Still alive, still kicking

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about tensions and contradictions: how two things can be true at once. Looking back on my childhood as a 47-year-old woman, I recognize now that much of what happened to me was harmful or, more accurately, abusive. I also recognize that my parents (and my maternal grandparents, with whom we lived for reasons not unrelated to this whole thing) did their best with what they knew and the resources they had on hand. Two things that seem contradictory, but they existed hand in hand. Familial patterns existed and they definitely played out, woven through my childhood, but those were patterns that my mother was raised in as well. It’s hard to look back and recognize that my grandmother’s actions did the same harm to my mother that she did to me, both directly and indirectly through my mother’s parenting.

And yet not all was bad. On the balance, I think I had a moderately happy childhood. We did not have much, but my parents and grandparents did their best and their best was not always terrible. From my grandmother, I learned self-loathing, diet culture, and the tyranny of thinness, but I also learned the satisfaction of skill in cooking and the joy of sharing what I create with others. Two things that seem contradictory, but they existed hand in hand. I would not be the cook, baker, or crafter I am today without those early lessons. I would also not have the issues I have today without them. Tension and contradictions.

The impending autumn always makes me nostalgic, and this year is not different from the forty-six that preceded it in many ways. I loved school, and I long to go back to school. New school supplies and the promise of a new start and learning new things give me joy. In 1995, I was preparing in early September to move to England – a place I’d never been and where I knew nobody – for a year at university. That was a time of anticipation, excitement, and a little bit of terror for me. That year turned out to be a watershed year in my life; more than any other experience before or since, it helped me grow and find myself. But in the midst of that, as in the midst of this early September, I found, and find, myself nostalgic for the things of my childhood. For baked goods my grandmother would make, even as she was telling me I was too fat and I “didn’t need that”. Two things that seem contradictory, but they exist hand in hand.

I recently made what my grandmother always called a “peach kuchen” – kuchen being the German word for cake, but she always pronounced it like “cushion”. It’s really not much of a cake, strictly speaking. It’s more of a large-format pie. But it is easy, and it is delicious, and it evokes memories for me of being a child and the joy of sharing baked goods made with love.

Recipe from the Jiffy website (I doubled it and made it in a 9″x13″ pan, since Jiffy cake mixes are smaller than the usual ones you get in the store these days.)

Peach Kuchen
Yields: 9 – 12 Servings

1 pkg. “JIFFY” Golden Yellow Cake Mix
1/4 cup margarine or butter, cold
1 can (15 oz) peaches, drained
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg slightly beaten

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8” square pan.
Step 2: Cut margarine or butter into cake mix until crumbly.
Step 3: Press in bottom and 1/2” up sides of pan. Bake 8 – 10 minutes.
Step 4: Combine peaches, sugar and cinnamon. Pour over crust. In separate bowl, combine sour cream and egg. Blend well. Pour over peaches.
Step 5: Bake 20 – 25 minutes. Chill.