Jewels: If you’re lucky, you have memories of baking with a family member that will warm your soul for a lifetime. As a child for me, it was my Auntie Vera. She made this time of year magical! It was a tradition I lovingly passed onto my own daughter. For Personal Chef Approach member, Rachel Cree Lowe it was her grandmother Cree who made an indelible impression on her granddaughter, only this time a true cake artist was born!
Tatjana and Julie Anne Rhodes, baking throughout generations of fond memories
Rachel: In a yellow brick farmhouse in Ontario, Canada was the most wonderful kitchen in the world. The main room was large with a tall set of drawers for linens, a large table in the middle and a jet black wood burning stove on one wall. There was a little room off one side of the stove to wash dishes in and another little room on the other side for prepping. In the early 70s, there would be a plump lady with white hair tied in a loose bun and eyes the exact shade of ripe blueberries sitting in her chair by the window.
She encouraged me to take part in the meal preparations and many times I’d be found with an apron tied just under my arms, standing on a chair at the kitchen table mashing potatoes in a pot with her electric hand mixer or stirring gravy – telling anyone walking by that it was important not to have lumps. However, my favourite place to be was in the prep room or pantry (as she called it) behind a huge earthenware bowl pouring in all kinds of ingredients for my ‘cakes’.
Everything would go in…. flour, sugar, anything I took a fancy to on the shelves. Then she would pour it into a baking pan and put it in the wood stove. She would request a piece of her mother’s china for this ‘cake’ to be served in because she believed you ate with your eyes before your mouth so presentation was important. She always ‘tried it’ and would rave over the taste and texture making me feel like I was finest baker in the world. To her, food had to be taste good, be fresh and look like a piece of art. She passed when I was 5 but her lessons and encouraging words have stayed with me and there are times I feel that if I listened a bit harder, I could hear her emphasizing her belief that we eat with out eyes. To her, everything was colour and possibility.
When my father died, I went off the rails for a while. I would do anything it took to just feel numb. At some point, an older lady I worked with gave me a book called “Talking to Heaven” by James Van Praagh and suggested taking some kind of art class. It became my anchor. This was before the cake shows appeared on the scene but cake decorating looked interesting.
The instructor made it look effortless. She taught us the old school methods but having an art background, it was all I needed. Practicing new methods, taking more classes in fondant, more practice at home… it was as soothing as painting had always been for me.
In high school, I once worked on a painting for senior art class all night to ease the pain of a break up with the person I was sure was the love of my life. Working on a cake started to be as comforting as painting had always been. The fondant and gumpaste are my clay, I can paint on the cakes and create outside the cake box.
Now, as a mother of two little girls who have creativity glittering from their souls, I am able to share this with them. They are with me when I’m working and take part just as I took part in my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s so important to show our sons and daughters how to create… how to make things people will eat with their eyes before their mouths and to find a way to release stress by soothing the soul No ingredients are ever really wasted because they are creating, learning and doing it for themselves and becoming their own version of Jackson Pollock.
Jewels: Thank you for sharing your grandmother and the origins of your baking history, Rachel! For those that were not lucky enough to have a family member in the kitchen with them growing up – you can have Rachel, me and a whole community of supportive members at your fingertips when you sign-up for premium membership. Our cyber living room (forum) means you are never really alone in the kitchen.