Baking Failures Can Make Wonderful Memories

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, December 6, 1914: <<no entry>>

Photo Source: Herbert Hoover Memorial Library
Photo Source: Herbert Hoover Memorial Library

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

As we send Grandma off to live the rest of her life with the Bake-a-thon, I had an “ah ha” moment. Sometimes our best baking memories are the failures rather than the successes.

I recently told Uncle Carl (Grandma’s son) about my plans for the Bake-a-thon. He thought for a moment and then said:

You know, Mom’s cookies weren’t always the best. She’d burn them.

When, she did that, she’d say, “They’ll go.”

And, they did “go” because kids were always hungry.

Mom used that expression without any sense of guilt in burning them.  We were grateful to get them, and they were still very good, as was the homemade bread, which never seemed to get burned.

You must remember they were baked in the oven of a coal or wood fired stove without any thermometer.  That requires quite a bit of guess work.

Uncle Carl’s comment made me think about my first draft of the post I did about my memories of baking cookies. It originally included a paragraph about the time we forgot to put baking powder into the chocolate cookies. (It was a too many cooks thing).

After I’d written that paragraph, I decided that a story about a cookie failure didn’t belong in a post about baking memories so I deleted it. I now realize that I should have kept that paragraph.

Both baking successes and baking failures have the makings of wonderful memories.

53 thoughts on “Baking Failures Can Make Wonderful Memories

  1. So true. The first cake I ever made by myself came out shaped like a volcano, complete with the insides pouring out of its peak. It was a surprise for my mom’s birthday and she still remembers it fondly.

  2. My mom was always amazed at how I loved her baking failures…because I still found them all delicious, not caring that a cake fell or if cookies had black-bottoms 🙂 Great memories ~

      1. It was actually a very good experience for me, as I realized I can alter recipes a bit to suit my taste and everything will not fall apart (granted, I rarely cook anything complicated!). 🙂

  3. It’s the making of memories that is just as important as the making of cookies… If everything always went smoothly there would be no stories. A lovely story from your uncle to ease us into your grandmother’s future.

    1. Yes, if everything always went smoothly and perfectly we would have a very poor collection of memories. One of the reasons I loved my mother’s Christmas cakes was because the center was always a bit soggy; so they weren’t perfect by the book but they were perfect by me.

  4. This has cheered me up because if something goes wrong when I’m making something I’m always really hard on myself. In future, I will look on it as a different type of memory but still worthy. Thank you! 🙂

    1. I’m glad you liked this post. Your comment made me think about how, when things go wrong, people sometimes say, “We’ll laugh about this someday.” . . .. and how we actually often do laugh about the various minor catastrophes in a month or two.

  5. I love that term “baking failure.” It does have a place of its own, doesn’t it??? I have thrown out more baking product than I’d like to admit…though I am considered a very good cook!!! And failures are everywhere. I just picked up a pizza yesterday that I was told had been left in the oven too long. It was OK for me…nice and dark…crunchy…certainly not what I’d call a failure. And, I got it cheaper, too. Who could ask for more???

    1. I’ve also thrown out more foods I made over the years than I’d like to admit. . . and I also consider myself to be a good cook. Sometimes I think that learning from baking failures is part of the process of becoming a good cook.

  6. The mistakes and failures of life are always more interesting than the success. When I write a blog that tells of a perfect day of travel where everything went as planned and we loved everything that happened it’s a bit of a bore, but whenever I live through a vacation disaster folks love it!

  7. We never threw away my mom’s cooking. Her biscuits were delicious no matter what, and even when our oven quit working and she could not afford a replacement, she would cook them in an electric skillet. She’d add cinnamon, butter, and sugar inside the dough and fold them over before “baking.” With a delicacy like that, the bottoms mattered none. The makeshift foods that she fed us during our poorest times have disappeared, just as did that old electric skillet. I wish she were here now so we could do it all over again. Who would have thought that those hardest times would contain some of the best memories. My heart swells, and my eyes leak as I remember. Thank you for this.

    1. What a lovely memory! Even though I don’t know you or your mother, your heartfelt comment about your mother brought tears to my eyes, too. She sounds like she was a very special person.

  8. It wasn’t wood-fired. No, it was powered by gas, but the stove in my Boston apartment – definitely old fashioned at the time – looked a lot like the one in the photo and called for a thermometer hung inside on one of the racks. A lot got under – or over-done there. By the way, after I moved in to that apartment on Buswell Street I learned the name had just been changed from “Ivy” street, because “Ivy” street had a “reputation.” I tended to believe it one night when a group of two or three men pounded on my door wanting in.

    It was an adventure living there. But it was also good to know we’d be able to leave eventually. I had great sympathy for those who were stuck in the neighborhood.

    A couple of years ago I took a tour of Back Bay where my apartment had been. I recognized nothing. Gentrification had moved in. I wonder where the folks went who were driven out in the process.

    1. Cooking (and living) in your apartment in Boston sounds like an adventure. It’s interesting how some marginal neighborhoods have gentrified. As I get older I find it fascinating how houses and neighborhoods change over the years–some for the better and others for the worse..

      1. I guess from the point of view of the gentry and the tax collectors it was a good thing. I’m not sure that it was good news for the poorer folk who were displaced. Truth be told, I haven’t looked into that. But yes, it was an adventure, as so many things can be when we are young.

        1. One of the downsides of revitalization of neighborhoods is definitely the displacement of the people who had previously lived there. At any point in time, it seems like some neighborhoods are on an upswing and others are going downhill.

    1. I used to burn many more cookies that what I do now. Insulated cookies sheets are a wonderful invention. They have made it so much easier to bake cookies without burning them.

  9. My family’s all time favorite cake is dubbed “Fire Engine Chocolate Cake.” The first time I made it, I put the batter in two pans instead of three. The cake batter spilled over onto the bottom of the oven, and caught fire when I turned the oven to “clean.” Off course, the oven door locked shut, with this flaming mess inside! I didn’t know what to do, so I called 911 seeking advice. Moments later two fire engines and a rescue truck came zooming up our driveway! By then, I had figured out to simply flip the oven off at the electrical breaker box in the garage.

    Boy, was I embarrassed! That is a cake-disaster memory, but a funny one!

    1. Thanks for taking a moment to write this note. It’s nice to hear when someone enjoys this blog. I’ll also miss my daily “visits” with Grandma when it ends. Hopefully you’ll also enjoy the new blog that I plan to start after this one ends about my great aunt who was in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs).

    1. I think that it was more of an art back then. There were so many variables and unknowns that needed to be considered when baking with a coal oven.

  10. The best failure ever? When I fell asleep in Liberia and let two loaves of bread bake for three hours. They were wonderful little lumps of carbon when they came out. The houseboys used them for footballs for a while.

    1. They do sound like they were more than a little overcooked. 🙂 What kind of oven were you using? (Was it a modern one with a thermostat or a wood/coal one?)

  11. The little house where I was born, had a black-lead cooking range, I have warming memories of the rice puddings, stews, and this time of the year the chestnuts that were baked too perfection in that oven, always provided they did t explode of course. Nothing fast about the food that these, coal fired ranges produced, things could be hit or miss, but most times the slow way was thr tasty way.

    1. I also have the sense that it was easier to make some foods that required long, slow cooking (for example, plum pudding) using a wood/coal stove than with a modern stove.

  12. We still tell stories of baking (and cooking failures). We do tend to remember those because of the great stories they are. “They’ll Go” is a great term!

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