Food is life. It is sustenance, energy, comfort, and nurturance. One of my favorite things about food is the nostalgia associated with it. Little else in life can invoke such vivid memories as the cool sweetness of an ice cream cone on a sweltering summer day, the soothing steaminess of chicken noodle soup after the chill of a rainy day, or the mouth-watering aroma of blackberry pie baking in the oven – any day.
My most cherished childhood memories involve my Granny. She lived in a tiny town in British Columbia, Canada, and my three younger sisters and I would spend our summer vacations there with her, picking berries, gathering sweet peapods and crunchy radishes from the vegetable garden, and baking. I think I was 8 or 9 when she taught me to make homemade pies. We would mix the ingredients for the piecrusts, carefully smooth and flatten the dough with the solid wood rolling pin, and then place the discs into pie pans to envelope the delicately sweet, juicy blackberries we’d spent hours picking. To this day, the smell of fresh blackberries instantly takes me back to those treks through the cool, shadowy woods, my sisters and I like a flock of baby ducks following their mama as we filed behind Granny, buckets in hand, in search of bushes loaded with the luscious wild berries. I recall helping clean up Granny’s small kitchen, wiping the dust of flour from the counter where we’d rolled the pastry, washing and drying dishes by hand, waiting for what seemed an eternity for those pies to bake, the berry juices bubbling through to the top of the crust as it turned golden, the painfully sluggish timer finally buzzing.
As a child, the reward for helping was being able to finally have a taste of that flaky, syrupy, fruity pie. As an adult, and especially as a mother, I realize that the reward was so much more than that. Learning and loving the craft of baking, the ability to share with friends and family and nourish them with something I’ve made, and the time and attention I got from my Granny while she taught me are the greatest gifts she could have given me. I only wish I’d realized it soon enough to thank her properly.
Today, I boost Keegan and Nyah each up onto a dining room chair on either side of me at the kitchen counter, and they help me bake. Keegan measures the flour, and Nyah pours it into the bowl. He is an expert egg cracker, at the tender age of 6, and has mastered doing this without slipping in even the tiniest bit of shell (most of the time).
I am so proud of them as I see their growth and the skills they are developing. I do this in honor of my Granny, in thanks for the time she took to teach me, the frustration she must have willfully harnessed at times. I do it in hopes of continuing a family tradition. I imagine her mother or grandmother teaching her as a child, wishing I knew more stories about what it was like to learn to bake as a little girl in 1930s British Columbia. I wish I’d asked when I had the chance.
Most importantly, though, I do it because it is one of my favorite ways to spend quality time with my kids. I hope that years from now, when they think of their childhoods, perhaps their most fond memories will be of standing on those chairs, measuring and pouring and bonding with their mommy, and being excited to finally taste what they have helped to create.
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