Mixing food and feminism

Baking makes a student ponder the role of women in her family and life.

I’ve recently learned a lot from my grandmother—my mother’s mother—about spreading love through food.

I thought about this the last time I stress-baked, a habit I’ve formed since moving to an apartment with an oven and dealing with usual college woes. Making something with my hands, carefully measuring and stirring and peeling satisfied my sweet tooth and my soul.

My grandma—Gma, as she signs her cards—puts a different emphasis on a pie than I do. Mrs. Judy Jacobs found her identity in her status as a wife, mother and community member in a little town in south central Pennsylvania. To her, apple pies are a simple expression of affection for her family.

She was at her best when there was plenty of food and family in the same room. While I appreciated that, I saw something different for myself.

A few weeks ago, I left work and headed to the grocery store to buy the usual week’s necessities, but instead walked out with all the makings for an apple pie. I thought about the week ahead while I peeled six apples, slicing them thin and drowning them in cinnamon, sugar and flour. The smell reminded me of my hometown’s orchards.

I pressed the dough together around the edges of the tin, pouring a mixture of butter, milk and sugar on the top of the dough to brown it like I’ve seen my mom and her mom do many times before.

The first time I made an apple pie by myself, it was out of tradition—leaves were turning color and my fall birthday was approaching. I followed my grandmother’s recipe, using tart apples and plenty of sugar—a combination that would make for a perfect pie, she told me. I was surprised how much I liked making it—disappointed, even.

I was a strong, independent woman, I told myself, who should not get this much satisfaction out of mixing together some ingredients. I should be a well-informed citizen and know how to protect my human rights and care about national politics. I don’t need to know how to make a perfect pie.

The next time it rained, though, I decided chocolate chip cookies would turn the day around. A few hours and many cups of flour and chocolate chips later, my roommates returned to our apartment, wet but happy.

“Thanks, Mom,” one of them joked.

I remember feeling too young to be turning into my mother so soon.

As the semester wore on and classes and work became more stressful, my mom gave me more and more recipes, stemming away from just sweets and crossing into new territories like homemade lasagna and chicken parmesan. I used the time I was busy with my hands to sort through the thoughts in my head.

Sharing the food with my roommates and friends became something I looked forward to, as did making food together. We were sharing more than just meals, I eventually realized. We got to watch each other become the people we were meant to be over dinners, brunches and many, many trays of sugar cookies.

I didn’t lose any part of the strong woman I was becoming by learning to cook and enjoying it. My habit helped me define myself, a practice I realized I had the liberty to do moreso than pie-baking women of the past.

Taking the pie out of the oven a few weeks ago didn’t make the stress of the week go away, but it did make it seem a little more manageable. If I could make a pie that rivaled a Martha Stewart confection, I could tackle whatever assignments my new internship and the classes ahead might throw at me.

I sent a picture of it to my mom later that evening, telling her that I had used her and grandma’s trick to make it look nice. She told me she was proud of me for that and for the year ahead of me. I realized I was proud and lucky, too, to have become like her.

My grandmother was right—it was the perfect mixture of tart and sweet.

Paige Gross can be reached at paige.gross1@temple.edu or on Twitter @By_paigegross.

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