Baking was a ritual I started after becoming housebound. I wasn’t alone. Remember early in the shut down when there were no bags of flour on grocery store shelves, no baking powder, and no yeast? In the olden days, when my children were young and money was scarce, I’d make bread. The smell is seductive and a warm slice right out of the oven is comfort food. I called my friend MB, who has vintage sourdough starter, to ask if I could have some of hers. We met in a Starbuck’s parking lot for the exchange. It felt like a drug deal. And I was apprehensive. Keeping starter alive is like having a pet in the fridge that you have to feed every couple of months or it dies. So, I started baking scones dotted with raisins and dried cranberries, drenched in butter, and sprinkled with raw sugar on top.
I’d begin the night before, laying ingredients on the kitchen table: flour, canned milk, a cube of butter, sugar, salt, soda, dried fruit, and the crock of starter. I scooped starter into a bowl, stirred in warm milk and flour, and covered it with a cloth to rise during the night. Before going to bed, I fed the remaining starter milk and flour and returned it to the refrigerator.
Early the next morning I added the rest of the ingredients and began to knead the dough. It was alive and elastic under my fingers, the rhythmic movement of my hands hypnotic. Memories of my grandmother flooded my mind. Grandma Jenkins ran a boarding house during the Great Depression and raised nine kids. My dad was born somewhere in the middle. It was a daily routine for her to make meals for a dozen people from whatever was available, and sometimes it wasn’t much. I especially loved her biscuits. As I looked down at my hands, I saw my grandma’s, gnarled, with veins like the roots of a tree, and remembered her story about going to the polls with her mother to vote for the first time. It was 1920. They were so proud. Grandma lived to be almost ninety, a free-thinker, and a Democrat who never missed an election. I wondered what she would think about the 2020 presidential election.
I rolled the dough into a rectangle, cut it into nine pieces, dipped each one in melted butter, and arranged them in a pan to rise before going into the oven. Soon a sour-sweet, moist fragrance filled the kitchen. When I took the scones out, they were golden brown. I brewed a fresh pot of coffee and sat down with my husband to take a break from our work. It was such a simple pleasure. For a moment the election seemed far away.