Sunday, December 15, 2013

Baking, A Lost Art?

Above: Three generations of Italian bakers (left to right: me, my mother Marietta, and my Grandma Josie)

How clearly I remember my Italian grandmother Josie coming for the Christmas holidays.  This was a time that not only my mother and I enjoyed, but I know my grandmother did as well.  Grandma Josie always traveled to our house with her wooden rolling pin and wooden cutting board, which she used to roll out all her dough, whether it was pasta or cookie dough.  These were no ordinary wooden kitchen utensils in my grandmother's eyes but coveted heirlooms, in which its patina showed its tender loving care.  My grandmother, the oldest of nine children, was a master at making and rolling dough. They had a lot of mouths to feed.  
Far left: My Grandma Josie, her sisters, sisters-in-law, and their children.  Rear center: My Great Grandmother Christina.
My mother, on the other hand, was the youngest of just two and the only female who continued the tradition. Not surprising as my grandmother helped raise eight. My mother made all the old Italian cookies from scratch.  I remember well, my mother reminding us each year that it was "three generations" of woman standing together and baking.  With that said, I paid close attention to the detail and took notes, writing every recipe down, including all of grandma's tips and tricks.  I also had my grandmother write down all of her recipes in her own handwriting, as I one day would put together a family heirloom recipe book. I actually accomplished this years ago.  Sadly, grandma passed away and without regret, I have all her family recipes and private baking classes stored forever in the memory bank of my heart.

It's kind of funny that in my late twenties, I began my own boutique baking business.  A far cry from Italian cookies, my specialty was decorative sugar cookies. I catered many weddings, baby and bridal showers, and birthday parties.  I probably owe my passion to my grandmother's love of baking.  I worked the kitchen and my own modern tools like a champion.  I rolled dough and iced cookies until I finally developed carpel tunnel syndrome and threw in the rolling pin.  I can attribute baking to the "creative beginning" chapter of my life.

Today, with the internet, Facebook, Dr. Oz, and other social media, baking has sadly taken a backseat in my home.  With a diagnosis of a gluten intolerance and a focus on good nutrition, I have steered away from the days of baking.  My stomach feels sick at the thought of skipping centuries of this beautiful tradition.  I may bake some chocolate chip cookies in moderation but generally you will find me giving the cookies away rather than eating them. 

My son David and I baking chocolate dipped, chocolate chip cookies.

Has baking becoming a lost art?  I think for many, yes.  No matter what function I go to, the desserts are snubbed and the salads are prized.  I myself am guilty.  I can find comfort in one thing; The Family Heirloom Recipe Book is a treasure trove for future generations.  With that said, in our house, it's not necessarily a lost art, just one that will need a new board and rolling pin sometime in the future. 


My mother and my son JP processing the dough, with my Family Heirloom Recipe Book open on the counter.

Here's to Grandma Josie!

Jamie Gottschall
The NYClifestylist

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