The Writing Quarter July 2021 Competition WinnerPosted 3 months ago under Uncategorised,
Sarah Wielgosz is a writer and graphic designer who resides in Sydney, Australia. She writes stories to unwind after pushing pixels all day, and is currently working on the first book in a planned fantasy trilogy. Sarah also enjoys baking, cross-stitching, and nature walks accompanied by instrumental soundtracks.
Something of a Tradition
Surging from my glass measuring jug, the dark stream of honey melts and mingles with the liquid gold of butter bubbling in my small saucepan. I stir the now-fragrant concoction, closing my eyes and inhaling the salty-sweet scent that perfumes the confines of my tiny kitchen, and for a moment I’m somewhere else—a small girl at the heels of her grandmother, following the old woman’s slipper tracks on a flour-dusted floor.
I set the saucepan aside and switch off the hotplate before checking my laptop for the correct oven temperature. I found this recipe on a blog — one of those blogs where the writer gives a poignant retelling of how they used to help their parents make this cake on dreary winter afternoons. How they would carefully pour the flaked almonds into the honey-and-butter mixture, then lick the last sweet remnants off the wooden spoon until it was spotless, laughter bubbling up all around the cosy kitchen.
I scroll past. Can’t relate.
When I say things like this out loud, people look at me with pity—like if my life were a movie, there would be a sudden flashback scene where the honeyed hues of my warm kitchen are swapped for a dismal grey orphanage, the camera zooming in on a forlorn child in rags sitting in a corner eating gruel out of a chipped bowl.
But it wasn’t like that at all.
Pouring half a cup of caster sugar into a clean measuring jug, I allow myself a brief reflection on my childhood. It was about happy as any, I suppose—just devoid of the sickly-sweet Hallmark moments in the kitchen I sometimes read about in cooking blogs and, occasionally, feel a bizarre longing for.
I’ve often been asked why I don’t run some sort of recipe blog, considering I love to bake—but the question is, what would I write about? A cooking blog needs more than just a play-by-play of how I’m currently beating the butter and caster sugar with an old wooden spoon and sheer willpower because Brenda, my neighbour, still has my electric mixer even though I lent it to her over a week ago. Each recipe needs a story—a memory. Preferably a treasured one from long ago. And unless I start a blog rating the quality of every cheap frozen meal on the market, and regale my readers with stories of squatting in front of the oven door and pressing my pudgy little hands up against the glass while waiting for the chicken pie my parents bought from the supermarket to heat up, I have little to write about in the way of treasured childhood memories around cooking.
Unless I make something up, like a story about being a small girl at the heels of her grandmother following the old woman’s slipper tracks on the flour-dusted floor.
As the flour I’m sifting falls like a skiff of snow onto the peak of my butter-and-sugar mountain, I wonder what it takes to make a memory worth writing about. All the stories I’ve read on these blogs seem to be about the writer watching their parents bake, or baking with their own children. In short, they’re all about family. There seems to be no place for people like me — grown-ups who revel in the delight of being able bake an entire cake whenever fancy strikes.
If I can make a cake from scratch, I decide, perhaps I can make a memory from scratch too. Once I’ve folded the snow-white flour into the mixture, I set my wooden spoon aside and dash over to my laptop to hit shuffle on my favourite playlist.
A memory of helping one’s four-year-old ice chocolate cupcakes for the first time sounds lovely, but scooping creamy cake batter into a springform pan while Eric Carmen’s All By Myself blasts through my laptop’s tinny speakers is just as good.
Admittedly, I could have picked a better song. But I can work with this.
I twirl in the middle of my kitchen, apron strings flying, then pour the mixture of melted butter, honey and flaked almonds on top of the batter in the pan. The scent wafts heavenward; I close my eyes and permit myself a smile of sheer childlike joy before sliding it into the oven.
Returning to my laptop, I hastily minimise the music player and consult the blog for the cooking time:
Bake for 45 minutes; let cool for 10 minutes before dusting with icing sugar, and serve warm. Author’s note: this delicious cake is best enjoyed surrounded by family.
Well, not only do I get to enjoy this cake on my own, I get to freeze the rest of it so I can enjoy it for longer, too.
The song fades out, and I hear a knock at the door in the silence between tracks. “Who could that be?” I wonder as I go to answer it.
It’s Brenda. She’s wrapped in a hot pink puffy coat that stands out like a neon light against the bleak backdrop of grey sky and bare branches. She holds up my electric mixer, freshly-washed and gleaming. “Hello. Just thought I’d drop by and return this.”
“Oh—thank you,” I respond, taken aback. Brenda never drops by unless she wants to borrow something from me. “You really didn’t need to come by in this cold.”
Brenda shrugs and smiles, dimpled cheeks as pink as her coat. “I don’t mind. Besides, I heard you singing alone and thought you could use the company.”
Yikes. I was singing?
Brenda sniffs the air appreciatively. “Are you baking?”
I nod. “Honey almond cake. It’s… something of a winter tradition for me.” I pause. “Want to come in for a coffee? The cake will be ready in a little while.”
“I’d love to!” Brenda says, beaming. In inviting her in, I’ve unleashed one of her trademark torrents of chatter. “A tradition, huh? That sounds something you’d read in one of those cooking blogs! Oh, I love culinary traditions—you must have some fond memories around it, I’m sure! How many years have you been making it?”
I hesitate. “One.”
Traditions have to start somewhere, right?