Monday, February 22, 2010

When Did It Die?

Lots of conversations about Purim this time of year, at work, in the community, online. Some of that conversation centers around the excessive lists for shalach monos giving that have become prevalent for large parts of Klal. Some of it is about giving more for matonos l'evyonim and less for shalach monos. Some of the conversation is about the cost of all these shalach monos packages purchased ready made from bakeries, stores, schools and organizations.

But with only two exceptions in my forays around online or in my questions in "real" conversations has anyone mentioned that they are preparing their own shalach monos, that they are baking. Last year SL at Orthonomics mentioned that she does her own preparation. And G6 at Guesswho'scomingtodinner already had pictures up last week of some of the home baked goodies that are going to be given out for Purim.

How, when, why did baking come to be looked at as unnecessary, as burdensome, as old fashioned? When I first got married EVERYBODY baked for Purim, and for other times as well. Sure, some people did a better job of it than others. Sure, some items were better tasting than others. But they were all home made. And then suddenly the tide turned and home baking was passe, from another time period, out of favor.

One reason that occasionally raises its head has to do with kashrus. Okay, here is the thing. I don't give shalach monos to strangers, and every single one of the people on my list has eaten meals in my home. No one is going to be questioning my kashrus regarding the shalach monos. Then someone piped up that they give shalach monos to every one of the rebbeim, moros that their kids have and have had in yeshiva and you can't send home baked goods there. I'll leave this particular "custom" to a different rant.

So why aren't people baking any more? It's not even just the Purim baking that isn't happening--it's baking in general. Give it another generation or two and baking is going to be just another strange, very strange hobby, practiced by a few. I have seriously been asked why I still bake when bakeries are plentiful in New York. Okay, I may not be the biggest maven when it comes to baked goods but I'm big enough, and across the board I've eaten from a whole slew of kosher bakeries here and in other parts of the country. Yes, on occasion there have been some well prepared, tempting pastries provided. But in general the bakery baked goods are just average--nothing special to write home about. Why are we so willing to settle for mediocre when much better is available for only a little effort?

So, why aren't people baking for Purim anymore? Why aren't they baking in general?


Anonymous said...

Not to insult the older generation but those women were sahms and if you didn't clean, cook and bake what else did they have to do? With the busier lives that women have today baking is only optional. I'd rather spend my few free moments doing something nice for myself or my kids.

efrex said...

There are a whole slew of skills that are going by the wayside. Plain ol' home cooking and baking has long since gone the way of the dodo: see the NY Times magazine article from a few months back describing the strange confluence of the increasing popularity of cooking shows and cooking books with the decreasing interest in cooking. Another skill that's going extinct is writing in cursive. It's quite possible that my children will be the last generation that will be even able to read cursive English.

Not that you need my approval on what to write about, but I'd save the energy from your proposed rant on giving mishloach manot to teachers and rebbeim (if they live locally, I think it's a lovely idea) and use it instead to rant on the idea that it's somehow a good frum thing to refuse to eat from someone else's kitchen. There is zero justification for refusing homemade goods coming from a frum fellow yid's house. Ahavat yisrael should trump the chumrah of the month every time. When it doesn't, we've created a really horrifying situation.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous no 1. I work 50+ hours/week. Add in commuting, cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, etc. and there isn't a lot of time for baking. Most baking projects (other than brownies) that are not from a mix require 2-3 hours from start through cleanup and some, if large quantities are involved can be a full day project.

Anonymous said...

I work full time and we bake from scratch practically every week. We make simple but delicious recipes that don't take a long time. Just last night my daughters made 5 dozen cookies for mishloach manos, and had a lot of dough left, which they froze. We always baked a lot, but a few years ago we decided to avoid trans fat as much as possible. We have a canola oil recipe for practically every item, including cookies.

I will agree that not everyone is lucky enough, b"h, to have three teenage daughters who know how to bake and also like to bake. I am blessed!

Mystery Woman said...

I do bake for my mishloach manos, and I know lots of women who do, too. (Although I do not send my baked goods to my children's rebbis.) I also work full time, and still bake challos and cakes every week. I don't think it's going to disappear any time soon.

Chava said...

It's not the sahm versus non sahm that's key here. My mom is that older generation and anyone who says they were all sahms is wrong and right. Many of them, far more then we really mention, worked outside but they were still sahms when it came to the home. They cooked and baked and shopped and cleaned and did all the same things that other wives did, only they did it after working outside a full day. Today's working women aren't busier then those women were but they are choosing to be be busy in a different way.

You can't use working as an excuse for not baking. It's a choice people make.

Dave said...

That New York Times article was a bit sensationalist.

There are two issues here. One is that in many families, there was a generational skip in transmission of cooking skills in the 1960s and 1970s.

The second is that cooking has gone from being something that "every woman does" (to a greater or lesser degree), to being something that people do (in general) if they want to.

The side effect of this is that while fewer people cook often, the ones who do are in many cases much more skilled, because it is something they want to do, rather than something they are obligated to do.

So, no, baking isn't going away. But like many handcraft skills, it is only preserved by people who want to do it.

Shoshana said...

I still bake but most of my friends don't. One reason lots of 'em give is that no one needs the calories and fat of cakes and cookies. Yet these same people buy and send out shalach monos that are full of candy and fat filled snack foods. These packaged shalach monos are all junk food. When I point this out they tell me they are stuck because no one makes any of the packages that are healthy. Sure they's called homemade where you control what goes in.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the health issue, bakery goods are very expensive compared to home baked.

Rae said...

It wouldn't be a problem with the rebbis Efrex if it was only one rebbi or morah per kid. The schools my kids went to had only frum staff, hebrew and secular. There were multiple teachers on some of the grades. If they are all frum teachers, or you are talking an all girls school, you can't just send to a rebbi and nobody else. One year this would have been 21 shalach monos just for the teachers.

The schools tried to solve the problem by charging the parents a fee and then sending out packaged shalach monos to the teachers. The fee was only $4 per teacher back then but has gone up quite a bit since and lots of parents aren't doing it. And that's a problem too. If only a few kids send then how does that look to the teacher? You think they don't remember who thought they were worth the money and who didn't?

We pared down our giving list years ago and the teachers came off the list. If we couldn't/wouldn't give to everyone then none of them got. You have to cut somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Are you including as home baked those people who just throw together a cake mix? Know someone who is so proud that she still bakes but all she's using is mixes. Why should that count more then just buying from a bakery?

ProfK said...

You make a good point about the oil. I've adjusted every recipe I use and use only canola or grapeseed oil. I no longer even have shortening or margarine in the house. Some of my mother's recipes out of Europe already used oil as the fat--they didn't have shortening and margarine back then--like my dough for the hamentaschen.

And kudos to you about your daughters, and for being a mom that made baking a joint activity.


I think Rae made part of my point about sending to teachers. There are just way too many of them within one family even with only 3 kids. And if they don't live locally it can be hours out of a day to deliver.


I agree. My mom worked while I was growing up and still did absolutely everything that a sahm did and a whole lot more. I don't know when she slept, but everything in our house was homemade.

Anonymous 10:02,

Depends on the cake mixes. At least you know that it was fresh baked and hasn't been sitting around on some bakery shelf for who knows how long. Besides, cake mixes are sometimes just used as a basic ingredient for other recipes--lots of books out there that give you recipes that may start with a mix but have lots of other things included.

Sure, baking from scratch can take time but not always. Those who think they haven't got the time could use a mix in a pinch. My friend gets a tad hysterical when I say this. She tells me she has read the ingredient lists on some of those mixes and they are all chemicals. Unlike bakery goods which use only fresh, pure ingredients that are all healthy?

Someone in the catering business once told me that if people really knew what was in the foods they buy ready made and the baked goods they might give up eating.

Deb said...

I also don't think it's SAHM vs non-SAHM. My mother z"l worked 4 days a week and baked all the time. I work full time, bake challah almost every week (unless it's starting to build up in the freezer and then I take a week off). My daughter bakes for shabbos every week because she likes to- if she didn't, I would. sometimes I do anyway.
I have NEVER not baked hamantaschen for Purim. NEVER.
I don't get why people give out such junk. why bother? If you don't want to bake, give an orange and a small bottle of grape juice and call it a day.
don't even get me started on the need for "themes." yuck.
my theme is Purim! every year!

Anonymous said...

Deb - you nailed it. You say your daughter bakes because she likes to. I suspect that you, ProfK and some of the other commenters bake because you enjoy it. Most people who bake do it because they enjoy it, and those who don't enjoy it don't. Some will bake because its a good activity to do with children or they want to expose their children, and some out of a duty or love to make something homemade for a special occasion, but mostly its because people get some fulfillment out of it. It's no different than knitting or woodworking or any other hands on activity where you have the choice of doing it yourself or buying ready made.
BTW - Homemade is not always better. I've had lots of mediocre homemade baked goods. Usually they are too sweet or gooey for my taste.

Michal said...

I look at baking as being just one small part of cooking and an optional one. For the times I need baked goods I buy them. I mean, most people I know, probably just about everyone, does not bake their daily bread choices, probably just challah for Shabbos maybe. I don't make my own pickles either or my own mayo. Why should that be any different from baking?

JS said...

I don't think baking is going to be a lost skill, but I think others will be. Take sewing for instance. I think the main reason it's disappearing is that many mothers (and not to leave out the men - my grandfather was a tailor) haven't seen the need to teach their children or grandchildren. I don't think it's a stay at home mom issue. My mother is a decent seamstress, but never taught her children and my wife's grandmother is an excellent seamstress and didn't teach her children or grandchildren. Maybe the thought was that these skills are no longer as necessary today as they once were.

As for mishloach manot, the first year my wife and I did them we were so incredibly concerned that everything that wasn't in an individual package (for example taking some candy and placing it in little baggies) include labels indicating the hashgacha and parve/dairy etc for fear that a) no one would eat it otherwise or b) we look like am ha'aratzim. We also baked some goods and made sure to say they were home-baked in case anyone wanted to avoid it.

Imagine our surprise when no one labeled anything in the manot we received. It was especially humorous as many of those people inspect packages to the nth degree making sure it has the right heimishe hashgacha and everything is yashon or chalav yisroel, etc.

ProfK said...

The cholov yisroel/cholov stam issue has caused a couple of funny moments here. We have a couple of people on our list who are strictly cholov yisroel. For them I buy a few cholov yisroel chocolates to put in the packages. All the baked goods are pareve and home made. So imagine my surprise when one of these people kindly told me not to bother with the chocolates because it wasn't a hechsher they use in the house--but they eat my home baked goods.

The longer I live the less I understand just what constitutes kashrus for we frum jews.

Tova said...

My mom is an excellent baker and we always had homemade when I was growing up. But my mom didn't make the baking a family activity and none of us seemed to have gotten enthused about learning. My sister and I aren't bakers. Maybe if my mom would have made it seem more important that we learn we might have become bakers. I think it's the attitude of moms and teaching the baking that is the key here. One sil has a mom who did the teaching and making it seem like fun and she is the only one in the family who bakes anymore.

Anonymous said...

I try to limit shalos manos to things that won't raise questions about hecshers and that are healthy - i.e. fruits, nuts.

G6 said...

I must agree with Mystery Woman and Chava.
I too am a working woman, and as you mentioned I bake challahs and special treats for the Yomim Tovim.
It is a priority with me because I feel it creates a certain environment in the home that I want to perpetuate.
The first anonymous writes:
"I'd rather spend my few free moments doing something nice for myself or my kids."
She is missing the point entirely! These activities *are* something nice for the kids!!! It creates traditions and memories that are never forgotten. Who cares what they look like? I made them with MOMMY!!!

Anonymous said...

G6: I agree traditions are important, but if anonymous doesn't enjoy baking it might not be the best thing for her to do with her kids, its fine that she is creating these good memories and traditions doing something else together, whether its doing volunteer work together, planting a garden, painting the house, camping trips, writing poetry, etc. . . .

Rina said...

I don't bake for every week but I do bake. The things I make are more heirloom recipes that my family identifies with certain people and occasions. My Oma used to bake an incredible apfel kuchen every time one of her grandchildren had a special occasion like a birthday or even when they got 100 on a math test. I carry on that tradition and you should see my kids' eyes shine when the kuchen comes out. My Oma lives in every bite they take, because they know that it is Oma's kuchen. Yes each of my daughter's knows how to make that kuchen also. That's family history I was passing on.

G6 said...

Rina -
I love that!!!
What a beautiful tradition.

alpidarkomama said...

Maybe it depends on where you live? I've nearly always received mostly home-baked items in my mishloach manos baskets. And the ones I give only contain homemade stuff. We also don't do dozens and dozens of baskets. Usually around a dozen for the people who are our good friends.

Why do I bake everything at home? It's cheaper, and tastes WAY better. I can bake bread for $0.55/loaf or pay $4. To make 8 loaves of bread takes 20 minutes of my active time (not counting rising and baking).

G-d forbid it's a dying art. Sad. I'll be baking until I'm 120, beh.

Anonymous said...

alpidarkomama: do you use a bread making machine? I must be awfully slow, but I could never measure and mix the ingredients, knead punch down, reknead, clean up, ets. for 1 loaf, much less 8 in 20 minutes. I've been trying to figure out if a machine is worth the investment (an space in the kitchen.)

miriamp said...

I was going to say I must be a throw-back because I bake AND sew, but you seem to have plenty of bakers at least among your commenters. I plan to pass down the sewing and the baking to all my daughters (and my sons too if they're interested.)

And for the anonymous who complained that homemade baked goods aren't necessarily better -- you haven't tasted mine. I use part whole wheat flour and non-hydrogenated margarine (Smart Balance usually, although I've also used Earth Balance sticks) and I still have people comment to me that my hamentaschen are the best out of all the ones they received that year.

Lion of Zion said...

"Why aren't they baking in general?"

it's boring?

Anonymous said...

When my kids were young I baked hamantachen with them every year and they were the best, now they bake with their kids and I don't. They still call me for my dough recipe.(use OJ instead of coffee rich!)
We always labeled the homemade stuff with Pareve or Dairy so people would know what was what.
I now send donations to groups that send out packages from our shule and school and make up a few real Mishloach Manot packages just to give to my closest friends and in-laws.
My kids do what we did when they were young, make up lots of "baskets" and they compete with each other as to who sent their themed packages for the least money. They run around like crazy in their costumes delivering and have a lovely seudah in the afternoon.
All in all I am happy that I passed our traditions on to my kids, that their kids will probably do the same and that I don't have to go crazy.
Oh, I still bake from during the year, but nothing that requires more than 1 bowl and nothing that requires separating eggs.