September 12, 2011

Apple Pie & Then Some. ~ Becca Thill

Photo: James Vaughan

I like to bake and I’m a woman. So what?

A lot of people think it’s cliché that I like to bake and cook.  I’m a female, so it must come naturally to me—like some sort of instinct.

Of course, these people are wrong. Most of my girlfriends can’t even make toast.

The feminist in me says that it’s sexist to believe that just because I’m a female I should be inherently good at something as domestic as baking or cooking, but another part of me believes that certain people today look down on women who participate in anything remotely domestic.

I like to bake and I’m a woman. So what? I’m also a Capricorn, but I don’t think that matters very much either.

Photo: My grandma, mom and great-grandma

I grew up with the women in my family in the kitchen cooking. Ever since I can remember my mom was always making dinner and making cookies for me and my siblings’ friends. My grandmothers always produced the feast and yummy smells that were (and still are) our family’s Thanksgiving dinner each year, creating the foods that I sometimes look to for comfort.

Including our famous family noodle recipe, that is passed down from generation to generation. Newcomers to our Thanksgivings always stick up their noses when we assure them that “yes… the noodles go on top of the mashed potatoes,” but they always get back in line for seconds.  I suppose from an outsider’s perspective it all may seem pretty stereotypical with the women in the kitchen; the men nowhere to be seen. But that’s not exactly how it was, at least with the women in my family.

There was (and still is) a kind of comfortableness that accompanied these family gatherings. It was partly the food and partly the fact that the whole family was together, even if just for a few hours. Even if you weren’t a direct member of the family, when you were there for Thanksgiving, Christmas, someone’s birthday, etc. you were part of the family.

Photo: Pascal

I’ve never been the type to use timers. I blame my grandma and great grandma for this, and probably my mom a little too.  I descend from a long line of bakers and cooks, who never really followed set recipes, which at a young age made it hard to recreate their masterpieces. Growing up I got used to hearing the phrases, “you cook it until it’s done,” “add some until there is enough,” and “until it looks or tastes right.”

To a young cook and amateur baker, this is probably one of the most annoying things in the world. My mom and I always joked that we should take pictures of how each dish looked at each step to create some series of cooking flip books for us to follow. Over time though, I realized that I actually respond to people in the same way.

Like when friends ask me how I cook without timers I say, “I know when it’s done.” It wasn’t until recently that I began to wonder why this is.

Once I sat down and thought about it, it’s pretty simple and obvious.  It all comes down to respect.

I respect my mom, grandma and great-grandma so I never thought to question why they cooked or baked in the way that they do. These women are the role models that I looked to growing up. My great-grandma Elaine taught me how to bake my first apple pie but she also managed a department store in Indiana while my mom was growing up. My grandma Sallie, after she divorced her ass of a husband, went to nursing school. She also furthered my interest in baking and cooking by giving me old baking supplies and teaching me how to make the perfect deviled eggs.

Photo: Me and my great-grandma

My mom, who made the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the block, could have gone to med school if she wanted but she decided to stay at home and take care of us kids. During this time she home schooled four kids for five plus years and along the way gained her status as the family computer wiz. In a way their baking techniques reflect the life decisions that they have made. They followed the general “recipe” but made their own unique revisions to the overall “dish.”

I guess that’s why it bothers me when certain modern-day-feminists stick up their gender-neutral-noses at “domestic women.” Honestly, these women, who have supposedly sold their souls to the cult of domesticity, seem kind of admirable to me. At least my “domestic women” do. They did the whole have-dinner-on-the-table every night thing, but they also did things for themselves as well.

Then again, maybe my domestic women are just the lucky ones, and maybe I’m lucky too. Baking and cooking are something that I choose to do, not something that is expected of me. It’s a conscious choice. I’m also lucky to come from a group of women who are feisty, loving and independent. They are the ones who taught me how to bake and cook, but in doing so, they taught me so much more about how to be myself–despite other people’s expectations.


Becca Thill is a recent college graduate and self-proclaimed “work-in-progress.” She enjoys writing, reading, jamming out in her car, baking and word games (among other things).

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