“She saw herself riding in the passenger seat, Sam behind the wheel. Like two of those little peg people in a toy car. Husband peg, wife peg, side by side. Facing the road and not looking at each other; for why would they need to, really, having gone beyond the visible surface long ago. No hope of admiring gazes anymore, no chance of unremitting adoration. Nothing left to show but their plain, true, homely, interior selves, which were actually much richer anyhow.”
— Anne Tyler (Ladder of Years)
When I was a girl the aroma of freshly baked cake softened any childhood worry. The fragrance drifted out from the big Aga in the rectory kitchen and seemed to fill the house with tiny kisses.
I liked that making a cake took time. It was a choice. A treat that had to be assembled. Preparations for it were deeply satisfying. My mother swirled a wooden spoon through the mixture. I loved the way the texture grew creamy and confident. How it slurped deliciously into a baking tin before it was placed carefully in the oven.
What would it taste of? Lemon zest perhaps or vanilla..caraway seeds or chocolate. It was hard to resist having a little peek at it as it swelled importantly in the heat..gathering sponginess and firmness and a golden exterior. There were some expert proddings to test that it was fully cooked before it was decanted onto a wire rack to cool.
This was the time to gaze at it in familiar wonderment. There was, it seemed, an almost alchemical quality to the process. A rather untidy array of ingredients on an old wooden table had cohered into a delightful symbol of cosiness…a simple and deeply comforting pleasure that would require icing. And perhaps an array of edible decorations…silver coloured balls to give it some extra vavavoom. When displayed on a large porcelain plate it acquired a sort of cakely stage presence. It was watched and admired, and then eaten swiftly. Any memories of the mild messiness it had caused in the kitchen were forgotten. The dustings of flour that frequently drifted onto clothes. The escapee granules of sugar. The discarded oily paper that had once contained margarine.
My own attempts at baking are more amateur. Whimsical and experimental. Every so often the urge to bake comes upon me. I reach for a porcelain bowl and weighing scales and baking powder as though embarking on an age old ritual. I select the cake that calls to me from a small array of recipes. I grease the baking tin. Should I use cinnamon? Who knows what my cake may become. I do not bake very often. I am not a master of the craft. But the long ago aroma of my culinary efforts is almost a reward in itself. Hopeful and sweet. Warm and musky. An old joy to share in slices. Accompanied, of course, by steaming mugs of tea.