I’ve been married to my husband for 34 years. I love to cook and bake and feed people. I come from Pennsylvania Dutch farmers and they were always used to feeding hordes of people. Large family dinners with 20 some people gathered around my Grandmother’s dining room table was typical. Most people could probably tell you stories about how their grandmothers cooked without using a recipe and that would be my story as well. I remember sitting around her kitchen table watching her make sugar cookies. She would roll out the dough and let me cut the circles with her metal cookie cutter. She made them every week. My Pop-pop would eat them for breakfast with a cup of tea. She never measured anything and yet they tasted the same every time……soft and delicious and wonderful!!
My Mother is a good cook too, although different from my Grandmother. She doesn’t cook much anymore, but she always has a way of making food taste good. Sometimes she used a recipe and sometimes not, but you could always count on a hot meal, full of flavor. We always had a big Sunday dinner after church and even though she was tired after working full-time, she would still cook for us almost every night of the week after she came home from work.
Good, tasty food has always been an important part of my life. I like to cook in such a way that people don’t feel the need to season their food when they sit down at my table. I probably use too much salt and way too much butter but that’s how the farmers cooked, of course they worked it off with all the hard farm work that they did. My salt and butter has accumulated in certain areas, just waiting to be worked off.
So I watched and learned for years before I ever started to cook. I never had much of a desire to cook before I was married but that didn’t mean I wasn’t watching and learning. I made more than a few phone calls home, after I left, to find out how to do a certain thing or ask for a certain recipe, and believe me, there were more than a few mistakes. Like the time I made a pineapple upside down cake and forgot to put the pineapple in. As a new bride, I tried stuffing the pineapple down through the batter. I have no idea why I didn’t just pour the batter out and start over, so don’t even ask. But now, after 34 years of cooking, I thought I knew all I needed to know (or at least enough to get by), that is, until I started baking cakes for other people’s’ celebrations. You start getting a whole lot more discerning with your baking when you know that someone else is going to be serving it.
For instance, did you know that the more you beat a cake after you add the flour, the dryer it is after it’s baked. I didn’t know that. It has to do with the chemistry of baking cakes. It’s okay to beat the daylights out of the batter while it’s just eggs and shortening or butter, but after you put the flour in, you mix it only enough to mix the flour into the batter.
Now I feel really stupid. Maybe you already knew that. If you didn’t, then I’m glad if I was able to help you learn something new.
I’ve also learned how to gauge my batter according to the amount of people who I need to serve. I never realized that there was a mathematics about gauging batter. I’m not going to explain all that, just suffice it to say that if you ever had any kind of question about cakes, just visit the Wilton website. If you can’t find your question answered there, then you won’t find it anywhere.
I’m still learning. I watch a lot of videos online. I read a lot of articles. I watch cake shows whenever I can. Before I got involved with fondant and gumpaste, I would watch Ace of Cakes and my mouth would drop open in amazement. Now, Megan and I sit there analyzing everything that they do, oooohhhhing and ahhhhhhing, saying things like, “Ohhhhh, that’s how they do that.” It all makes sense to me now.
I’m desperate to keep learning all that I can. I have a lot to conquer yet and I hope that you will all be patient with us as we keep growing and learning. I want to encourage anyone out there that is interested in baking cakes and doing fondant, to not be afraid to try it. I also don’t ever want to turn anyone away who has questions for us. After all, if it weren’t for some close family friends teaching us how to do fondant, we might never have learned at all. We realize that we have taken it further than most people ever will but that’s just the way it worked out for us, or maybe it’s just the obsessive/compulsive/perfectionists-in-us-that-won’t-give-up-until-we’ve-conquered-the-thing.
Anyway, let me just be an encouragement to you again….don’t be afraid to try something new, and, most importantly, don’t give up on your dreams. I graduated from college at 53, of course, I don’t know if that was not giving up on my dream or just too darn stubborn to quit.
Our family motto has always been, “You don’t get anything, if you don’t go after it.” That may sound a little aggressive but it simply means….don’t just sit there….if you want something, you have to work for it. I guess it translates to pretty much anything in life…..including fondant.