In my extended family, we are blessed with lots of folks who are excellent bakers, so I have had great role models and teachers, not to mention oodles of wonderful baked goods to taste test. I started baking when I was little, and baking has been a big part of my life ever since.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved being in the kitchen while my mom baked. Of course she made everything from scratch, this being before the widespread adoption of mixes and such. It was so much fun to watch her gather the ingredients and then mix, stir, fold, whisk, shape, bake – all the little steps involved in creating a delicious end product. (We won’t mention how my little brother and I used to bicker endlessly about whose turn it was to lick the bowl and who had to settle for licking the mixing spoon.)
As a little girl, one of my favorite activities was browsing through the recipes in Mom’s well-worn Betty Crocker cookbook (the one with her hand-written notes on the recipes). When she let me start helping her, I am afraid that I contributed to the book’s “artfully distressed” appearance by adding splashes and smudges of vanilla and chocolate and who knows what other ingredients.
Some of the first things that Mom taught me to bake were brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and banana bread. I remember coming home from school in the afternoon and deciding to bake something just for fun. Oooh, the crinkly brown tops and the delicious gooey middles of my favorite brownies! I spent many enjoyable hours trying out recipes in that cookbook.
Often the end result was delicious, but of course sometimes a disaster was in the offing — such as the time I made bread pudding in my elementary school Home Economics class. (Can you believe that there was a time when all little children were taught useful skills such as baking, cooking, sewing, and working with tools?) Anyway, during this class, one assignment was to work together in small groups to bake a dessert. My absolute favorite dessert was (and still is) bread pudding, so I persuaded my fellow bakers-in-training to whip up this delicious concoction made from stale bread ripped into pieces and baked with milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins.
I carefully wrote a shopping list for the teacher, who purchased the supplies and brought them to the next class. Just imagine my shock and dismay when we pulled out of the shopping bag a can of seasoned bread crumbs intended for sprinkling on savory dinner casseroles or for breading fried chicken! Apparently I should have been more specific on the shopping list – simply writing “bread crumbs” was not a good idea! We had to make the dessert anyway, using the powdery, onion-flavored crumbs. The result was truly inedible. No one in my family will ever let me forget that story!
Even though I spent many hours in the kitchen with Mom, she was not the only master baker in the house — Dad was, too. His specialty was yeast-raised breads, rolls, and coffee cakes. As a boy, he grew up with the delicious “old country” baked goods that were staples in his family. Years later, Dad would get a craving for a special something he remembered fondly from his childhood, and then would research and try countless variations until he was satisfied with the result. My dad was meticulous about every step of the process, so he was a great person to learn from. The price of the lessons was that I got to wash, dry, and put away the dishes. It was worth every drop of dishwater.
After I left home, I started baking on my own. Along the way, I developed an addiction to cookbooks. I started collecting them in college and have added at least a few every year since. While I certainly haven’t tried every recipe, I have experimented with all sorts of things that weren’t traditional in my family (homemade bagels, deep dish pizza, biscotti, to name a few). My collection of baking tools and pans has grown accordingly. Some are well-used favorites (like my measuring spoons), and some have only been used a few times (like the teddy bear shaped birthday cake pan), but each has special memories associated with it.
As my friends and coworkers discovered that I could bake, I became the go-to person to teach others who wanted to learn. I have been giving impromptu pie-making lessons for decades now. My most recent lesson was with my college-age nephew, who created the gorgeous lattice-topped apple pie pictured here.
I was also the go-to person for providing office treats. At one place, we had the very popular tradition that on each person’s birthday, he or she could select any recipe from my cheesecake cookbook, and then I would bake it and bring it in to the office celebration.
While most of my baking nowadays is for everyday meals, you can always count on me to make something special for any gathering of friends, family, or coworkers. Sometimes it is hard to keep the family from eating up all the baked goods beforehand. My kids are used to seeing containers adorned with freezer-tape labels on which I have scrawled DO NOT EAT in black Sharpie marker.
These days, I usually make homemade bread or rolls several times a week. I have lost track of how many bread machines I have worn out. I have a vast collection of recipes for yeast-raised baked goods, but I think the family’s absolute favorite is my Amish potato rolls. When they are fresh out of the oven, they are quickly devoured by everyone within range. If we are going to have any left for dinner, I had better make TWO pans full.
All in all, it is a great feeling to see family and friends enjoy MY baking as much as I enjoyed my Mom and Dad’s. In this family, baking is definitely a labor of love.
When I was a Creative Memories consultant, I held regular scrapbooking events at my house, for which I always provided yummy cropping treats. At my big crops such as National Scrapbook Day, my clients looked forward to all of the homemade bread, rolls, and desserts served along with the meals. Some people who didn’t even really want to scrapbook came just to eat! Now that I am on the pixels2Pages team, lots of my interactions are virtual instead of “in person”. But I wish there was a way that I could share my love of baking with all of you. Maybe I will have to host a p2P event here in Central Florida! I promise to bring my Amish potato rolls.
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