Baking and eating special treats is one of my favorite pastimes.
I have deep and fond memories as a kid of helping my grandmother in the kitchen. Mixing ingredients, stirring, rolling, patting, kneading. We had so many family recipes that to this day still invoke a deep sense of pride when serving to others.
I have longed to share this baking experience with my own children.
I want to teach them the old recipes and instill in them that same fondness for baking and cooking. And I try. But they are little. Which means it’s been a really long time since I’ve had the opportunity to to bake anything and really enjoy the experience. Not that I don’t love the activity, but the assistance of a bunch of little grubby toddler hands adds stress. And contrary to my fantasy, it really isn’t much help at all. Usually when I start making something in the kitchen, immediately little ears perk up and come running in to be my helpers.
I adore them and love when they help, but this usually means it takes everything I have to be able to complete the project without destroying the kitchen or contaminating the food with licks and “try its.” There is so much hustle and anxiety trying to micromanage the steps that it becomes an exercise in good sanitation practices and the value of math.
Good life lessons, but not the warm-fuzzy feeling I was aiming for.
However, this night was different. For whatever reason after all of the children were in bed, I decided it was time for pie. And I found myself pulling out supplies in the still and quiet of my kitchen. Suddenly out of nowhere, a thought struck me: I’ll wear the apron. This is perfect.
It has been 20 years since I baked with you, Grandma. You have been gone a long time. But while I was folding laundry a couple nights ago, your sister’s old floral apron fell out of the closet and landed in front of me and rather than sticking it back in the closet, I hung it up in the kitchen, close at hand. While I was pulling out my supplies to start making pies, I grabbed it and tied it around my waist.
Immediately, I chuckled.
There would have been more string to tie the bow on my great aunt. She was thin and petite; I am not. Suddenly I could hear her in my head saying, as she often did, “My, you are getting fat.” She was never one to sugar coat things and always willing to tell it how it was. She thought I ate too much. I used to get offended when she would bluntly tell me to stop eating — that she thought I needed better control.
Your sister was right, Grandma.
I probably should have listened closer. Harsh as some of those talks were, now I miss her honestly.
I start mixing the ingredients for the pie, wiping my fingers off on the front of the apron, measuring, scooping, stirring. As I look down at my hands and the apron, I suddenly see your hands instead, Grandma. Then, I see your face. I see you sitting there in your kitchen, sifting flour in your flour drawer, one baking accessory notably missing from most kitchens today.
I never sift flour now and as I reach for my flour container, discover I am almost out. That is something you’d have never let happen, I think, chuckling again.
Before I know it, I am overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed with emotion. With memories, with love. The thoughts of you start pouring over me so thick and for the first time ever, the true meaning behind the phrase “baked with love” occurred to me. This must be what they mean. When baking requires you to pull from your childhood memories and knead into a dough that feeling of love that embraced you in the simple times of yesterday and now seeps out of your hands into meals for tomorrow.
I work to get my dough to the right consistency and I laugh at how out of practice I am. You were an expert in this field. You could roll it out quickly and peel it off in one smooth motion, never having to piece and patch. My pie looks more like a Frankenstein pie, scraggly and uneven—bits and pieces pressed together here and there.
As I pour in the filling, I feel a twinge of guilt. Even though I picked buckets of cherries this year from your tree, I made no filling. I had schedules and to do lists. There just weren’t enough slow moments to go the extra step of filling our shelves with preserves like you would have. My short cut of store-bought filling would have never gained your approval.
But I felt you pushing me to finish, anyway.
Sometimes, it takes giving yourself a quiet minute from the chatter and ruckus of a busy life to stop and allow yourself to reconnect with the past. It can be triggered by something as simple as an apron, memories are so strong. This one was so vibrant, I started to cry. My heart filling with thoughts of you, the love I had for you and that I know you had for me.
I think about all the amazing treats we could make together now and how patient you would be with my own children. My heart is flooded with this feeling of gratitude for those times together, but also with sadness that you’re no longer here. My mind turns back to my kids and my resolve is restored. I will ignite a love for baking in my children, despite the struggles.
On the next pie, I will invite them to help. I hope that someday they, too, will look back on these times and know that each of them was baked with love.