Friday, December 17, 2004

The Mixing Bowl

There are some virtues in hand mixing batters and doughs in the bowl. For one thing, there isn't so much equipment with parts and pieces laying out on your surface to clean up and put back together and put away. The family mixing bowl, whether it is a red pottery bowl or a clear green glass bowl, with the wooden spoon, is all that is needed. Why do I say this? Over the years, with continued use, the appliances will break down. The more a person has (blender, mixer, etc), the more places one must find to stash them, and they must be easy access so they can be used again. You don't have to plug the bowl and spoon in, and you can develop the strength in the arms when you do the mixing yourself. It actually doesn't cut down that much on time, if you care to time it and compare, sometime.

There are a couple of other things to consider when using that beautiful mixing bowl. I don't know about you, but I never just mechanically mix up something just because it must be done. There are a lot of things packed into this activity that you may not know. For one thing, I think of the women before me who may have stood at that counter and mixed up a batch of scones or pancakes. I remember the Pioneer women in the log homes or sod homes their husbands built for them. I'm stirring away, and thinking how valuable that mixing bowl must have been to the next generations. Grown children must have wanted their grandmother's mixing bowl, not just for something to use, but for the sentimental value. In using that bowl, the homemaker must have thought of the times of the life of her grandmother, and remembered some of the special occasions when she mixed up a batch of something. Pictures form in her mind of grandmother in her apron, with a contented smile, mixing up something special for her family. I think across the ages to the earliest people in history--even as far back as the women of the Bible making cakes, such as the woman of Zarepath, who made a little cake for Elijah in I Kings 17. So, it is more than just doing a job. It is a repetition of a custom from long ago. We are creating memories for our family when we use the mixing bowl, and one day someone will ask if they can have your mixing bowl.

In the past, I remember most homemakers having a kitchen window. This was very important to them. They knew they would need something to look out on, such as a garden, the driveway where their husbands came home, the flowers, or some scene. They would stand there stirring something in the mixing bowl, and occasionally glance up to see what was happening outside. Some modern houses lack the kitchen window, and this makes some of these rituals a little tedious, in my opinion. So, if you are planning on getting married and having your own mixing bowl, ask your husband to build you a house with a window in a strategic area of interest to you. You may spend many moments like this and be grateful you've got a special scene to look at.

I recently have seen some beautiful bowls that remind me a lot of my childhood. In those days, women didn't choose colors or themes for their homes. They weren't too fussy about that sort of thing. The bowls didn't have to match, and they didn't all have to be the same color. When we were poor, we thought these kind of mixing bowls were unsophisticated and we looked forward to getting something better one day, but now they are an object of nostalgia. I particularly like the bowls sold at Just type in "bowls" in the search area, and you'll see what I mean.

Something else that happens when someone is in the kitchen mixing something in one of those bowls, is memorable conversation. It is here that no one is in a hurry. People sit down and visit you while you are preparing something, and some very thoughtful principles are discussed. I'm not one for idle chit-chat. I like what people say to me and what I say to them, to have some meaning. A person can actually lose their voice from too much talk, so it is better to leave someone with some conversation of value. The kitchen is where all of our meaningful verbal exchanges occur.

If you have never experienced this, why not get a colorful mixing bowl such as the ones I've mentioned, a wooden spoon, and try mixing up a batch of something for your family. There is no need to serve them something too sweet or non-nutritious, as there are plenty of savory items you can mix, such as cornbread, muffins or a dense cake packed with good whole grains. Mixing up this food isn't just about the food. It is about taking your time and enjoying the process of holding the bowl in one arm and mixing with the other. It presents, in my mind, a beautiful picture.

When a woman mixes up her own baked goods, the children see the process from start to finish, and know where some of the things they eat come from, barring actually harvesting the raw food in the first place. I think sometimes little children think brownies or pizza comes from the store. I once looked after some children for about 2 weeks and when I told them we were having pizza, they were amazed that I was mixing the dough myself. The oldest child said, "I didn't know you could make pizza yourself. I thought you had to buy it."

I just love seeing my daughter mix up something in the kitchen, while her little boys gather around her, one pulling on her apron, one pulling up a chair so he can get a closer look, and another saying, "I want to mix something too!" It is a slightly different version of my own life, when my three children would awkwardly but eagerly scoot up chairs bigger than themselves, to "help" or watch me mix, and my own husband inching up close so he could get a spoonful or dough. Then there was the contest to see who would lick the bowl when it was empty. Before they discovered it was a coveted thing, my husband always licked the bowl. After they found out how good it was, he had competition.

In all the things we perceive as greatness in the world, this is one of the most cherished experiences for people of all ages. In doing this, the woman with the mixing bowl makes a statement about her life. This is her world, her time, and her freedom. She doesn't have to worry about time sheets and schedules and bosses, keeping her job, competing with someone else for better batter, or anything that takes place on "the outside" as I call it. She's not worried about losing her position if it doesn't turn out well. It is the doing of it that counts. She can think about that bowl, and if she got it at her wedding, the person that gave it to her. She can spend a few minutes quietly stirring and thinking about the people that made it possible for her to be as she is today, contentedly stirring something in the mixing bowl.

A woman who has claimed the freedom to create a cake or pudding from her own special mixing bowl, whether it is her own new one she got for her wedding, or the one passed down from her grandmother, has truly made it to the top, in life. Why this is so special, you may well ask, for isn't a recipe a recipe, and don't pralines taste the same, no matter who makes them? Not exactly! Each woman does things a little differently, and that is what makes her cooking unique. Even if we all followed the exact-same recipe, each one of us would come up with a slightly different cake or muffin, due to the differences in climate, the taste of ingredients from one region to another, the sea level, the atmosphere of the kitchen (temperature-wise, the lighting, the amount of time the dough is stirred, the length of time the dough sits before it is baked, and much more!).

I've often had meals at someone else's house that I know I can prepare at my own home, but I always declare to my hostess that hers taste better. Sometimes we share recipes but I can never get mine to taste the same as when eating it at her house. So for many different reasons, the lady with the bowl is both charming and unique, for her batch will have its own taste. She's doing something for which there is no substitute. Just compare the stuff mixed in the big blue ceramic bowl, to something you got at the grocery store, and you'll see what I mean.

That mixing bowl isn't just a utilitarian article in your kitchen, beckoning you to work. It is a ritual, a memory, an experience, an example, a history lesson, and a connection to our forebearers. It is, in my opinion the most glamorous thing a woman can do. She is leaving a type of moving picture in the minds of her children and other family members, which will not seem so important right now, but later, when the grown children bring up their memories, she'll be glad she took the time to do it.

It isn't just the act itself that is so comforting and reassurring to a home, but the end results. The enticing aroma and the final partaking of such a treat, holds a special feeling of anticipation for all members of a family, and their visitors, no matter what age. The mixing bowl transcends the so-called "generation gap" and even moreso the gap we often feel in time. In doing something that the Pilgrims, Pioneers, and Victorians did, these people that once walked the earth and have now "gone home" do not seem so foreign or so strange to us. Like you, there was once a woman in 1890 standing at her sink, glancing up at her family, with the mixing bowl in her arm. Somehow, their lives don't seem so distant from our own, when we are doing something so similar to something they did in their own generation.

1 comment:

Mrs. Laura Lane said...

This is a beautiful essay. My grandmother's bowl broke, but I've a mixing fork I've used to make biscuits and brownies and such for 33 years.

Laura Lane of Harvest Lane Cottage