Flashback Friday: Let Emerson eat cake

by Janie Jones

Monday I was writing about change and how it can be a double-edged sword.  I might have made Emerson roll over in his grave as I abused his thoughts, but at the same time I seem to recall his point was to be true to yourself and not blindly go with the flow.  He wanted to urge people to break with the consensus if that consensus was for something detrimental, if the popular wisdom was leading you astray.   Do the masses tend to understand what it is anymore to be true to yourself? Do we as a society ever stop and question what is really right and good and necessary anymore?

I might have implied that we are drowning in a new sea of wild and pointless change for the advancement of Progress for the pure sake of Progress.  But, change in the name of Progress isn’t a new problem and doesn’t just afflict our 21st century technology driven life.  The world of Progress has rocked and changed other generations, too.

And, while some changes have brought wonderful things that do enhance our lives, with every step forward something is left behind.  Who stops to ask if what we exchange is worth it?

I don’t talk much about my family here anymore, but, there is one memory indelibly etched in my brain with the clarity of something that happened just yesterday.  It captures a moment in time which literally shaped the way I would see the world for ever more.  I was a tween, and I was eating birthday cake at my paternal grandmother’s house.  It was the best cake I had ever eaten.  And I asked my grandmother what kind of cake it was, hoping I could persuade my mother to buy that brand.  The response I got blew my mind.

“Oh, well, I’m sorry, but I forgot to buy a box of cake mix at the store yesterday, so I had to just whip this up from scratch.  I am sorry it’s not as good as the store kind.”

Two thoughts fought for prominence in my mind:

1.  How the heck does someone just “whip up” a cake that delicious as a last minute thing and

2.  Why in the world was she apologizing?!?

But my paternal grandmother grew up in the depression, apparently poor as dirt.  When modern conveniences rolled out things like box mixes for cakes and other foods, the fact that they saved the housewife time, and were more costly, had to make them better than the old fashioned, poor people’s home cooking.  All these years later, when the masses had forgotten how delicious unprocessed food was, she was still able to cook rings around Duncan Hines and Pillsbury, but she was apologizing for it because people of wealth and consequence didn’t inflict home cooking on their families.

This was also the woman who would wash tinfoil in the dishwasher because it was too expensive to just throw away.

But quirks aside, this insight into the mind of a different generation does show how sometimes seemingly innocent changes which make life appear easier, better, and more convenient can actually diminish a valuable trait in our society.  Ever since that day, I have endeavored to make from scratch instead of buying store bought anything when ever possible.  I don’t know why, but that one simple conversation taught me the value of being able to cook and impressed upon me how it is something of a dying art.

Convenience foods certainly have their place, and can be useful.  But to claim they are better and more valuable than home cooking is a crime and a travesty.  Undoubtedly in part due to this backward change in societal values and probably because of their prevalence, as a generation we have lost a valuable skill.  How many people today can just whip up a cake, or a homemade soup, or gravy?  All are staples a pre-WWII era housewife could make in her sleep.  Heck, girls younger than I was at the time used to do these things every day as automatically as breathing.  It is a sad, sad testament to the times that I know a whole physics class of teens and twenty-somethings today who don’t even know how to boil an egg.

So, the important lesson I like to take from this memory is to never, ever devalue a good made from scratch chocolate cake.

But, seriously, in order for life to go on, I recognize change is inevitable.  However, I hope that people start to see that we can and need to choose to hold on to the simple, better things in life instead of letting the grand, sweeping scope of Progress swallow up, obliterate and bury them in the past.  There are skills we need to keep alive and part of our core of knowledge, even if they seem old fashioned, even if Technology and Progress tells us there’s a faster, more efficient, greener way.  Somethings just can’t be improved on by modern convenience, technology or innovation.  We shouldn’t let innovation make us apologize for being able to do things by hand, for upholding traditions and customs, and for valuing simplicity.

Anyone else have a taste for cake?

 

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4 Comments to “Flashback Friday: Let Emerson eat cake”

  1. I’d love to be able to whip up delicious cake!

    • Mostly I don’t think it’s hard, people just need a good recipe and the patience to follow the directions closely the first few times. Your basic cake from scratch is really only just a few more steps than using a box mix. Try it sometime, you will be surprised how easy and delicious it can be.

  2. Funny that you mention homemade gravy wink wink

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