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Pandemic Baking: First Draft of Your Family History?

It’s a picture-perfect family fantasy: Your white-haired grandmother lovingly demonstrates all her recipes, which are neatly preserved from generation to generation. Well, surprise! It almost never happens that way. Instead, what if you’re the repository of your family’s food heritage? And what if you started preserving it now? Catch up with Hannah and Samantha on this very topic as they bake a giant challah.

Samantha: So, when did you start making challah?

Hannah: Technically, it was in kindergarten.

Samantha: Wait—what? I certainly didn’t teach you! I don’t know how myself.

Hannah: Every Friday in school, we’d all get to make our own mini-loaves, for Shabbat, and then we got to bake them and bring them home. I’m shocked you don’t remember!

Samantha: Oh, right! I do remember, and it was adorable.

Hannah: Between then and now, I didn’t really bake at all. But then quarantine happened, and—I’m sure you see where this is going.

Samantha: Everyone was suddenly obsessed with sourdough starters then. Was challah your equivalent?

Hannah: Definitely! Sourdough is a little too stressful for me, so I decided to go for something that would be harder to mess up. That’s my life philosophy with cooking in general. Hasn’t failed me yet.

Samantha: What was your first experience of baking with yeast like? Was it scary to do it from scratch?

Hannah: Yes, deeply! It was in August, and it was in your kitchen—do you really not remember this? You were there! You helped me figure out the KitchenAid mixer!

Samantha: Um, maybe I should get some kind of cognitive testing? I probably don’t remember because I was useless. I probably just provided moral support. Anyway, how did that first one turn out?

Hannah: It was my best one yet, but I don’t know why. Beginner’s luck?

Samantha: Apart from the whole yeast issue, I think people are put off by having to braid challah. It seems weirdly complicated in that way. How did you learn to do that?

Hannah: YouTube, honestly. But after the first time, it becomes intuitive and you gain muscle memory, just like learning to play an instrument or typing.

Samantha: It’s funny that you mention muscle memory. While you were mixing the dough today, you seemed so confident, and then you asked me if I wanted to have a go at kneading it. I thought my cluelessness would be embarrassing. But the minute I started, I was channeling my grandmother! Talk about muscle memory! It felt completely natural to me, even though I hadn’t done this since I was a child, “helping” her bake. I guess I learned something after all.

Hannah: I never knew your grandmother. What was it like to bake with her?

Samantha: I loved spending time with her, doing anything: watching the birds in the backyard, playing gin rummy. But my grandmother was a genius baker. Her own mother had died when she was very young, and of course there was no YouTube to teach her. But it didn’t matter: Everything she baked turned out to be ambrosial anyway. Growing up, I got to watch her bake every Friday—just like you in kindergarten!

Hannah: Your memory seems perfectly sharp about that! But then why didn’t you learn to bake from her?

Samantha: She could do, but she couldn’t teach. Writing down her recipes was impossible. She was pure intuition. She’d just take a coffee mug and use it to scoop random amounts of flour into her dough! She couldn’t translate her lifetime of experience into something I could understand. To be honest, I thought she was the end of our family’s baking tradition, and yet she lives on in you. You have that same kind of intuitive drive, which is amazing. I look at your hands, and I see her hands. The shape of your fingers, the strength in your hands.

Hannah: I love that! And wasn’t her husband, your grandfather, a butcher?

Samantha: Yes! He’d be baffled that you’re a vegetarian. Anyway, our family is full of strong people who are very food-oriented. It’s nice to think that someday you’ll teach someone else how to bake. You’ll be the next link in the chain.

Food is a great transmitter of tradition. We’d love to show you how you can turn your memories and recipes into a book that will spark a conversation between the generations—so check out our latest initiative, the family culinary history!


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