As a wise poet once said: “Life is so uncertain, if worse should come to worst, save your vegetables for last and eat your cookies first.” Okay, I am stretching the truth here; I am the author of that couplet, and I am but a wiseass poet at best.
That said, I had the good fortune of growing up in an environment where the house was filled with the aromas of baking several days a week. Cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, biscuits, brownies, scones—and I am just scratching the surface here. My grandmother stayed with us throughout my formative years, and it seemed she lived to bake. She had a recipe book, but I don’t recall ever seeing her use it. She just knew what ingredients went in where, and when, and everything she touched turned to calories—delicious saturated fat calories. One could almost feel one’s arteries hardening with each successive bite.
We (my brother, sister and I) were not allowed to eat the cookie dough, and we had to wait until the finished cookies cooled down before we were permitted to sample the wares. Kids can be quite artful when it comes to stealing sweets, however, and often one of us would occupy our grandmother with a question or a tale from school, while the others would sneak a couple of handsful of cookies off the cooling tray, carefully arranging the remaining ones so the tray would appear unmolested. We would then repair to our bedrooms to divide the swag. As I was the eldest, my share was typically larger.
Nowadays I have a fancy-pants convection oven in Canada, and an even fancier one in Japan (complete with steam spray!) so I can bake to my heart’s content. I even have my grandmother’s old recipe book—a photocopy of it, actually. She was always quite generous when it came to sharing recipes, although my cookies and cakes don’t taste as good as I remember hers tasting. My guess is that she deliberately left out some vital ingredient when transcribing a recipe, so that anyone who dared attempt it would find the finished product wanting in some small way. Her biscuits and her pie crusts were legendary; my biscuits and pie crusts would be legendary as well (albeit quite differently), if I ever let anyone else try them. I follow her recipes to the letter, but my biscuits come out as tough as tennis balls, and my pie crust bears an uncanny resemblance to salted cardboard, both in texture and in taste.
My next project is to learn how to make squares. My cousin Vel MacKay makes the best squares I have ever eaten, and when I get back to Canada next summer, I plan to beg, cajole or even bribe her to teach me. Date squares, Nanaimo squares, Oh Henry squares, I want to learn them all. Then when I have folks come to stay with me in the summertime, I can truthfully promise them a roof over their head, a comfortable bed and three squares a day.