Cooking Heals
The Power of Food and Community

I remember being a young girl and wanting to be that lady who stayed home and baked pies from scratch all day! Sounds like a dream life to me.

I shared that story with my dear friend Barb. She loved to hear of my dreams and wishes. Some were real, and some were just funny. Nevertheless, Barb enjoyed conversation and was like a mom to me. She asked me to come over her house one Sunday afternoon. Of course I said yes, as I loved hanging out with her. Little did I know, she had the whole afternoon planned for us. When I arrived, she told me, “Surprise! I am teaching you how to make a pie from scratch today!” I remember thinking to myself…Best. Day. Ever!

Barb and I spent the day talking, laughing and baking. I still have the handwritten recipe she gave me to take home and practice making my own pies. It’s old, tattered and covered in flour. It’s a treasure.

There are lots of traditions with pies. In Minnesota, if someone does something nice for you, you bake them a pie. There is something about the smell of baked goods that brings a smile to anyone’s face. Whether it be baklava from Greece, pan dulce from Mexico, cannolis from Italy, crème brulee from France or good ol’ cupcakes from America.

In Sardinia, Italy, ladies gather around to bake bread together. From that comes conversation, connection and joy. It is a place where women can share stories, air grievances and laugh with each other. It is their tradition, and that is what they know. I suppose for them, baking bread is “just something to do.” Never mind that baking fresh bread daily is a delight. Never mind that it is hard work. Never mind that it is time-consuming. It’s all about the camaraderie.

I have taught several people how to make pies and will continue to do so. I have published recipes in cookbooks for a reason—to share my passion for baking, so others can do the same. Someone taught me, so I can teach others. Passing recipes down from person to person, from generation to generation, should not be a lost art. With the world being at the tip of our fingertips these days, let’s not forget Grandma’s recipe box with her special recipes for things like chocolate cake or soft ginger cookies. Who doesn’t love a good ol’ chocolate cake recipe!? Yes, I am speaking of my grandma’s recipe. This cake brought cousins, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and friends together for birthdays and holidays. She served slices on her special cake plates that we all cherished. We knew if we saw these plates on the table, we were all in for a treat. When she passed, I was gifted one of those plates, maybe as a symbol of remembrance of all the fun times those plates possessed. The memories of the many pieces of cake and homemade cookies that these plates held were priceless.

It’s been about two years now since my friend Barb left this earth. That is why on her birthday, I honored her by making a pie. I know she would have loved it. Along with making a person feel loved and special, she was caring. She cared enough to teach what she knew, knowing it was a wish of mine. Making pies gives me a sense of remembrance and pride.
If you embody the passion for cooking or baking, why not spread the joy? Bring on the cakes, bring on the crisps, bring on the scones! The neighbor who shoveled your driveway last winter deserves some fudge brownies. I heard that the kid who mowed your lawn this summer loves chocolate chip cookies.

You don’t necessarily need to have a reason to cook or bake. Some would say that it is therapeutic and relaxing. Not to mention appealing to your senses. Your eyes find baked goods to be artful and very pleasing. Your nose smells the goodness that you have created from your heart. (Pro-tip: Cook up a cut up apple with some spices on your stovetop prior to showing your house and let the potential buyers feel like they are walking into their cozy new home!) And your mouth will sing a happy tune when it tastes the first lemon bar of spring!

It is something that makes me feel good whether I cook or bake for a friend or family. Winter, spring, summer and fall are the best times to whip up a batch of something good.

I once heard a cook say that one of the best things their mom has ever said to them after supper was “Save your fork!” because they all knew that dessert was on its way.

About Author

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Julie is a food enthusiast, community cook for Taste of Home Magazine and former owner of You Betcha Cupcake. Follow her on Instagram @julieherreralemler Twitter @JulieLemler

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