Making Messes in the Kitchen

In the novel Little Men, one of Louisa May Alcott’s sequels to Little Women there is a scene where Jo takes her niece Daisy into a special “toy” kitchen, albeit with a real working stove, so that she can “make messes” and learn to cook. I always wanted to be Jo, never Daisy, but I always wanted that kitchen.

I never had a functioning toy stove, but I always had adults around who were happy enough to let me make messes (of a sort) in their kitchens. One such person was my mother, who made aglia e olio every Christmas Eve when I was little, and taught me to measure the milk into her coffee by color.

Another kitchen supervisor was my grandfather, who loved to bake, and was a fan of James Beard. I remember watching him consult the volume Beard on Bread one summer morning, and then walking me through the steps of making the best raisin bread ever (and even better when paired with his homemade apple butter). It is his recipe, posted here last month, that defines Thanksgiving for me, and his voice in my head when I read recipes.

My grandmother, I am told, used to bake as well (by the time I came along she would stir herself to make meatballs or lasagne once in a while, but that’s about it), and had a tradition of baking date-nut bread for the holidays. I asked my mother and my aunts if they had her recipe, and none of them did, so I’ve spent the afternoon making date-nut messes in my own kitchen. I’ve found several recipes, and will be trying a few over the next week.

I also have a bunch of cookies to make. My grandmother taught us all that “a gift of the hand is a gift of the heart,” and while I’m not much for fiber arts, I love baking, so most of my friends – at least those I typically exchange gifts with – are getting edible gifts this year.

Of course, I also have a Super Sekrit Project, but I can’t talk about it.

And I really shouldn’t be writing this right now. Why? Because the oven timer is about to go off, and I smell dates and pecans wafting through my house, and I think it’s time to see how this first batch worked out.

Coffee’s on, if anyone wants a slice.