Thursday 18 January 2018

Baking away the heartache

A mother's cooking was the inspiration behind film 'Julia & Julia', starring Meryl Streep
A mother's cooking was the inspiration behind film 'Julia & Julia', starring Meryl Streep

Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell

My man's death from cancer left me feeling useless and, although cake can't heal a broken heart, it does comfort.

As the days grow shorter and the darkness creeps in earlier with each week, I find myself releasing a contented sigh. I favour the autumn and winter months, curling up on the sofa, candles flickering and my recipe notebook by my side. As my mind drifts from one flavour combination to another, I scribble down recipe ideas that will later be baked into life in my kitchen.

For the past four years, since starting my baking blog, my mind has been consumed by sugary thoughts. Facing the boredom of the winter nights ahead I decided then I needed a hobby. I had always enjoyed baking, although saved it for special occasions, but following a brief conference with myself I resolved to bake weekly.

While in that uncharacteristically decisive frame of mind, I also made the decision to begin a blog to chart my baking successes and failures. Little did I know when I hit publish on that first post that it would lead to me writing my first cookbook, Like Mam Used To Bake.

Growing up, my mam had baked for special occasions and some not-so-special days in between. She always seemed so at ease in the kitchen, turning out perfect bakes without a fuss. Watching her in that space, her hands moving deftly, it never occurred to me that cooking or baking might be difficult. I presumed we all had the ability in us as naturally as she did, and so I never had a fear in the kitchen. I just cooked and baked without giving the matter much thought and the results were (almost) always edible.

Mam became ill when I was 18, and hearing the word cancer was the most terrifying experience, but regardless, we all remained hopeful. For three years she fought the disease with surgery, chemotherapy and the most tremendous spirit. But the battle was lost three weeks prior to my 21st birthday, the same day she would have turned 56.

Like Mam Used To Bake, by Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell, published by Mercier Press, price ¿19.99.
Like Mam Used To Bake, by Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell, published by Mercier Press, price ¿19.99.

Although we knew mam was dying, nothing could have prepared me for the unbearable pain her death would bring. From the instant she was gone from our lives my world became an alien land, and I wasn't sure how to live in this new unknown territory.

My body kicked in to autopilot mode and, each day I got up, functioned as if my life had not just crumbled around me. My boyfriend proposed to me -- we bought a house and married. Having those projects to occupy my mind kept me busy and offered a brief respite from the feeling that I was slowly drowning, unable to breathe under the weight of my grief.

When I stood in my kitchen, though, wooden spoon in hand mixing and folding I felt at ease. If my cakes flopped or were suitable only to be fed to the bin it didn't upset me. I just cleaned out my mixing bowl and started again. But when they rose perfectly and I listened to the 'ooohs' and 'aahhs' as people tucked in I felt proud. Why should I save this feeling for special occasions? If I wrote a baking blog I would have a legitimate excuse to recreate this feeling every week.

Sharing recipes, and the memories that go hand-in-hand with them through my blog seemed to resonate with many, but when I received an email from a literary agent asking if I would consider writing a book based on my blog, I thought it was a joke. Following a meeting with her I made the scary decision to go for it.

Locked away in my kitchen I sifted through precious scraps of paper s cribbled with mam's familiar writing, typed on my laptop, pushed my oven to the brink and photographed cakes hunched over my camera until my back ached.

Today, as I hold my book in my hands, I feel a great sense of pride. My memories are bound together forever; a beautiful tribute to the woman who continues to inspire everything that I do.

And while cake does not have the power to heal a broken heart, it certainly helps.

Like Mam Used To Bake, by Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell, published by Mercier Press, price €19.99.

(The Herald)

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