If these rolls could talk: They're packed with the love of a Houston pan magician

If these rolls could talk: They're packed with the love of a Houston pan magician

At 81, Gladys Harrison is still bookin’ and cookin'. Literally. She makes rolls — cinnamon, orange and plain … Gladys calls the latter “dinner rolls.”

These are no ordinary rolls. They’re the kind you’d fight your mother for.

Want to know why Gladys’s rolls taste so good? Simple. They got love in ‘em. She takes knowledge, time and patience (plus the other ingredients) and “rolls them out in a pan.” But before I let my taste buds do the talking — let me tell you about Gladys.

She was born in Lodi, Texas (nine miles out of Jefferson) and later moved to Dallas with her “Aunt Jewel.” When she was 15, they moved to Houston. She attended Houston College (now Texas Southern University) and a year later began working at Craig’s Department Store on Main Street. From there she went to BJ’s Intimate Apparel, where she worked for 11 years until the shop closed.

While working her retail job, Gladys also did domestic work for two families, one for whom included everything from driving the kids to school to cooking. She still prepares their Christmas dinner (25 years later). One year, the family even arranged to ship her home cooking to Colorado, where once again they enjoyed her turkey and turkey breasts, green beans, candied yams, “lots of gravy” and of course her rolls (plain and sweet).

But back to the rolls. It all started years ago. One afternoon while reading through one of this family’s cookbooks, Gladys came across a recipe that caught her fancy. She took this recipe (along with her gift) and went to school in her kitchen. The rest is history.

Rolling along

When I asked Gladys to tell me about her rolls, she first answered in her shy quiet way, “Well, they’ve just been around.”

Little did I know … how far! She’s sent rolls to Bowie, Maryland, Denver and Orlando. There’s no telling where all the rest have rolled! I know whenever I travel to a little stretch of heaven along the Florida coastline … I’m packin’, two pans (at least).

“It took me two years to perfect them,” Gladys told me. She claims that when she first started baking them, they were good when they were hot but they weren’t as good when they were cold. “Now,” she says, “I know they’re good because they’re good cold.” Not only are they good, trust me people (hot or cold) you won’t need a lick of butter.

Here’s some roll lowdown. They cost $8.00 per pan — if Gladys delivers them to you, tack on $10.00. There’s a minimum order of 12 dozen pans. Mine don’t usually make it to the freezer, but when they do, you’d never know they’d been in there. When they reach room temperature — you just slide the pan out of the Ziploc bag, pop them in a 350 degree oven (uncovered) and let them bake for five minutes and “five minutes only,” Gladys says. You best follow these instructions to the second. Gladys knows her stuff.

For the two years that Gladys worked to make her rolls “perfect,” I’d say, “mission accomplished.” Ask anyone else who’s tasted them. There’s not a boastful bone in her body either — “perfect” is just stating a fact. Like Yogi Berra once said, “If you can do it …it ain’t braggin’.”

There’s something almost spiritual about how Gladys bakes … sorta like how on some mornings — you might go to a compost pile and see steam rising. “First of all,” Gladys believes, “you gotta have patience. Rolls aren’t hard to make … it’s the time you put in them. The more you let them rise, the lighter they are.” Sounds like poetry to me.

She might sleep or rest between the times her rolls are rising. Then she gets up (sometimes at 2 a.m.) and “knocks them down” as Gladys describes it (at intervals of three times or more) by just shaking the bowl and “they’ll fall.” Then she rolls them out, puts them in a pan and let’s them sit a little longer still (three hours) before putting them in the oven. The remaining part of the process (cooling, bagging, etc.) is another art form altogether.

I may be a hog for Gladys’s rolls but that doesn’t mean I hog them, all (remember, 12 dozen minimum). We might have a dinner party or maybe just give them as a gift, during holidays especially. In which case, they have love in em’ — times two.

Gladys is more than happy to let you in on her secrets and her kitchen. Just ask her. On the phone (713/695-9954). This is an old-school operation of love, no fancy Internet site for Gladys. 

Wearing a friendly smile, Gladys says that she’s told people, “You can come over and watch me bake 10 or 12 times ... and they’re still not going to taste like my rolls.” Not a brag … just a fact.

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Gladys Harrison
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