Baking solidifies family ties

Columnist Claudette Sandecki reminisces on a sweet pastime

When my granddaughters were preschoolers, their mom worked Sunday forenoons in a convenience store. Consequently, they often spent those hours with me. Their favourite activity was baking.

If I was making buns – our family’s Sunday ritual – the girls made buns. They learned to knead a ball of dough and roll it into buns, sometimes grubby from their wee hands despite washing up beforehand.

Nonetheless, Grandpa manfully ate up when the buns came out of the oven. If I baked pies, they baked pies right down to adding the filling, laying on a top crust, and punching holes with fork tines.

Grandpa made a cutting board and rolling pin for each.

On arrival in my kitchen they stood on a chair at the sink and washed their hands before I tied on a bib apron. At first they sat on their knees at the kitchen table.

Later they graduated to a steno chair set at maximum height. To maintain peace I bought a second chair. Then I had to arbitrate who got the blue chair, and who got the black one.

If the recipe required a knife, first choice was the red handled paring knife. That left the black handled knife for the loser.

Arguments were settled the same way as who would ride next to the truck window: by taking turns. My job was remembering who got the red knife or window seat the week before.

I gave each a portion of bread dough or pie crust, not measured to the ounce but as close as I could eyeball, one cereal bowl with flour, another with sugar (white or brown, according to the recipe and their preference), and free access to the can of cinnamon.

Preparing apples for pie or a bread topping they learned to peel, slice, and dice. I insisted they grip the knife up close for control. The girls listened and followed instructions so well not once did they ever nick their tiny hands. Still, Mom’s first sight of her four-year-old dicing apple slices with a sharp knife almost turned her stomach.

They progressed to measuring ingredients, screening out cocoa lumps, and introducing ingredients in correct order, as well as handling the electric mixer without splattering walls.

They adapted to gripping a spatula, filling cupcake cups, and later a whole 8 x 14 inch baking pan.

I divided each recipe in half so each could deal with her entire share by herself, even to assigning one half of the baking pan to each one’s batter.

Usually the dividing line was understood; sometimes they marked it with a furrow, or a row of walnuts or sprinkles.

Along the way I cautioned them about whooshing cocoa or flour into their eyes; let them sample vanilla and cocoa to learn neither was tasty; and coached them through the math of halving recipes so each had her own copy.

Before they reached Home Economics classes they were quite adept in the kitchen.

One liked to experiment with brownie recipes and different canned pie fillings.

Today I look forward to her baking. She could easily guide me, and just in time.

Last week I baked her brownie recipe with singular results. I whooshed cocoa in my face and had to vacuum under the front of the cabinet.

I mixed the ingredients in the wrong order, forgetting to add vanilla until I was about to pour batter into the pan, even though the recipe clearly noted sugar, shortening, eggs and vanilla were to be beaten together.

Today I’m benefitting from having taught them well as we shared each other’s company.

Claudette Sandecki always has something baking in her Thornhill, B.C. home.

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