My sweet, little mother, Sarah Roache, was never on time for anything. She aimed to arrive a few seconds before an event began, but it rarely turned out that way. Without fail, some unforeseen obstacle popped up at the last minute. Sarah Roache was late again, but it was not her fault.
Mom dared to poke fun at us for wanting to be on time. She teased that we were like our Great-grandmother, Lavinia (Bangay) Townsend. She was famous for arriving at least an hour early for everything.
Decades ago, I was to blame for one of Mom’s “late incidents.” It was Tuesday, her favourite night of the week. She was waiting for her ride to the “Women’s Missionary Council” (WMC) meeting. Mom looked forward to spending the evening with her friends.
More importantly, it gave Mom a break from the
likes of Francis and me.
She escaped our whining, tattling
and fighting for a few hours.
That night I pestered Mom something terrible to write out a recipe for me. I demanded to make patty pans (cupcakes) all by myself. Aggravated, she came back, grabbed a scrap of paper, jotted down the recipe and ran out the door to catch her ride.
I wasted no time rooting through the cupboard for the ingredients. The Kemac stove needed a couple sticks of wood to raise the oven temperature to 350°. I combined all the ingredients and spooned the batter into the muffin tins. In a matter of minutes, they were ready the oven. My face could barely contain the grin as I took the picture perfect patty pans out of the oven.
A few hours later, Mom waltzed into the house feeling like a brand new woman. She was walking on air after spending a refreshing evening with friends. I can still picture many of them.
And then she saw the mess I had made. Her heart sank and her eyes brimmed with tears. I had not washed a single dish. Every ingredient I had used still sat in a heap on the counter. The cupboard drawers were hanging half open. I had trashed Mom’s neat and tidy kitchen.
As a child, I was oblivious to her feelings. All I wanted to do was crow about my extraordinary patty pans. Mom took one look and realized they were extraordinary, but not in a good way. Instead of being light and airy, they were dense and flat. She assumed I had forgotten the baking powder and I argued I had not. Mom grabbed the recipe, looked at it and realized that she had omitted the eggs. Oops.
Mom deemed my perfect patty pans “not fit to eat” and said something to the effect of, “They’re no good. You might as well far (fire) them over the fence for the sheep.”
That took the wind out of my sails. A discouraging first baking experience, for sure.
Many years have passed since that Tuesday evening and I have become a decent baker if I do say so. My repertoire of recipes has increased considerably. Just today, I made bread from scratch. Better still, I clean up as I go — no trashed kitchen. Mom would be so proud.
Sadly, Mom passed away in the twinkling of an eye in 1998. I have fond memories of her home baking. I remember her sweet egg custards, her smooth butterscotch pies and her melt-in-your-mouth biscuits. Mom’s date squares were my absolute favourite. I still long for her recipe. Unfortunately, it is not possible because Mom neither measured ingredients nor wrote anything down. The recipe was in her head. She had mixed her date square crumbs in the same aluminum bowl for nearly fifty years. She knew what the ingredients looked like and how the mixture should feel.
Over the past thirty-five years, I have spent gobs of time and money trying to copy Mom’s date squares. Despite my admirable efforts, I have never come close. The correct combination of oatmeal, brown sugar and flour for the crumb layer eludes me. Mom’s date squares were soft and crumbly with a thin layer of dates. Mine, on the other hand, were wet and heavy.
Is it possible the recipe is not the problem?
- Do I need to stand on my head in the corner before I begin?
- Do I need a wood-heated oven?
- Do I need to sing while I bake?
- Do I need a sixty-year-old aluminum mixing bowl?
- Do I need to knock three times on the ceiling?
How will I ever learn to make date squares as good as Mom’s?
After much deliberation, I believe I have found a reasonable solution to my problem. I must book a flight to Nova Scotia to sip tea with some of Lockeport’s finest bakers. Essie Morash, Wendy Roache, Goldie Roache, Lorna Anderson and Gail Roache are a few of the women on my list.
I have a hunch that at least one of them knows how to make date squares — just like dear little Mom’s.