The whole family is glad you weren’t there – and they wish I hadn’t been, either!
After claiming I did well in all school subjects but geography, in the post “A Texas Teenager on the Way to (Some Say) God’s Country,” I had to re-cant the “all but” claim with “My World Record – Wrong Right.” Then my memory expanded, and now includes one more, hopefully the last, memoiry of coursework inadequacy.
Again, this was not a graded course affecting my overall average. In fact, it wasn’t a school course at all. It was, however, a required course – Mom’s “BAKING 001” class.
A Home Economics major and former teacher, Mom prepared her baker’s dozen offspring for the real world by conducting individualized lessons in domestic skills. Her percentage was super commendable – twelve out of thirteen successes.
I was her “exceptional” student. Not for lack of innate skills or concentration, but rather the kind of tendencies that would lead me (thinking I was the only one so devious) to raid the freezer for the frozen donuts, as cataloged in the “Bakers’ Dozens” post.
Baking days were always occasions of drooling anticipation, and sometimes associated chagrin. Most of the days were for birthday celebrations, but many were for school bake sales – meaning our enjoyment would be fractional. Reacting to our complaints, Mom acquired a new nickname, “Triple the Recipe.”
Baking days also provided an opportunity for us to practice one of our favorite and most competitive sibling rivalry events, “licking the batter.” Mom civilized the event by often using the privilege as a reward for good behavior, or maybe a bribe. That was more orderly than having a dozen of more hands contending for the bowl and mixer blade.
Now, to the crust of the matter. Since it was my baking lesson, and the electric mixer was in the small pantry next to the kitchen, and I could block the view by standing close to the mixer, I figured it was my right to have first cut at the delicacy. Unfortunately, sensing advantage in the additional protection offered by the noise of the mixer, I started while the mixer was still preparing the batter. And I did take the first cut.
If there was an extra ingredient added to the mix, it was entirely unintentional. But the blade objected to the presence of my mixing hand. I don’t remember any bleeding, but three fingers emerged from their expedition scraped and abrased on both sides, deep pink interiors where skin should have been.
Just like in my first driving test, the instructor interrupted the lesson on the spot. Someone took me to the emergency room. No permanent damage, just three bandaged fingers and a few days’ worth of pain. Someone was kind enough to finish the mixing and bake the cake, so when I returned to the scene, the work was done. The two layers topped out at a combined one inch tall, and the intended sweet icing was replaced by quickly stirred instant chocolate pudding. Siblings caustically dubbed it the “finger cake.” No one asked for seconds. And no one licked the batter.
Fast forward about forty or fifty years, and from two thousand miles distant, Mom convinces me her pecan pie recipe is easy, and even I can handle it. Commercial variations of pecan pie leave much to be desired, so I took this challenge, and the results were positive, so much so that people at social gatherings tried it, and some even requested it. I noticed that many “boomers” were reluctant to eat an entire slice of the sweetness, so I adapted the recipe to create pie-lets, baked in cupcake tins. I have yet to perfect the adjusted crust consistency and baking time, so usually half the batch is not presentable to the public, but they still work for my palate.
Afterwards, another childhood treat kept coming into my consciousness, unfortunately, soon after my children would ask what I wanted for my birthday or Christmas. After responding nothing in particular, and after they had chosen something in particular, I remembered what I yearned for was Mom’s oatmeal cookies. One day I stumbled onto the recipe while looking for the family’s cinnamon bun recipe (no chance I’ll ever get there!), and discovered the oatmeal cookie recipe. Continuing to venture boldly into adventures I had avoided lo these many years, I added a second specialty to my repertoire. No matter if I remove them too early or too late – my palate can handle those also – and I get to lick the batter!
If you google “finger cake,” you’ll find pictures of some ghastly, un-appetizing-appearing concoctions that probably taste okay. You will not find the original recipe. It was never published.
That first baking lesson may have been the only time Mom did not encourage her children with the “If at first you don’t succeed…” mantra. I was never given a makeup class. She knew which goals were worth pursuing.