Many people I know claim that they can either cook, or bake, and never the twain shall meet. There’s a seductive logic to this theory; after all, cooking leaves room for tremendous creativity -throw in dash of this, a splash of that, and let’s see what happens! Baking, on the other hand, favors an exact approach – this is chemistry, by gum, and we need to be precise! So I can understand why folks might be strongly drawn to one or the other.
That said, to me it was never an all or nothing proposition. It was only when became an adult that I realized that for many people that this was a war, the battle lines drawn, and that I was expected to pick a side. I’m happy cooking AND baking – any act of creation in the kitchen is a thrill to me. As I thought about why that might be, I realized that I have my mother to thank.
You see, that lady never chose sides. She’s a whiz in the kitchen on both sides of the equation. I’ve waxed rhapsodic far too many times about her turkey soup – it’s like a pot of liquid gold whenever she makes it. But then there’s her cheesecake – her cheesecake is to die for. To be honest it’s normally not my favorite dessert – but when she makes it with that hand-crumbled graham cracker crust, how can I say no?
Her influence can be seen on my kitchen handiwork in other ways, as well. In both the examples above, she makes everything from scratch, creating soup stock from leftover turkey and painstakingly hand grating orange peel to give her cheesecake just the right zest. While I won’t say that she never took shortcuts in the kitchen, when she was making something truly special it was always with the best ingredients she had, and always by hand.
My mother taught me to cook, but it wasn’t really by sitting me down and going through a step-by-step process. Instead, from a very early age, she involved me in what she was doing in the kitchen. One of my earliest memories is of standing on a chair in the kitchen, helping to stir a big pot of homemade peanut brittle. (Another is of waiting for her to fry up some doughnut holes – but you wouldn’t let a small kid near a deep fryer!) When all of us girls (there are four of us) were small, she was always coming up with projects to keep us entertained, and many of them involved baking or making food. I think that part of my joy in the kitchen now comes from the good memories of that time spent in the kitchen with my mother.
There’s a real value, I think, in having the mental flexibility to perform both of those skills with enjoyment. Most of the folks who prefer either baking or cooking can certainly muddle along through the other, even do them well. They just don’t care for it. I feel so lucky to have both, and to feel the need to try new things just for the sake of doing them. Thank you, Mom!