Have you ever taken a bite of something that brought tears to your eyes?
I tried to revive my baking flow for Thanksgiving this year. Growing up, I would sometimes hang out in the kitchen with my mom as she baked and decorated cakes as a hobby. She would bake and I would help (lick the bowl and talk…lol). She told me how she would help her mother in the kitchen when she was younger, which is where she learned the basics. My grandmother was a very simple woman. No fancy cakes for her. I used to love her biscuits, not because they were amazing (they weren’t). I loved them because they were uniquely hers. She tried to teach me how to make them. I never mastered the technique but I always enjoyed our sessions together!
There was a cake she used to bake that she referred to as “scare bread”. I’m not sure of its spelling but that’s how it was pronounced. It seemed to be comprised of simple ingredients topped with a homemade chocolate icing. It was coarse in texture, a bit crumbly with a hint of vanilla in the batter. She baked it in an old loaf pan that looked as if it had seen the passing of several wars. After it had cooled, she would wrap it in waxed paper and store it in a well-loved metal container on the counter. Like her biscuits, which were deliciously crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, I feel like this was a dessert that was made to last a journey. I used to lovingly joke that my grandmother’s biscuits could have sustained someone on a trip to the North via the Underground Railroad. Melt in your mouth they did not but they may have helped someone follow that Drinking Gourd.
When I would visit her in my teens and early twenties, I’d always ask if she had any scare bread. We would nibble on it while drinking coffee or milk and talking about life. She always talked about enjoying peace and quiet, which I’m sure was a luxury to her after she and my grandfather raised six children. Sometimes we would sit quietly and eat, enjoying each other’s company with hugs in between nibbles.
I never learned how to make scare bread. The memory of seeing my grandmother bake it has long disappeared. It’s been at least ten years since I experienced my last bite of it. Had I realized then that it would be my last, I would have savored it. With the various traveling I’ve done over the last 17 years, you would think I’d come across something that would resemble it. Well I did. It happened in a place I least expected.
This Thanksgiving I vowed to step up my baking game, secretly desiring to someday be that “auntie” whose specialty baked item is sought out for holiday gatherings. With no siblings and me not being close to extended family on either side, I have no clue where this desire was birthed. Perhaps I just wanted to give something sweet since I’m usually on the receiving end. I set out to bake one cake which turned into three different cakes. Two of the three were successes, the third a lemon pound cake that wasn’t as moist as I hoped. It was too firm and looked too coarse. It looked like it had the texture of corn bread. I wrapped it up and kept it moving, rejoicing in my successes.
Not wanting the sweetness of the other two cakes this morning, I opted for the lemon pound cake. Someone had to eat it. I wasn’t going to let that hand-beaten batter with freshly squeezed lemon juice go to waste. I heated the mini-loaf in the microwave and sat down to read. When I took the first bite, the texture catapulted me to another time and place. All of a sudden I could hear my grandmother’s deep chuckle, smell the Ivory soap she bathed in, and see the kitchen we sat in so many afternoons during our visits. Imagine my surprise when with a few bites I realized that whatever I did wrong with that recipe had actually been something right. It caused a bevy of loving memories to resurface. I don’t think I could have rediscovered scare bread any other way. I’m so grateful for whatever mistake I made in the kitchen during those wee hours of Thursday morning.
I’m not sure if I’ll be able to perfectly duplicate those errors but I’ll never forget the experience.
What foods hold good memories for you?