Loving Hands at Home: Baked Goods

mixing bowl“What kind of toast do you want with that? White, wheat, rye, sourdough . . . or homemade?”

There’s only one possible answer to this question, right?

I was asked to make just this choice a few days ago in a local diner and, of course, I said, “Homemade!” Then I looked at my companions and asked, “Who would choose anything but homemade?”

But as I thought about it, I remember my younger self, the girl who grew up on the farm. She took for granted home-baked breads and cookies and cakes and loved nothing better than Wonder Bread and Oreos and Hostess Twinkies.

In my memory, there was always something freshly baked sitting on the kitchen counter. My grandmother was the baker and she made everything, but the items I remember best were her loaves of bread, the tender dinner rolls, the sour cream cookies, the deep-fried doughnuts, and the lemon meringue pie.

We had it so good and we didn’t have a clue.

My sister and I ate everything my grandmother baked and enjoyed it. But we thought the biggest treat in the whole, entire world was when we stopped to visit particular friends of my parents.

These friends had a designated drawer for cookies and all the cookies were store bought. They came in crinkly cellophane packages and were crunchy and crispy, while my grandmother’s cookies were soft and chewy.

My grandmother’s cookies were as homey and comforting and real as she was. They were a given in our lives.

The store-bought cookies were exotic and decadent and, what? Cosmopolitan? Sophisticated? I’m not sure but it seemed like an adventure to eat them.

I like a little adventure as much as the next person. I like to take a trip and see the sights and leave my home behind, while I venture out.

But, boy, do I love to come home. Being in that big world always makes me appreciate home more, and recognize that it’s the place for me.

I’ve traveled in the world of store-bought baked goods for a long time now. I’ve gotten over thinking they are exotic and decadent and sophisticated.

Now, of course, I wish I could go home, to that kitchen where you never knew what was coming out of the oven next but you knew it would be warm and chewy and comforting.

I can bake bread. I’ve found recipes for sour cream cookies and made them. I’ve gone so far as to deep fry doughnuts.

You know what I’m going to say—it isn’t the same.

I’ll probably never have baked goods that measure up to my memories but I’ll keep looking. I’ll go to farm stands and order the doughnuts they just fished out of the fryer. I’ll buy old, stained copies of community cookbooks and look for the right sour cream cookie recipe. I’ll always order the homemade bread at the local diners.

Because, even if they don’t take me all the way, they bring me closer to a place I’d love to be.

recipe box

36 thoughts on “Loving Hands at Home: Baked Goods

  1. My father was the bread baker in our house. Afted a hard day’s work, he’d unwind by baking bread. His specialties were a basic hardy white and a lemon bread. The problem is that the heavenly aroma of freshly made bread would be wafting through the house around 10 o’clock at night. And of course you couldn’t go to sleep then. We’d all sit in the kitchen waiting for the bread to cool enough for us to cut into it and slather a warm slice with butter which would melt on contact. Heaven.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit his talent for working with yeast and baking a simple loaf of bread.

  2. When I was a kid we only ever had home made biscuits and cakes. It was the height of luxury to have Bought Biscuits. They were so exotic, so alluring. They stood in neat stacks on the morning tea table at church. They beckoned to us cunningly from neigbours’ cookies jars. They melted on the tongue, yet somehow bypassed the heart.

  3. I know just what you mean about the exotic and worldly non-home goods. I didn’t have McDonalds until I was a teenager, never had boxed mac n cheese, instant mashed potatoes (I have a vivid memory of going to visit my grand aunt and when we walked in she was preparing instant mashed potatoes. My grandmother clutched her heart and exclaimed, “Rosie! I can’t believe it! How lazy can you be!” and walked out! I actually didn’t taste instant mashed potatoes until a few years ago — a bread recipe I made called for them. I quickly realized that I could use potato flour and never bought them again — the taboo is too great ;), hamburger helper, a sloppy joe, etc until college. And I grew up in a big city (with the aforementioned iron-willed Italian American grandmother — I had a packed lunch through college and ironed underwear!!!).

    When I was a college senior I moved out to my own apartment with my boyfriend (now husband). The first thing I did was make myself a box of mac n cheese and eat the entire thing!!! It was fascinating! but it didn’t take long to crave my grandmother’s home made baked mac and cheese. The real and satisfying nature of good cheese, an artfully prepared roux, and time in the oven showed its value pretty quickly over the razzle dazzle of ready in minutes one pot wonders. Life has taught me she was wrong about lots of things, but home cooked food wasn’t one of them.

    • It’s funny–I always associate home-baked food with rural life but your comment is a great reminder that it’s possible to grow up in a big city and still have little experience with McDs and Kraft mac and cheese! I have to admit, I sometimes still give in to the siren song of highly processed food and its impossibly bold flavors (and colors!) but I always come back to real food and find it, as always, comforting and “right.”

  4. What wonderful memories you have! I just remember the Italian Christmas cookies my grandmother and then mother made every year. Thank goodness I have the recipes, stains and all!!

    • Those Italian Christmas cookies are iconic! I didn’t have them until I was an adult (my heritage was white-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant soft cookies!), but now I look forward to receiving them every year from my friends who bake! You’re lucky to have your family’s recipe!

  5. I’m a big home made fan, if only I had more time. I love the smell, waiting till the oven’s done, snacking on cookie dough…. Storebought is not just as satisfying, and what I really dislike about it, is that some of the ingredients are a big mystery to me! And what about those expiration dates? Some cookies can be eaten up to a year after buying them, I think that’s very scary!

    • Yes, I can’t think too much about the preservatives that go into food–it gets me all worked up. On the other hand, home-baked bread and cookies go stale so quickly that it makes me feel like I have to eat them really, really fast! Not that that’s a bad thing . . . 😉

  6. My grandmother made lemon bars that I have not been able to duplicate, I was lucky that my mom loved to make homemade cookies. There were no store-bought cookies at our house 🙂

  7. Whenever you write about your childhood I have visions of ‘The Waltons’ dancing in my head. 🙂

    It’s ‘the grass is always greener’ syndrome isn’t it. It is such a pity that it takes us so long to get to the stage of maturity when we can realise that what we had was perfection ……. but you still have your treasure chest full of wonderful memories!

    • Oh, NO!! The Waltons?! Okay, I’ll look at that as a compliment, I guess, but they were always so goody-two-shoes. But I can see that I do kind of evoke images of calico blouses and bib overalls in my style–I may need to try and release my snarky, thoroughly modern side more often . . .

  8. What a lovely story. My husband is a son of a baker and under scribes your story. For me…nothing better than the present when it comes to the baked goodies! As you know, I have Celiac Disease and nowadays not only can I buy lovely flowers and gluten baking powders and what not , there are quite a few restaurants that bake/serve lovely gf breads and deserts. I never made an issue out of it..but it is becoming less of issue too;0)

    • One of my very good friends has Celiac Disease and I’ve been amazed at how his options have grown over the last 10 years or so. It’s really amazing that, where once he seemed to be so limited, now he can eat pretty much anything. And when he cooks GF for us, I can’t tell the difference!

  9. Immediately I was going along and thinking…oh French toast, and sourdough bread. I will always prefer the homemade variety and the sweet memories, which is all about the delicious smells and tastes.

    I’m hopeless connected to the past. No crinkly wrappers for me, no fast food, no big conglomerate companies. I just prefer to the idea that less ingredients, ingredients I understand and people I could possibly meet are where I want to be.

    • It’s funny–I’m 90 percent with you on the homemade topic but there’s this little part of me that, sometimes, just craves an Oreo. Or Kraft mac and cheese. Maybe it’s a leftover from being a kid and thinking those things were special, somehow, because we ever had them. I always come “home” to homemade, though!

  10. This is beautifully written Kerry, who knew the topic of baking could be so emotive! (On a side note, do you watch the Great British Bake Off? If you don’t, I hope you can access it on your side of the pond, I think you would love it.) Of course home made is always better! Nothing beats a homemade cake. Not even super fancy cakes in posh tea shops. I recently visited my grandparents and ate cake made by Nana every day and it was heavenly xx

  11. I was brought up on home made, I do home-made, my three now-grown-up children, even the boy, do home-made. But I remember when they were small, all three longed for shop-bought biscuits and cakes: all most disappointing But they’ve come round, I’m glad to say. Because guess what? My grandsons are going through the shop-bought-is-best phase too. I hope they too grow out of it! Great post, by the way.

    • Do you think the media–all the ads for store-bought treats–affect them when they’re young? I don’t think that really influenced my sister and me when we were kids but advertising has gotten SO much more sophisticated!

      • I banned TV stations with adverts when mine were young, but it’s harder to do now. I think children just like gaudy colours and lots of sugar myself: but yes, adverts don’t help at all.

  12. Beautifully written! Like you, I was raised on homemade but longed for the illicit allure of store-bought. I’ll never forget the day in 4th grade when I traded one of my mom’s homemade peanut butter cookies for a lousy un-toasted pop tart and almost choked – it was awful! Boy did I learn!

  13. I enjoyed this blog. My mother wasn’t much of a baker but she did try. I learned very young to bake because of this. I have noticed an increase of young households that are now baking more. Maybe it is because of economics or because there is an internet full of recipes and instructional videos on demand. I like your picture of the recipe box. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for your kind comment! I think younger people do seem to be baking more–for the reasons you mention and maybe because they’re looking for simple pleasures in a very complicated world!

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