Norma Jeanne’s (Second) Story: Sweet Memories

We were having a conversation at Suppers about the reasons we eat that have nothing to do with resolving normal hunger. This is an emotionally charged question for me; it took me right back into the feelings and memories of baking with my grandmother.

The memories are vivid with smells, sounds, tastes, and textures. I have two older siblings with five years between us. Once my older brother and sister were in school, I spent a majority of my time with my mom and grandparents. My grandparents nicknamed me their “little helper.” I would walk across my yard to their house every day. If I wasn’t outside helping them in the yard, I was inside baking with Grandma. She made blueberry muffins, corn bread, cookies, and blueberry jam, to name a few. We picked all the blueberries by hand ourselves. Every July we would walk with buckets tied around our necks to the fields near where I grew up. We would do this daily for about a week, gathering up as many wild blueberries as possible.

Perhaps the most memorable baking event with my grandmother is the annual Christmas sugar cookies. All the ladies on my mother’s side of the family would gather together and make dozens upon dozens of sugar cookies. We still do it today! There is a special mixing bowl that is used; the only one large enough to hold all the batter. It’s actually large enough to hold two infants for a bath!

Lard (yes, lard), white flour, and sugar are the main ingredients. Here’s how we did it and how we still do it today. The batter is rolled out as thin as can be. Next, you select the cookie cutter you want; perhaps a candy cane or holly leaf or maybe a star. Then press the cookie cutter into the dough again and again and again until there is no more dough left. Carefully, the cookie dough shapes are transferred to a cookie tray and off to the oven to bake. This is repeated for three hours, all while holiday music is playing in the background! It’s amazing. Some of the cookies are sprinkled with festive colored sugar, greens and reds. The cookies cool off on the dining room table until they are packaged in decorative tins and delivered to family and friends. Tradition in its finest moments.

The holiday baking scene feeds me in so many ways. It provides sensory stimulation on so many levels: the smell of the cookies baking, the sweet taste of cookies, the feel of the cookie dough, the feel of the rolling pin in your hands, the challenge of rolling out the cookie dough to just the right thickness, the pinching of the colored sugar and carefully sprinkling it onto the cookie. It was and is a time for being together with the women in my family, telling stories and laughing.

As an adult, I prided myself on my ability for baking delicious pies, cakes, cookies, and crepes. The list goes on and on. And all the while I have credited my grandma for this passion for baking. Unfortunately, I never cultivated the same passion or love for cooking. The story I tell is that I never developed my savory side in the kitchen. It wouldn’t have mattered except that I have developed anxiety that’s bad enough to require treatment and I have reason to believe I’d be better off doing more cooking and less baking. I recently discovered my diet did not support my body’s needs to function at an optimal level. No mystery, I had a diet full of quick burning carbohydrates. It was time to learn how to cook. I was done with feeling fatigued and the myriad of other health issues that were arising.

In my quest to feel better, I found there were many things in my life over which I have limited control. I discovered the one thing in my life I could control was what I put into my body for fuel. So began my quest to learn how to cook nutritious meals that sustained me. I took a look at why I was so intimidated to follow recipes for savory dishes but would tackle any baking endeavor with gusto. Then it hit me... I learned to love working in the kitchen from my grandmother and that meant baking. How could I replicate that environment and take all that good energy and apply it to learning to prepare savory food? I searched for cooking lessons, nutritionists, and cooking classes, and that’s when I stumbled upon Suppers.

Suppers is the perfect environment for me: Hands on learning, cooking with other people, celebration of learning by trial and error, a safe place to gain confidence and become inspired while cooking with other women who want the same for themselves. There’s a conflict between the emotional nourishment of cooking with my grandmother and the health consequences I suffer from eating too many baked goods. I am challenged to reconcile the rich, sweet memories of my childhood with my health. I can’t think of a better goal for myself than taking the best part of those sweet memories – the women in the kitchen – and creating new memories, savory memories, for me and my children.