Like all the girls in her family, Virginia Lima, born on one of Portugal's Azores islands in the early part of the 20th century, was taught how to make bread. As a wife and working mother living in Providence, RI, in the 1950s, she kept the tradition alive every holiday by making loaves of her Portuguese Sweet Bread.
Lima's youngest child, David, liked to keep her company in the kitchen. He offers the following details about her technique: Lima would take a large, enamel basin — big enough to wash a small child in — and tie it to a red metal step stool with a rope. That's where she'd mix her dough by hand. No electric mixer.
She'd activate the yeast in a separate bowl, then measure out her flour into the basin. As she mixed the liquid into the dough, she'd add an interesting ingredient — two teaspoons of whiskey. She'd then cross herself and say a prayer that the bread would come out right and nourish all who ate it. She'd knead and pound for a long time, then take a break and pour a little whiskey into a shot glass to reward herself.
Once the bread was baked, she'd give the loaves to family and friends as an act of love and remembrance for the souls of the departed.
Sometimes David would get her to make dinner rolls shaped like doughnuts or tied in knots. They'd always eat the bread just as it was, David told the Brass Sisters. He never tried toasting it until he was an adult.
Eventually, the Brass Sisters tried Virginia Lima's recipe for themselves. "The scent was heavenly," Sheila recalls, "and the taste was like the best French brioche, with sugar added."
Lima would make up to seven loaves in her huge washbasin, but the Brass Sisters have adapted her recipe for a smaller yield. And, in a touch that's sure to please many, they also increased the amount of whiskey.