As a child I spent many hours with my Ukranian neighbour Baba, her granddaughter and my neighbourhood friends. Running around her backyard jumping in and out of an inflatable pool, we were fuelled by the sunlight and Baba’s endlessly generous kitchen.
I remember Baba peacefully and patiently teaching us to cook. Closing perogies with our fingers, we would make sure to press out the air bubbles. We took pride in every one that she approved of and strived to seal the others. We would meticulously braid Easter babka or push the dough into cans as we watched the table fill with completed pastry.
These moments are part of my foundation: Struggling to whip cream by hand with a mechanical beater. Her honey cookies, slightly tinny from the caramelization of butter and honey. Their hesitantly relenting crust giving way to a soft centre of fat and flour. A cast iron skillet heated and filled with popping corn, served to us plain but full of flavour. Watching her pots boil away like magic. I would marvel at how her pasta, prepared simply with butter, could taste like so much more than that.
Every meal we make adds up to a repertoire of flavours, textures, techniques and memories to be shared. I still strive to find those flavours and that feeling she shared in the food I cook and eat now. Baba’s cooking taught me about real food, and more importantly about love. Now, it’s often forgotten; the cherished value of each year spent in a kitchen. These women who revelled in each task required to feed their family.