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By Harry Anderson
When she speaks about baking, Erica Pease is not out to ingratiate herself with her contemporaries – that is, with those who swap taste for haste. With contempt in her voice, she scorns the likes of frozen “quick” meals, boxed cake mixes, and much of the recipes that internet dishes out. Her beef lies, ultimately, not so much with their ingredients but with the life-style (she assumes) of those wives and mothers who stock their pantries and freezers with these items.
“Absolutely,” Erica declares, “so many women my age are missing out on the pleasures of good cooking when they come to rely on packaged mixes or frozen dinners. I believe this is happening because they’ve swallowed hook, line, and sinker the idea that a modern woman is supposed to be out of the house and off to a job. In fact, I’ve been told more than once that I’m doing the wrong thing by being a stay-at-home Mom.”
Staying true to her belief that right now her role is to be with her two children – Ezekiel (age 6) and Shelby (age 2) – from sunup to sundown and to put her love for them and for her husband Aaron into her cooking, she keeps on hold the start of a career. It could be in music (she sings and plays the piano, viola, violin, ukulele, and guitar) or in business (she holds a degree from Southern New Hampshire University in accounting).
“Like almost everyone of my generation – I’m 29 – I know my way with a computer. When I went on line to find recipes, that’s how I discovered two things. One is they often lack giving you basic steps, so the results are poor. For example, in baking bread, you don’t add salt to yeast. That tip is missing in those on line recipes. I also learned from reading comments posted by working mothers that they live busy lives. They’re always in a hurry.”
A tone of resolve tinges her voice when she adds that her days at home are not unproductive or without challenges. “For one thing,” she says, “I home school Ezekiel, and to those who don’t know what that takes to do well, I’ll them. It’s very challenging! You need to have a lot of ingenuity, not to mention a lot of patience.”
Born and raised in Concord, Massachusetts, Erica scoffs at the notion that perhaps its past has, osmosis-like, imbued her with self reliance and even with her bent on cooking. “I wouldn’t call myself a Yankee. All I know is what my common sense and heart tell me, and they tell me my place is with my husband and children. Truly, the way you prepare food does reflect the mores of a generation, and personally Aaron and I are not into the mores of ours.”
She argues that frozen dinners and cake mixes have more additives than many users are not aware of. When she bakes Christmas cookies, she follows recipes printed in the 1942 Betty Crocker cook book that she purchased at Savers for two dollars.
“Those old-time recipes call for butter, whole milk, flour, and eggs. And they give you an explanation of how to go about blending the ingredients – everything from A to Z. Like, you have to sift the dry ingredients. That’s very important! The waffles I make, for example, from the Betty Crocker book are way better tasting than the ones I used to make with the packaged mix where you only add water or sometimes 1% milk and whisk.”
She doesn’t hide her contempt for frozen meals and canned soups that she contends lace everything with salt in order to disguise their tastelessness.
“It’s impossible to make a quick meal taste right!” Those are Erica’s fighting words.
When she takes aim at the wont of hurried women to season whatever and shake some dehydrated onion flakes or garlic powder into the bowl, her cheeks flush: “Sure, those dehydrated things make cooking faster, but they are not from the same planet as whole onions and garlic cloves!”
Staying on the subject of seasonings, she belly laughs as she scorns the appearance of exotic spices in some modern recipes.
“Honestly, those foreign sounding names of herbs and spices only deceive people who think themselves connoisseurs of gourmet cooking. Why hide the natural taste of, say, salmon? My answer is simply let the food speak for itself.”
Could it be that while taking girlhood dips in Walden Pond Erica Pease had been absorbing the spirit of Henry David Thoreau and now cooks to the beat of a different drummer?