My wife Michelle is a fantastic cook in general, but when it comes to baking, she really excels. It is apparent in observing her very manner while in the kitchen that, rather than a chore, she is most content with life when she is baking. She enjoys baking, and you can taste it - literally.
She was raised on “the farm” at a time when all the serious baking for the week was done on Saturday mornings. That included multiple loaves of bread that would serve as a staple for all the meals. (I stated that Michelle was raised on “the farm” rather an “a farm” because when you are around farm people that’s the way they always talk in reference to home and childhood. The farm is a particular place. Despite the very similar white clapboard house, the similar red barn nearby, all surrounded by the same green fields, they always have a quite distinct memory of their particular home farm.)
There is something special about baking. It is much more than simply a process for making food. It is connection. It is hospitality in action. Good baking reveals deeper realities. Michelle’s Grandmother Isabelle was a serious woman who much preferred ‘practical’ gifts at Christmas and on her birthdays. It seemed that she was always doing chores of some sort or another. And yet, Michelle fondly recalls that, as a young child on Saturday mornings, if you got too curious and too close as Grandma kneaded the bread dough, she would quick whap you across the face with the dough, leaving your shocked face full of flour. Yes, there is a bit of hidden whimsy in every stern farm wife.
I know someone whose most prized possession is her mother’s recipe box, because the cards inside are all written in her mother’s own unique handwriting. In that same line of thinking Michelle has enjoyed passing down the how-to and the love of baking, especially with our grandchildren. She has made it a point to invite them all for Saturdays with Grandma that always include baking some treat.
I do recall one such morning when we had a house full of little granddaughters who had just discovered to their deep sadness that there was no fresh bakery in the house. Samantha stared into the open pantry doors and inquired, “Grandma, do you have a box of brownie mix?” Grandma’s chuckled reply, “I don’t use a box Samantha, my brownies are made from scratch.” A long pause as Samantha continued to peer into the pantry, her eyes glancing from shelf to shelf. A second question: “Grandma - - do you have any scratch?”
Last month, with her birthday fast-approaching, knowing well that her mother was also good at hints, our daughter Elizabeth just happened to mention how long it had been since she had chocolate eclairs. So, Grandma did what she does best. She asked granddaughter Evelyn if she would like to come for the day and learn how to make chocolate eclairs. They made two batches. The first, batch Evie assisted; the second batch Evie baked with some minor oversight from Grandma. The next generations appears ready!