Baking as Love: What My Grandmother Taught Me

Be prepared. Someone might need sugar.

Cake tins I own: 9

Pieces of pound cake my grandmother sent home that caught me a husband: 2

Dessert options, on average, that my grandmother had in stock when we visited: 14

The kids were off school yesterday, and I took them to visit my grandparents. The house, with a few updates and changes, is the same one I visited with my mother. The windchimes are the same, and she keeps the candy bars in the same corner cabinet. One slight change: lots of desserts, but now they are Entenmann’s and Oreos, Keebler and Chips Ahoy, instead of her famous poundcake or freshly picked blackberries in a pie straight from the oven.

When my grandmother was a child, she said one of the desserts they had regularly was biscuits with Karo syrup. I don’t know if this was the reason she went on to surround herself with desserts, but it always made the visits to her house that much sweeter.

My mom was a terrific baker, trying out new recipes and adding orange flavoring and orange juice to pound cake just for a new twist. But she didn’t believe in dessert on a regular basis, which is probably why my sister and I grew up not having to worry about our weight incessantly.

But dessert at my grandmother’s house was a given. I would walk in and scan the countertops for the various options: pound cake with chocolate frosting, peaches with copious amounts of sugar and fresh whipped cream, strawberry shortcake and blueberry pie. There was always ice cream, plenty of flavors.

Not only did we get dessert after dinner… we also got Bedtime Snack. She would spread a blanket on the kitchen floor, and my sister and I would come in with pajamas on. We could choose whatever we liked, and there weren’t many limits. Sometimes she would even suggest an add-on, “Would you like a little ice cream with that? I’m gonna have some,” she would say, and lean up against the counter with a small bowl of Heavenly Hash or Cookies’n’Cream. It was a kid’s version of heaven.

“Always have food ready in case you have visitors,” she would tell me. “What if someone stops by? They’ll tell you they’re not hungry, but they probably are.”

That was her life philosophy: people don’t think they are hungry, but they probably are. And they probably will feel a little happier with a freshly baked treat.

I knew, even at a young age, that my grandmother looked forward to our visits, that she planned out the desserts in advance, that she stood, passing by the kitchen window, mixing butter and sugar and flour and vanilla in her trusty mixer, anticipating our smiles when we shoveled the results into our excited mouths.

Today, when I think about visiting, I know there is no gift I can give her. She is well taken care of and content in her space.

But I anticipated our upcoming visit and pulled out some butter and sugar, vanilla and a couple of heaping cups of chocolate chips. I did want to show up with one thing when we stopped by for lunch: a Ziploc bag full of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Just thinking about her eating them makes me smile.