The beginning of baking season
Oct. 1, 2012
by Ivan Raconteur

The nights are cooling off, and during the day, the angle of the sun is getting lower. V-shaped flocks of birds have been passing overhead on their southward journey, and the leaves have changed from summer green to the orange, red, and brown array of autumn.

It is the beginning of baking season.

Many people bake year-round, but I am not among them.

I eat year-round, that is true, but during the summer months I don’t have much enthusiasm for turning on the oven for any reason.

My interest in baking begins to wane about the time I am able to shake off the shackles of coats and gloves at winter’s end, and by the time spring has sprung, it has evaporated completely.

Occasionally, I pick up baked goods at the store, but they are never quite the same as the real thing.

I confess that I have consumed my share – perhaps more than my share – of store-bought cookies over the years. They are OK, I guess, but they are not in the same league as real cookies baked in small batches by someone who cares.

I love baking. It is a love that my siblings and I inherited from our mother.

She baked at all hours of the day and night, and there were apparently no limits to the things she could create.

Breads, buns, cookies, pies, and desserts of every description emerged from her oven.

Her kitchen was frequently filled with mysterious bowls, bins, and pans draped with dish towels. Peeling back a corner of a towel would reveal some sort of dough rising.

The yeasty aroma served as a harbinger of good things to come.

Baked goods were a normal part of existence when my siblings and I were growing up.

It was a revelation to me when I started school and learned that what passed as bread for most of my friends consisted of uniform slices of a bleached substance that resembled a synthetic kitchen sponge.

Ma made all of the bread in our house from scratch, and what it lacked in uniformity, it made up in richness and flavor.

It was a special treat to eat bread fresh out of the oven while it was hot enough to melt butter – real butter, not some blend of oils and chemicals that people use in place of butter today.

Ma baked and decorated wedding cakes and all sorts of fancy items, along with the daily staples.

During the holiday season, she measured her output in the hundreds of dozens of cookies she baked in countless varieties.

I am not that much of a fanatic, nor do I possess my mother’s skill, but I do OK, albeit on a much smaller scale.

There is nothing like the smell of homemade goodies baking in the oven.

Baking is one of those activities in which the result is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

For example, one can turn on the oven and bake a pizza from the freezer section, and one may have dinner.

But, if one combines eggs, flour, sugar, butter, and a few other fresh ingredients and bakes some cookies or other treats, the resulting aroma can make even the postage stamp-sized galley kitchen at the bachelor pad smell like home.

It takes more than the heat of the oven to create that kind of cozy ambiance.

That is why baking is such an important part of the season.

As the weather begins to turn colder, and we are driven indoors for the winter, baking can make our homes more appealing, and can help drive out the cold and dark of the impending winter.

Whipping up a batch of cookies while watching a football game is an autumn tradition for some of us. Even if our team loses, there will be something warm and delicious waiting for us after the final whistle blows.

For those of us who find ourselves a long way from home, baking can provide a connection to our past, and to our families, scattered though they may be.

We may rebel against the coming cold, and against the darkness drawing in as we drive to work and back home again, but we rejoice in the beginning of baking season.

We rejoice not just because of the products of our labor. We rejoice because combining a few simple ingredients in the warmth of an oven creates a kind of magic that goes beyond chemistry and creates something special that is both old and new, and can transport us to a different place and time.

Sometimes, if we are lucky, a friend might share their baked goods with us.

I had the good fortune to be the recipient of such good fortune on a recent weekday morning. A pal brought me some homemade cookies, and in so doing, elevated my morning coffee, which I always enjoy, to a spiritual experience.

One doesn’t get magic like that from store-bought baked goods.

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