How I Started Baking

Ok, so I was at a show this past weekend sharing many of the baked items that we have available at the ranch store and someone asked me, " When did you start Baking?".  That was really easy to answer and I thought that it would be a story worth sharing.  

I'm not from a family of bakers or foodies like many other chefs.  My mother as wonderful as she was in the kitchen was a product of the 60's and most of the food items came from a can.  She had a few recipes for baking that were really special like the tradtional Swedish Tea Ring that is over 60 years old and her Sugar Cookies that we also bake here at the ranch, but other than that, I was not raised around the flour bin.  I did have a personal commitment to tradtion however and I loved investigating where recipes originated and how they were used.  I found the hisory and the culture behind food fascinating. 

So one day when I was twelve years old, my best friend and I found out that our neighbor loved fresh pumpkin pie.  Now let me explain.  He was not just any neighbor.  His house was situated between both of ours and he was a leader on a small rock band that practiced in his garage.  You know when you are twelve years of age, knowing a singer of a rock band is just the best thing ever.  His name was Albert and he had a slight British accent and was tall and blond.  On one afternoon while we were watching the band practice, we overheard him telling the drummer how much he enjoyed pumpkin pie, but he had not been able to find an authentic one.  That's all we needed to hear and my friend Marie and I were off.  

Off to the library we went to study about pumpkins and pumpkin pie.  We read everything that we could find and discovered that a pumpkin was a very special squash with certain characteristics that either made it a carving pumpkin or an eating pumpkin.   The eating pumpkin is further broken down into several categories based on sweetness.  The color, size and shell of the pumpkin tell the story.  Pumpkin pie pumpkins are smaller and have a very distinct color to the flesh and shell.  They are rare in the Halloween field and not often found unless you grow your own.  

Scouring the entire Santa Clara valley visiting various markets, we finally found the perfect pumpkin for pumkin pie.  Then we had to clean it, cook it, and grind it with a food mill.   We went to my friend's  garage and dug through old boxes until we found an old metal food mill with a wooden handle.   It took us several hours to prepare that pumpkin.  But it was worth it.  The method of the old fashioned food mill created a texture that was smooth, while retaining substance.  

After studying several recipes, we decided to follow Irma's from The Joy Of Cooking. The crust was prepared and the pumpkin was mixed with spices, sugar and eggs to create the perfect custard.  Into the oven it went.  We had bowls and pans everywhere.  While it baked , the smell filled the house and we did not mind cleaning up while immersed in that sweet aroma.  About an hour later, we had two beautiful pumpkin pies.  We promtly let them cool a bit and prepared a special tray to deliver our prized pie to Albert.  

That afternoon when the band gathered for practice, Marie and I marched over with a warm pumpkin pie and presented it to him.  The whole band stopped to share the pie and till this day, I remember them all smiling as they returned to us an empty pie dish.

So that's my story.  I have been baking ever since I was twelve.  From there I learned more about different foods from my Favorite Foods Project in 4-H.  I competed in local and regional food competitions receiving Gold Awards.  I went on and competed in the Pillsbury Bake Off for several years, never winning, but once coming close in the semi- finals.  So that was really cool.  I have been baking and loving it ever since.  I hope that you will try some of my specialties from the ranch shop.  

In the summer of 2018, I will be offering baking and cooking classes.  Till then, follow me on Instagram or sign up on our mailing list to get recipes and cooking tips.  Thank you for reading and happy baking!