Recipe: The Red Five Gallon Pail and Golden Caramel Rolls



If ever there was multi-purpose inanimate object from the farm that brings back a rush of memories, it is the red five-gallon pail.  These practically indestructible pails came filled with a thick caramel textured and colored grease used to lubricate farm equipment.

When the axel grease was gone the big cans and their lids were cleaned and put to good use. The cans were the perfect size to carry water and feed to the farm animals. Many a morning and evening farmers would fill these pails to the brim with golden grain for the cows and chickens and slop for the hogs.

The pails were also used to remove the effects of digested food from the chicken house.  Pail after pail of chicken manure were carried out and dumped into a wheel barrow to be hauled away and spread on fields or gardens as fertilizer.

Of course the pails also had their share of fun.  Our pails were always used for fishing.  Many a summer evening or Sunday afternoon would find our whole family at a local lake catching oodles of Sunfish and Crappies. Many times filling those red pails to the top. In the winter they served as a carry all for your ice fishing equipment, thermos of hot liquids to drink and snacks.  They also served as your chair as you sat for hours shivering in the cold staring into a small fishing hole cut into the ice.

The ladies of the house also made use of the big red pail.  They were filled with food scraps from daily cooking and were kept especially busy during times of canning, vegetable freezing or chicken butchering.  The garden was also emptied of its produce by using the pails.

The youngsters a special use for the pails that did not meet with the approval of the adults of the farming operation.  They used to stuff them full of firecrackers, hide behind a wall of hay bales (safety first was their motto) then blow the pails up.  Once this practice was discovered by the mature it was quickly and loudly abolished with extra chore assignments to participants in an effort decrease their foolishness aptitude.

As a baker, whenever I see one of these big red pails I think of caramel. Yes, the grease really did look just like soft caramel and sugary desserts were a must have on a farm. Field work is hard and burns a lot of calories. By sunrise folks had already milked the cows and cleaned out their stalls. They came into the house very hungry. Then, too, in my grandmother’s day, before the mechanization of farm equipment, many additional workers were needed to help bring in the harvest.  There were always hungry mouths to feed.

Farms are equal opportunity places for hard labor whether you were in the kitchen or the fields.  The amount of cooking done by my grandmother’s generation was immense and it was done in unairconditioned hot kitchens on wood burning stoves. These gals were hard workers who daily turned out mass amounts of truly delicious food.  Each day they prepared food for three large meals–breakfast, dinner and supper. There were also two small meals a mid-morning “coffee” and  mid-afternoon “lunch”.

For all of the meals bread was a staple and baked often.  There were hearty loaves of oatmeal molasses bread (see recipe on blog), white bread and wonderful breakfast cinnamon and caramel rolls.

This recipe is my Grandmother Esther’s white sweet bread recipe. It is unique because it has an overnight raise and is baked first thing in the morning. There is nothing quite as tasty in the morning as a fresh warm caramel roll right out of the oven.


Esther’s Caramel Rolls

Caramel Sauce for Caramel Rolls

2/3 cups butter
1 1/3 cups pack brown sugar
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan melt the butter.  Stir in the brown sugar and corn syrup.  Cook until blended.  Add vanilla and stir to combine.  Makes enough sauce for 2—9X13 pans.

Dough for Caramel Rolls–Overnite  Sweet Bread Dough

1 package yeast dry
1/3 C. warm water
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups warm water
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp. salt
½ cup canola oil (I did substitute the oil instead of lard)
11 cups of  bread flour

In the late afternoon about 4 p.m. dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl. To this bowl add the eggs, 3 cups of warm water, sugar, salt and oil. With a hand whisk stir until smooth. Stirring with a heavy wooden spoon add 4 cups of flour.  Stir until combined.  Slowly add additional flour until dough is too heavy to stir.  Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured counter top, slowly add remaining flour as you knead.  When dough no longer sticks to the counter, quit adding flour and knead until smooth about 10 minutes.  Put dough into large lightly greased bowl.  Cover with a clean towel and let raise until double.  Punch down at 6 p.m and again at 10 p.m. After the second punch down, make into buns or caramel rolls.

Cover and let rise until morning in a warm place.  Bake at 375 degrees.

Makes about 5 dozen small buns or 2-9X13 pans plus one 8 X8 pan (greased) of large sweet rolls.

Making Caramel Rolls

1/2 cup softened butter (spreadable)
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
4 teaspoons of cinnamon

In a small bowl mix together sugars and cinnamon.

When making caramel rolls I divide dough in two.  Then roll it out into two large rectangles about 1/3 in thick.  Next evenly spread the surface of dough with soft butter until well coated. Sprinkle each rectangle with one half of the sugar and cinnamon mixture.  Roll up like a jelly roll beginning with the long side.  Slice into 1-1/2 inch slices.  Arrange the slices in the 9 X 13 baking pans on top of caramel sauce.  (With any remaining  cinnamon roll dough is put into a greased 8 X 8 pan without caramel.  After they have baked I frost these with a vanilla and butter icing.) Let rise overnight.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until browned and done.

While hot turn the rolls out of the pan onto a clean surface..serve while warm.




3 thoughts on “Recipe: The Red Five Gallon Pail and Golden Caramel Rolls

  1. Reblogged this on The Swedish Farmer's Daughter and commented:

    I used to make these for my fellow Capitol workers during legislative sessions. I would make them before I went to bed. Let them rise while I slept. Bake them in the morning, and oftentimes they would still be warm by the time I reached my office at the Capitol. They did not last long.

    This is a great recipe. For generations our family has enjoyed this recipe as did the multitude of threshers, farm help and neighbors. Although, Grandma always told me that they tasted even better when baked in her wood burning oven. She never thought electric ovens were an improvement.

    And, of course it goes without saying that the importance of red five gallon pails on a farm cannot be understated.

    Farmer’s cannot do without a great bread or pail.



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