those hometowns, I was happiest in the little town of Clifton Forge, Virginia, when I was in grades 3 – 5.
The C&O, as it was affectionately called, was primarily a coal-hauling railroad moving coal mined from West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky. These coal cars were transported around the country to steel plants, power plants, and seaports for export. Sure, there were C&O passenger and freight trains, but coal was king. As an example of where my father worked, the image below shows the Handley freight yard when we lived a few miles away in the small town of Montgomery, West Virginia. You can see the Kanawha River on the upper right and the small black building at the center bottom was probably where my dad worked.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad had a nickname, the Chessie System, and advertising in that era showed “Chessie the Cat” with the promise of a ride so smooth that it wouldn’t wake up a sleeping cat.
The C&O had passenger trains with colorful names like the “George Washington” and the “Fast Flying Virginian (FFV).” The big moment at home for my father every night at 9 pm was when he called the dispatcher to check if the trains were on time. He had a round railroad watch on a chain and he would announce proudly to the family that “Number 91 is on-time!” While I do have memories of steam engines when I was a toddler, the new diesel locomotives were so cost-efficient that the steam engines were removed from service almost overnight, sent to scrap yards even though most had outstanding loans on them. The C&O passenger train below, probably the FFV, had a locomotive called an F-Unit. These F-unit locomotives were replaced by the boxy engines you see today.
After my father retired at age 65, the Chesapeake and Ohio merged with a number of other east coast railroads and is now called CSX. That stands for Chessie System, Southern Railway, and the X stands for all the others. You’ll see the CSX railroad from Massachusetts to Florida these days. Here’s a modern CSX freight train running through West Virginia.
My life has been enriched by two kind and very unique brothers. Here’s a photo of us, probably taken in 1960. That’s Bob in the center, Tim on the left, and me (Jim) on the right.
My oldest brother, Bob, was a school teacher and a Washington lobbyist for the Catholic Church. He eventually entered the priesthood and was elevated to Bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida. He served the Diocese of St. Petersburg with honor and distinction for 21 years until his retirement in January 2017. He still helps new Bishop Gregory Parkes with confirmations, masses, and other things when needed. Bob loves to travel and has been all over the world.
My middle brother, Tim, was a gifted musician (guitar and banjo) and had a unique ability to make friends. Sadly, he was drafted and sent to fight in Viet Nam and this certainly had an effect on certain parts of his life. He worked a few years for the C&O railway and a few years in the US Merchant Marine. In fact, he was the Purser onboard the Navy spy ship “Lynch” during the first Gulf War, sailing off Libya to make sure Moammar Kadafi didn’t get into the fight. Tim resettled to Florida and lived for over a decade with his girlfriend Susan Montgomery in Hollywood, Florida until his death in 2018 from COPD and lung cancer. I used to talk to him via SKYPE every night. I sure hope Bob is right and that I’ll see him again someday.
And then there’s me, Jim Lynch (the author). I always wanted to be an engineer, even drove over to Ohio State University when I was in High School to hear a presentation by Dr. Werhner Von Braun, the designer of the Saturn 5 Rocket. I built model rockets, electronic kits, and a robot as a growing boy. I was just determined to be an electrical engineer. I got my bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio and I received my Master’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo. I worked for four companies during my professional career: one year at Boeing in Kent, Washington designing digital attitude control systems for spacecraft, eleven years at Calspan in Buffalo, New York doing minicomputer and microcomputer design, eight years at Mennen Medical in Clarence, New York designing heart monitors, and twenty five years at Control Techniques in Grand Island, New York designing and programming microcomputer systems for industrial motor controls. I retired at age 69 and relocated to Palm Harbor, Florida, living in a condominium near my son. Here’s a photo of me working at Control Techniques in Grand Island, New York (near Buffalo). As you can see, it took a library of technical manuals to design microcomputer software in those days.
The best part of my life is my children, Elizabeth and Christopher. I took over care of them when they were nine and seven. Liz was a high school cheerleader and Chris excelled in basketball and soccer. Here is a picture of them when they were eight and ten years old. Liz now lives in Grand Island working as a marketing manager and helping her husband, Kevin, start an organic foods business. She has three boys. Chris is part owner and President of Hydrologic Distribution Company in St. Petersburg selling plumbing parts in the Tampa/St Pete area. Chris and his wife, Julie, have three girls.
Now let’s get to the heart of the matter, these Lynch Family rolls.
In the post-war years, homemade bread was mixed in a large bowl with a spoon and laboriously kneaded by hand. Any bread dough rising was done on the countertop. Making these cloverleaf rolls was a time-consuming process and therefore reserved only for Sunday dinner.
I learned how to make the rolls from my Mother, Virginia, and copied her recipe precisely. Mom did melt the ¼ cup of Crisco on the stove and waited for it to cool to room temperature. I’ve tried it both ways (melted and straight out of the can) and it makes no difference. Possibly the 1950s Crisco was less homogenized than it is today? Anyway, here is the official recipe:
Place the egg in a cup of hot water for a couple of minutes to bring it up to room temperature.
Measure 1 ½ cups of warm water (baby bath temperature, say 110° F or 43° C) and place in a small bowl.
Add the ¼ cup of sugar to the water and mix with a spoon till dissolved.
Now add the packet of Rapid-Rise or Regular yeast and mix it a bit.
Wait for five to ten minutes to see if the water-sugar-yeast solution starts to foam (indicating that the yeast is activated).
Dump the water-sugar-yeast mixture into the Bread Maker or the KitchenAid stand mixer bowl.
Add the following additional ingredients:
- 1½ teaspoons of salt
- ¼ cup of Crisco vegetable shortening
- 4 cups of bread flour
- one warmed-up egg
Now program the Bread Maker for the “Dough Make” cycle and turn it on. Alternately, use the KitchenAid stand mixer with the dough hook running on slow speed. After a couple of minutes, check that the dough has formed a discrete ball. If not, add a bit more flour or a bit more water until the dough ball forms.
If you have a Bread Maker with a “Dough Cycle,” let it run to completion. Most machines will take a couple of hours and will “punch down the dough” halfway through the cycle. The dough is ready for panning near the end of the second rise.
If you are using a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook, let it knead the dough on low speed for 10 minutes. Stop the mixer and let it rise for 1 hour covered with a damp cloth. Punch down and knead again by running the mixer for another 10 minutes and let it rise covered again for another hour. At that point, the dough will be ready for “panning”.
Get a muffin tin with twelve cups and wipe Crisco Vegetable Shortening inside each cup (that acts as a release agent).
Place three dough balls in each cup. There’s a bit of skill to this. The bread dough balls should be the size of large walnuts. If you just roll the dough between your palms to make it spherical, the surface will be rough. Try to pull the dough ball’s skin downwards on all sides with the intent of stretching the outer skin smooth; pinch the pulled dough together at the bottom to hold it together and place it in the muffin cup, pinched bottom down. The skin will be perfectly smooth and the rolls will rise to a very pleasing shape.
Here’s a link to a description of other ways to create these smooth spherical dough balls, just copy it to your browser:
Here’s what they look like before allowing them to rise.
Now it’s time to let these beauties rise. I raise them in the dishwasher, that’s right, the dishwasher. It will be warm and moist in there, the dough’s skin will not dry out.
Beforehand, empty your dishwasher, including the spoon rack. Turn on your dishwasher and let it fill with hot water (I run the kitchen sink hot water faucet until the water is fully hot). Start the wash cycle, let it run for a couple minutes (this heats up the sidewalls of the dishwasher). Now open the dishwasher door and put the rolls in there. Do not close the dishwasher door all the way, you don’t want it to start squirting water again. The warm and steamy environment in the dishwasher accelerates the final rise and keeps the surface of the rolls from drying out and forming a crust. It should take about an hour to allow the dough balls to get HUGE! Check periodically but don’t close the dishwasher door all the way and thus start it squirting.
When the rolls are near the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 375° F (190º C)
Throw in ¼ cup of hot water into the bottom of the oven to create a steam cloud; count to three and place the rolls into the oven on the middle rack (I got this trick from Julia Childs).
Bake for about 12 minutes. Remove when golden brown. You have to monitor the baking process but try to avoid opening the oven door till the rolls are done.
They should look like this – when you take them out of the oven.
Brush with melted butter and place damp paper towels over the rolls for six minutes or so to soften them.
If you try this recipe, I assure you that you qualify as a genuine West Virginia Mountain Mama (put on the John Denver song “Take Me Home Down Country Roads”).
Now throw caution to the wind and EAT THESE ROLLS LIKE STARVING BARBARIANS!