When you grow up in a household that loves to bake- and bakes often, as mine did- you learn to appreciate food. What you seldom actually learn, though, is why Momma doesn’t skimp on this or that; why she always uses this brand of flour, that brand of butter, and so on. Last year, though, I got a quick and hard lesson in the why’s.
Where Cakes are my favorite things to bake, pies are probably one of my favorite things to eat in terms of desserts. Last year, as an almost-married woman, I decided that is was unacceptable that I had never made a pie before, and so with Christmas arriving on our doorstep I rolled up my sleeves and determinedly tried my hand at a pie for the first time in my life.
What a truly frustrating little shindig, that whole thing turned out to be.
I tried desperately for hours that night to get a pie crust worth a nickle; I tried Wheat Flour, White Flour, and everything from Bread to Cake to all Purpose. Nothing, though, was coming out as it should have. What was worse is that I refuse on principle, as a self proclaimed Kitchen Goddess, to buy pre-made anything for desserts. A pre-made pie crust was completely out of the question for me and yet I still had to deliver a pie to Christmas Dinner at my parents’ house that evening (by this point it was well past 2 am and I was still fiddling).
When I finally did get it, I collapsed exhausted in bed, covered from head to toe in flour and determined to never make a pie again- on the verge of crying myself to sleep from all the pent up frustration.
Hours later when I delivered the final product to my Mother’s doorstep, she was having the same problem with her own crusts. For some odd reason, despite my own frustration and hours messing with crusts, I rolled up my sleeves again and dug my fingers in as the women of my family tend to do. My Husband eyed me suspiciously from the corner, waiting for that inevitable flare of temper and the flying of kitchen utensils- a trait I inherited from my mother.
No angry outbursts and flying spoons came, though. Instead I churned out effortlessly perfect crusts, one right after another until they were all finished. It wasn’t until much later, after leftovers had been divided out, and my Husband and I were driving the half hour back to his own parents’ house (where we were living) that it hit me.
My own mothers’ problems with her crusts came from a place of Holiday Stress. To put it mildly, as much as I love her dearly she has never worked well under pressure and has a temper worse than mine. But she is also one of sometimes extreme brand loyalty; there are simply things in our pantry that, growing up, she would never opt for generic versions of. That included Butter, Cheese, and yes… Flour.
My Mother-in-Law, however, prides herself on being what she calls a “Survivalist Chef”- which really amounts to an overabundance of Vegetable Soup, to be honest. Part of that is a penchant for purchasing unnecessary quantities in bulk when on sale, and most of these are items of lesser quality- Flour included.
And so I did what any logical person would do: I marched my little self down to the store, picked up my mother’s brand of Flour, went home, and tried it all again. Wouldn’t you be surprised to know that I had much better results that time around? I know I was!
In that moment I learned three very important lessons about the Kitchen and baking:
First, I learned that quality matters– especially if you are baking; even the quality of something as seemingly insignificant as Flour can make the baking of a relatively simple item into the embodiment of living Hell.
Secondly, I realized that, no. Generic and Brand Name are not always created equal. They may swear up and down that it is, and in most cases that might be true, but there really are some things you should buck up and pay the price form.
And Lastly, I learned that when starting your own Household, always look in Momma’s pantry! If they bake and cook regularly, there is more than likely a good reason why certain brands have shown up time and time again. If you value your sanity (and your kitchen utensils), you would do well to discover why these products and companies withstood the test of time.