Connection through Confection

The best memories from my childhood often include the warm summer afternoons that I spent baking with my grandmother. All the way from Ukraine, she brought recipes passed down to her from her grandmother. I’ve never been to the city where she and my mom grew up, but being able to assemble creations that are native to her memories of Donetsk brings me closer to my culture.

The aroma that fills the air while baking a simple coffee cake allows me to imagine what it might have been like for my mother growing up when my grandma used to concoct the same cake in their quaint apartment on the fourth floor of an old red brick building, two blocks away from the school that my mother attended. The whiskey, chocolate and walnut cake that my Grandma Baba bakes for my mother’s birthday is a tradition in my family; a tradition I have happily taken over in recent years. The combination of chewy and creamy nutty textures melting on the surface of my tongue is the nearest connection that I have to the memories kept by my mom of celebrating in the vegetable garden that blossomed behind the aged apartment building, a building which she and my grandparents used to call home.  

Walking through the very same steps as my Great-Grandma Baba Fanya to bake an apple pancake allows me to imagine what she was like, for I only knew her as a voice on the telephone. I like to imagine her frolicking throughout the kitchen frantically awaiting guests, as she was habitually the host of many family dinners while my mother was growing up. I see Baba Fanya in myself as I often begin baking only hours before my guests are expected. I find myself frosting my cake as they arrive. 

Being able to retrace the steps of my beloved distant family members through an activity that results in a concoction reflective of my culture enables me to find truth and meaning within myself. Having the ability to experience the very same sensual sensations as my ancestors did and as my mom experienced in her childhood brings me closer to my family and to understand where I came from. In each one of the sweets I create, there is more than just sugar and eggs, there is a part of me, a part of my mom and grandma and great-grandma; because they are what created me and they are reflected in everything that I do. 

Though I love celebrating the European parts of my ethnicity, I have recently found myself wondering about my Native American ancestors. A few months ago, I took an ancestry DNA test so that I could get a better picture of my family tree. I found that the father of my paternal grandma was the son of a Cherokee Indian. This new discovery prompted me to wonder what my experiences would have been like had I practiced any of the traditions held by my Native American family members. However, after evaluating the pieces of my culture that have made my life whole, I learned that, as DeVault stated, “It doesn’t matter how many pieces make up my whole; rather, it’s my relationship with those pieces that matters.”