One night when I was little, I heard loud clanking of utensils and soft shuffling of feet in our home. My first instinct was to crawl under the bed but then I recalled my family and decided there was no reason I couldn’t be a child version of Zoro. Granted, I didn’t have a horse or a sword or the dark apparel for that matter but my heart had been in the right place. I told myself I was just as brave. This was a fib of course but it got me out of bed. There had been a chain of robberies in the neighborhood which weren’t really shocking given the fact that we were bordering an ill reputed abode. There were rumors of the saba saba fraternity reviving in the neighboring area. This provided a leeway for thieves as they devised schemes to act as the “neighborhood watch” only for them to force entry into unsuspecting houses. They would leave nothing behind. If you were lucky, really lucky, they would give you transport money for the following day. It had been a nightmare. Everyone was on their toes, choosing to invite insomnia as a permanent guest in their home. Insomnia was far much better than transport money.
I fought the quailing feeling in my gut and kept swallowing rising bile as I stealthily approached the kitchen. I heard a sound that stopped me dead on my tracks. The soft humming was a usual symptom for culinary treats.
My mother was fussing around the kitchen; whirling, breaking, seasoning and steaming. She was cooking up a storm past midnight, while humming, with thieves lurking. When I had willed my heart to still, I walked up to her and tapped her shoulder. She responded by hitting me with a frying pan. Thank God she had not used it yet. I was also appreciative of the fact that I hadn’t flattened upon impact with the pan like characters from my cartoons.
After a lot of coaxing, blackmail, threats and sniveling, my mother told me she hadn’t been able to sleep because of the rising number of robberies in the neighborhood. Cooking was her fort and naturally she applied it to ease her nerves. I went to bed with an added forehead and an endless array of questions. The most pressing one was how cooking Ugali past midnight served as a stress relief.
Years later I learnt that culinary art was a common vent during stressful situations and that baking was one of the most savored form of this art.
History of baking as a lifeline
Would you ever devour bread made from beer? As much as I am positive some would most definitely try it out, others find the notion repugnant. Well, in the early days brewed beer was used by Ancient Egyptians in the place of yeast during the baking of bread. Fascinating right?
Apparently the earliest form of baking involved humans mashing wild grass grain and water. This paste would then be cooked on a sun heated rock. The end result would be a relative of our today’s bread. Like a far uncle of sorts.
After humans discovered fire, baking was taken up a notch with the same paste being roasted over an open fire. Baked goods became regular meal for early man, a means of survival.
Ovens have been a necessity in the kitchen since time immemorial. Baking led to this invention. In 600 B.C. an innovator invented an enclosed oven in Ancient Greece so as to make the art simpler.
During 300 B.C. finding a profession that would earn you reverie and income was akin to picking raw rice from the ground one by one. So when someone secured a job as a pastillarium in Rome, that person would feel as if they were on cloud nine. Back then pastries were considered highly decadent and Romans used them during their festivities. Those people loved to party. During the 1 A.D. there were more than 300 pastry chefs in Rome all whom conjured up diverse recipes that have been passed down through generations globally.
Anna Russell, a former Duchess of Bedford from Britain, was the pioneer of the famous afternoon tea tradition. She began this ritual as a means of curtailing the depressing feeling that engulfed her every afternoon at 4 p.m. In the 18th century, the Duchess asked for her first tray of tea which was to be accompanied by baked products of all forms. This tradition was adopted by her friends, the town, the country and ultimately the world.
In it’s own way, baking served as a means of survival, a key to inventions, a cultural presence, a celebrated profession, a people gatherer and a depression wader over the centuries.
Baking as a lifeline today
The corona virus infiltrated the globe with as much stealth as the Professor’s money heist band. No one was prepared for a snowflake morphing into a snowball and eventually sparking up a blizzard. The air increasingly became tense as our greeting culture became illicit and face masks were synchronized into our fashion statement.
Many people turned to a variety of activities in order to ease their tension. Meme lords graced us with bone tickling humor as musicians released hit songs that relayed a message of hope. Some people, however, shifted their attention towards the kitchen.
On March 27th, a hash tag was trending all over the social media platforms. Hashtag #stressbaking was a sensation on Instagram with over 26,000 posts. This was trailed by reports of baking products going missing from supermarket shelves. More and more people are applying this form of therapy as a way of maintaining their sanity during the COVID-19 crisis.
According to Julie Ohana, a culinary art therapist, baking is a means of communicating and managing stressful ordeals. She says that although mundane, baking meals such as cookies and bread bring immense comfort to the baker and the people around the baker. It fills a void emotionally and physically. So on top of feeding your loved ones a scrumptious meal, you wind up with a calm washing over you during the process.
The ideology behind this form of stress therapy is that baking has a routine, a process. This makes the baker indulge in the activity blurring their surroundings and current situation momentarily. There is also the fact that baking is a normal day to day conduct. So when one immerses themselves in the art, they feel as though nothing is out of place, everything has maintained it’s norm. To top it all, they feel in control of the outcome. Something that no one has during this time.
The fact that you get to experiment with various recipes, play flour tag with family members and friends and improve your kitchen skills makes this activity all the more helpful. It is a much needed succor during these times.
So yes, baking is proving to be a lifeguard in our ocean of unplanned occurrences. It was a necessity for the early human and it still is for today’s human.
The thrill of it all is that you don’t need much to accomplish this art. A jiko, a big sufuria with pre-heated sand, a smaller sufuria lined with margarine and a cake mix with added ingredients is all you require to ease your nerves and those of your loved ones.
I finally understood why being hit with a pan all those years ago was crucial. I was to inherit a lifeline.
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