I dont know why I do it but I do. I dont come from a family of stepford wives, my mother only ever baked one kind of cake and thats the cake I like baking when I am sad.
When I am sad, I bake my mother’s pineapple upside down cake
When I say sad, I mean the kind of sad that lends a gritty grey film to an otherwise beautiful day. The kind of sad that sits on your lungs at your office desk and makes you feel like youre drowning. The kind of sad that only let’s you sleep if you cry for hours first. The kind of sad where you refuse to look at your own reflection because your body looks alien to you. That’s the kind of sad that leads me to bake my mother’s pineapple upside down cake. Because that kind of sad is called depression and it leaves my otherwise organised world upside down. Which is probably why my mother’s pineapple upside down cake seems fitting to bake.
Baking is funny. A whole lotta effort put in to chucking ingredients together in hopes that you produce something that would have cost far less bought from a store. When I think of bakeries I think of bakers; men in white hats and cool button down chef tops. People with careers, people who have it together. Yet when I think of baking I think of women, at home, in aprons pouring love by the measuring cup into a bowl hoping it turns out for the best. Hoping that it makes the day of a friend or family member. Hoping that it raises funds for a good cause. Hoping that it makes things feel a little less shitty. And if not, then there’s always the leftover rum I bought for the Gateau I was making.
I only bake when I am home alone. I lay my ingredients out in a neat line by order of process. When I beat them together I like to do it by hand and i get into “the zone” beating the eggs into a foamy mess while choking back angry tears and reliving all the shitty moments leading up to baking this damn fucking cake. I have cried into cake batter before. I have had flour adhere to my nose in some kind of doughy snotty plug during really bad breakdowns. It’s therapeutic and satisfying yelling obscenities at the oven and conducting fake conversations that you don’t have the guts to have in real life. You always win the arguments you have with your nemesis while baking my mother’s pineapple upside down cake. That’s a promise.
I used to associate baking with happy 50s housewives in pretty midcentury kitchens with smiling children and a handsome husband. The more I learned about the mental health of women in the midcentury, the more I appreciated baking alone with only a cat to keep me company. Good old days my ass! But I do wonder how much we have progressed as women when it comes to talking about and looking after our mental health?
As a modern woman I still experience a level of disregard at the hands of society when it comes to talking about my “bad days”. Whether these occur at the hands of my hormones, mental illness, or the vissisitudes of life, it is goddamn uncomfortable for me to openly discuss my emotions without being written off as “being a crazy dame”. I put that phrase in quotations quite deliberately because the term crazy alone offends and upsets me as someone with a mental illness.
There seems to be this misconception that women can easily talk about their feelings because talking about emotions is historically a female thing and so there is less or no stigma attached to it. While the emotionally connected, traditionally chatty archetype of women is nothing new in the long line of (harmful) stereotypes about women, I hardly feel that this stereotype benefits me when it comes to communicating my mental health. If anything, I feel like my concerns are disregarded and belittled by society and even the medical profession at times as symptomatic of my assigned gender.
“Oh don’t worry about it. It’s probably hormonal”
“Stop being such a girl about it and get on with it”
“You’re extra crabby today. Getting your period or something?”
“You women are always so bloody hysterical”.
So you know what happens when I get sad? When I get the kind of sad where I feel like taking a long walk off a short pier? Where I “accidentally” walk into traffic on Beaufort street at lunchtime fetching coffees in a nice dress? Where I have the urge to stick a fork into the PowerPoint next the photocopier at work because I can no longer stand one more fucking conversation from cis white men about how Feminism is useless and how we are all equal now?
I go home. I gather my ingredients. I bake my mother’s pineapple upside down cake. I beat in their smug faces when I beat those egg whites. I scream along with the sound of the electric can opener. I hack the head off a prickly as fuck smug pineapple. And while it’s baking and bubbling in the oven, it’s almost as if I am watching my blood boil, my rage cook in a tiny dark space. In 45 minutes I am calm as a monk, sitting cross legged watching my cake rise and my anger fall.
I remember my mother red eyed and snotty on a monsoon May day in Karachi sitting on the floor of our tiny apartment kitchen. She reassured me that the cake she was baking would make everything better without telling me what had brought upon this treat. It’s funny how some things you only figure out snot faced and flour dusted 25 years on.
They say home made cakes taste better because they are made with love. I am pretty sure the secret ingredient in my mother’s pineapple upside down cake is unapologetic feminist rage.
And that’s why my mother’s pineapple upside down cake is what i bake when I am sad.