Tonight, for the first time, I consciously considered my mother’s tools in the kitchen. I am making Joulutorttu (Finnish Prune Tarts), which require a cream cheese and butter pastry. It occurred to me, as I tossed butter and cream cheese chunks into the food processor, my mother did not have a Cuisinart. She must have worked the shortening into the flour with a hand pastry cutter and that must have taken ages. And elbow grease.
We know from watching Julia Child, that practice does make it easier to whip cream by hand or make mince out of 20 lbs of onions. So perhaps my mother was simply practiced. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was less work. But it was work she did often: Mixing yeast breads by hand, kneading and rolling dough; chopping citron for holiday cookies and stollen (and freezing because why not?); cooking down pots of fruit and sugar throughout the summer (in a kitchen with no air conditioning). I love to bake, but I don’t even like to boil water if it’s more than 80 degrees outside.
I stood in my kitchen, with the tattered hand-written recipe card, my mom’s citrus juicer and measuring cup and saw – this is what it means to bake with love. My mother sweated over those pots so we could have a bite of summer in the winter; she rolled all that dough and cut all that shortening so we could quite literally take in her love and her caretaking, her motherhood and warmth, with every bite of the things she made for us.
These thoughts filled me as I zested and squeezed oranges, rolled and warmed cinnamon sticks, and set the prunes to simmering (remembering that a low simmer helps the cinnamon infuse). I was suddenly woozy, overcome with longing for my mother. I put my hands to my hot face, smelled oranges and cinnamon, and remembered my mother’s hands, strong and capable, showing me how to roll dough.
I’m not washing my hands tonight. I’m going to get into bed and breathe my mother’s love until I fall asleep.