Hug the mixing bowl. Yes, really hug it. If you don’t, it will fly across the kitchen. Actually, with liquid batter, the mixer works just fine, most of the time. But with dough, the bowl goes flying off the base, ingredients with it. If you hug the bowl while it mixes, it will stay on the base. So, I keep hugging the bowl.
Because it was Grandma’s. And when I bake with the KitchenAid 4C that is as old as I am, Grandma is in the kitchen with me. She is telling me to use the best of ingredients. She is baking alongside my three children, at least one of whom is already taller than her. All of this is a neat trick, since Grandma died 22 years ago.
Grandma Ruth lovingly baked with that KitchenAid 4C for decades. Brownies. Apple pie. Blintzes. Her signature dishes. Everyone knew Grandma Ruth’s brownies. She sent them to camp each summer, individually wrapped by Grandpa Morris who then made the box a “brown paper package tied up with string” meticulously addressed with his early 20th-century-trained penmanship. My bunkmates delighted in those brownies – in the years before prohibitions on food in camp care packages. Our friend Bob delighted when a delivery came his way! As for her other dishes… The cousins savored the pie on Thanksgiving. Mom and I relished the special nights when we would unwrap the perfectly rolled blintzes from the layers (and layers) of wax paper and delight in dipping them in sour cream.
When Grandma baked nothing faux was involved. Sugar, butter and those special pecans that arrived in season each year for her brownies. Her legendary apple pie with the perfect crust is said to have been made with 6 pounds of apples. (Grandpa loved telling about her very first apple pie; they needed an ice pick to cut it!) She was a snob and her baking reflected it.
Grandma Ruth’s baking — and cooking and feeding people — was about mission. This was her religious identity — though she would never ever have identified it as such. That wasn’t who she was. She’d go to synagogue because her son the rabbi was on the pulpit. She’d sit at a Passover seder because we were all there. She loved nothing more than being there, but she did not engage with the officially religious stuff of it.
After she died I realized that while Grandma did not seem to have a religious connection, she really did have a spiritual purpose. Feeding the people she loved! Before Rosh Hashanah Grandma and Grandpa stepped off the Erie Lackawanna train with a bowl of chopped liver (pure liver!) in hand. Each time she visited our house she’d say “Shhh…don’t tell your father” as she sneaked a roast beef or lamb chops into the freezer. And when her brother Harold was homebound with Parkinson’s, Grandma, in her 80’s herself, would travel downtown from the Bronx and across to the Upper East Side to bring him a roast beef.
Grandma died when I was still in grad school. The mixer traveled from the tiny kitchen in her elegant apartment behind Yankee Stadium to my home in Chicago. I began baking with a passion when I moved far from family. Feeding others and surrounding my table with friends for holidays allowed me to bring comfort and familiarity to my home when I lived far from home. Mom and Grandma’s recipes became my staples.
Today my children are proud that their teachers eagerly scan their mailboxes for our baked presents. The eldest, named for Ruth, has been known to bake in the early morning hours on her own. All three know that the mixer was Grandma Ruth’s, and the large rolling pin, too. And all three have seen Ruth’s sprawling penmanship on the blintz recipe when we pull it out each spring before Shavuot. They understand that home-baked sweets are the only dessert for holidays and the best hostess gift, and that mixes are unacceptable. They, too, are baking snobs.
Indeed Grandma Ruth is still in the kitchen with us. We keep hugging the mixing bowl.