The healing power of baking
National Baking Week
This week is National Baking Week and we are delighted that Miranda Gore Browne, a finalist on the first series of BBC2’s The Great British Bake Off and now a well respected cookery writer, has very kindly written a blog for us about the joy of baking. Today Miranda will be visiting one of the charities in In Kind Direct's network, Home-Start WeyWater in Hants, to share some of that joy with trustees and beneficiaries. We hope this makes charities across our network want to take their cake moulds, tins and trays out of the cupboard and get baking this week!
I am often asked why I bake, what I enjoy about it and how it makes me feel. The answers are many, and vary according to my mood and what I am currently baking.
There is, however, always one constant – one thing I am sure about and one answer I will always give: it is something so much more than putting some ingredients together and making a cake. Baking is love manifested. It says I am thinking of someone, it shows how much I care, and it says much more than words ever can. Everything I bake has a little bit of me in it, some love, some thoughtfulness, and the gift of some time in my day when I have stopped to bake. It can show I am thinking about someone (who may be grieving or struggling or happy). Whatever the circumstance, baking can enhance the power of words alone.
When my father was in intensive care and hope was hard, I told myself I would bake him a cake if he started to improve. When he moved to the high-dependency unit, but still terribly ill, not able to talk, scared and agitated, I stood alone in my kitchen and baked his favourite - a Victoria sponge that was buttery and yellow with his favourite vanilla flecked buttercream and the hugely important raspberry jam (never Strawberry, for him). I thought at the time that it could well be the last cake I would ever bake for him, and I cried as I tried to make it as perfect as I could.
I carried that love-filled cake in a plastic Tupperware to his ward, with a pile of pretty flowery plates from my kitchen that I hoped might look familiar and remind him of home. The power of cake was astonishing. The atmosphere in the ward changed, families that had held their heads in their hands and discussed last wishes and do-not-resuscitate orders suddenly became people with faces and an opinion on jam. Nurses stopped their wonderful busyness to hide a slice in their lunch box for later. The patient in the bed next to my dad became a person, and looked at me with utter joy when I asked if she would like some.
My mum took a piece to the consultant who had saved my dad's life and gave him a hug; he was a little embarrassed because he was in his leather jacket and had just popped in on his day off to catch up on some patients. And then there was my dad himself, who had been trying to pull out his tubes and was constantly trying to escape, and who I thought might never talk, recover or recognise me again. He had been fed his hospital food with a spoon by a nurse, after having been tube-fed previously, but he suddenly had light in his eyes, and his bruised and tubed hand firmly held that cake as if life depended on it. In that millisecond it did... he was once more the little boy who had eaten such cake baked by his mother in her tea gardens on the Isle of Wight, the husband who had endlessly enjoyed his wife's cake and always said with a voice of surprise “this is actually rather nice", and the sailor on his boat with cake wrapped in tin foil. It reminded me of the endless birthday parties for me and my siblings when he had stolen a big slice. The jam dribbled down his beard and the crumbs fell with aplomb on the hospital sheets, and we all hoped he could taste everything in it – the love, the memories, and the desperate demand for him to get better.
Cake opens up conversation. It helps words to come when perhaps they don't seem possible. The act of baking and giving is wonderful, but baking together also works its own magic. Why not invite someone you know who needs looking after to bake something with you? Standing in the kitchen, with the kettle on, mixing and weighing and just being in the moment might start a conversation that can offer real help. It might provide companionship through the sharing of stories and memories. A few simple ingredients, a simple recipe, a simple chat. It's a great way to get people talking. Why not show you care and share the healing power of baking?
Miranda Gore Browne