Woman with cataracts mistakes salt for sugar in Portuguese sweet bread recipe

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member, who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission.

A Portuguese woman with cataracts made a hilarious mistake when she mistook salt for sugar in a sweet bread recipe. The woman, who was my maternal great-grandmother, was making the traditional Portuguese treat known as massa sovada when she mistakenly added salt instead of sugar to the dough. As a result, the finished product was inedible, and the family had to throw it away. Thankfully, she had surgery to correct her vision after that incident, and she was able to see clearly in her later years right up until her passing at nearly 100 years of age.

Cataracts seem to affect the elderly members of my family on both my mother's side and my father's side. My great-grandmother was afflicted with cataracts back in 1952. She had them in both eyes, and cataracts had rendered her nearly completely without sight.

Despite her vision loss, my great-grandmother tried to keep up with her daily chores. According to my mother, the vision-impaired woman completed many tasks through a combination of memory and touch.

She even babysat her granddaughter all day while the little girl's parents both worked. While babysitting, she'd clean my great-aunt's house, cook dinner, and bake bread.

One day, my great-grandmother asked my great-aunt to place the flour canister and the sugar canister on the kitchen table because she wanted to make Portuguese sweet bread, her specialty from decades before she lost her sight. She was so accustomed to preparing the dough that she often bragged she could do it with her eyes closed.

My great-aunt forgot to move the canisters to the kitchen table before she left for work, but my great-grandmother did not allow that to deter her. She was an independent and headstrong lady, and she located the ingredients for the sweet bread herself.

Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, my great-grandmother located the wrong ingredients. Checking the substances by texture and not taste, she mistook the canister of salt for the canister of sugar she really wanted. Several cups of salt later, her sweet bread dough was completely ruined.

Why didn't my great-grandmother taste the salt before using it confidently as sugar in the recipe? I don't know, and I cannot ask her as she has long since passed away. However, I think it was her very confidence that was her undoing.

My great-grandmother was so accustomed to doing everything in the dark that she didn't bother to question whether she was doing it right.

The incident was the proverbial final straw. My great-grandmother saw a doctor who scheduled cataract-removal surgery, which was quite a leap of faith for her in the 1950s. Fortunately, the surgery was a success, and she could continue all her activities while seeing things clearly for the first time in years.

My parents have both had cataract-removal surgery. So have my maternal grandmother and several of my aunts with varying results.

What do you think? Has anything like this ever happened to you? Comments are welcome.

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