Thursday, January 19, 2012
Here's why: baking seems like some kind of cool alchemy or perhaps like a human-sized version of Creation.
I had this children's cookbook when I was a kid. It was a Peanuts cookbook, a collaboration between June Dutton and Charles Schultz, complete with comic strips to accompany each recipe. There was a recipe for boysenberry cobbler with a cute name: Boysenberry Cobbler for Beethoven’s Birthday. I had just learned to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
That recipe tickled my imagination so much, I asked my mother if she would purchase the ingredients and help me along with the recipe. But first I made sure this was something I was going to like: "What's a boysenberry?" I asked.
My mom managed to find the boysenberries. We set to work.The recipe was just right for hands-on child cookery and called for the dough to be mixed by hand.
Somewhere buried in my mother's photo albums, in some dim and crowded storage area, is a photo of me, complete with pixie haircut and buckteeth, my hands in a bowl of dough, making that cobbler. Now in addition to having an exotic ingredient that actually sounded edible (boysenberries), the recipe specified that during the baking, the dough would rise above the filling and make a top crust. Therein lay the alchemy, or at least some culinary magic. Put the dough in the pan and the fruit on top but during the baking, they trade places!
I remember flipping the light switch on my mother's oven and sitting in front of the oven, my eyes glued to the show: a show that seemed better and more exciting to me than any sitcom going. I watched the cobbler bake and saw the moment that fruit and dough did their switcheroo. Oh MAN that was cool.
I was hooked.
Of course, the flavor of that cobbler, warm from the oven, was incomparable. Especially with vanilla ice cream. I watched the faces of my family members as they tasted my first attempt at baking.
I remember I had goosebumps to see their skepticism turn into surprised enjoyment. I had never felt so capable before. The response to my early dance recitals, school plays, and report cards paled in comparison to this new source of approval, not put on for my sake, being that I was just a kid, but genuine approval. They LIKED my cobbler, for real.