I bake. Cookies mostly. But sometimes cakes on someone’s birthday. Or pies at Christmas or Thanksgiving. I love everything about baking – the ingredients, the utensils, the smell, the warmth, the kitchen, the bittersweet memories. Simply divine.
Ma taught me how to bake and cook. Not by instruction but more by osmosis and illustration. And by surprise. My fondest memory from childhood is that of walking in the backdoor after school and inhaling the delicious aroma of something freshly baked. Heaven scent. Growing up, our kitchen was the hub of the house. A Mecca that attracted all, not just us kids but our friends as well. It was where we ate of course, but it was also so much more. In a way it was Sacred Ground, the place where things got discussed, prayed about, laughed and cried over, and most importantly, where Ma served tea with delectable treats. This was her turf, the place where she was most at ease where she could express herself creatively through the things she made with her hands. Not just the food but other things too. The curtains embracing the windows, the paintings adorning the walls, the cheerful tablecloth. All wonderful expressions of her God-given talent to make much with very little.
Little back story. Ma taught herself how to do pretty much everything. Her mother died when she was three and her father at ten. She was raised, along with her four sisters, by her maternal grandmother who taught her manners; how to pick lettuce from the garden and turn that into the best sandwich in the world; how to embroider and transform the drab to lovely with a few colorful stitches; and how to love unconditionally. Ma learned how to bake and cook by doing and perfecting. I learned by watching and eating.
Ma shared a lot of her favorite recipes with me over the years. She even gave me the recipe box that came with her first “modern” stove. A Gurney. I still have the box. It’s a magnificent piece of vintage memorabilia, tin construction, red and cream enamel with “Recipes” embossed on the front. I cherish this gift. The Gurney Box came complete with a set of recipes covering everything from Beverages to Vegetables. No A nor X W Z. The best categories were in the middle – Cakes, Cookies and Pastries. The super stars of the box. But my favorite recipes are Ma’s handwritten gems. These are the ones that have seen better days, are tattered, smudged, splattered, greasy, barely legible. But it doesn’t matter. I know them by heart.
The days leading up to Christmas I become a marathon baking fiend, along with my sugar-sweet grand daughter, who has my mother’s beautiful dark eyes and easy smile. I pull out all of Ma’s ancient recipes. Sometimes I cry when I see her handwriting but mostly I’m comforted by these artifacts of her, little pieces of Ma on scraps of paper torn from a memo pad or jotted on 3×5 recipe cards. It takes me back to a small divine kitchen, a little piece of heaven on earth full of activity, laughter, tears, flour and lots of sugar. Love.
Ma’s Chewy Ginger Snaps
3/4 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup molasses
2-1/3 cups flower
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each ginger & cinnamon
1/2 tsp closes
1/4 tsp salt
Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well. Shape into 1-inch balls. Roll in white sugar. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets @ 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.
Sweet and Simple. Just like Ma.