What to CookPancake

How I Crushed Years of Regret into a Fragrant Mess of Flour

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A Baker's Year follows Instagram sensation Tara Jensen as she teaches readers how to make bread and pies, build the perfect cooking fire, and live a simple, satisfying life over the course of a year. Here, she shares an excerpt from her new book on how a heart can break and mend in the kitchen, as well as a recipe for sweet, tart pancakes.

What happened is more complicated than I am going to tell you here, but the script is classic. Like paint peeling off a barn, our relationship came undone in the years we spent farming. With little to no outside income, we supported ourselves from what we could grow, and the bread barely paid for itself. To say the financial situation was a strain on our intimacy would be an understatement. I baked very little, saving up for weeks on end to purchase a decent sack of flour. Moving frequently to escape demanding landlords or hikes in rent, we lacked stability, and our bond eroded while our hearts grew as callused as our hands. The food around us grew tall and beautiful while the very middle rotted.

I heard rumors before I saw it with my own eyes. On a cool Sunday evening in the early spring, I walked into the local bar and found them sharing a basket of french fries. The way they leaned into each other made my stomach turn. I knew, from that exact second on, that he was going to leave. She was a longtime friend of mine, reeling from a breakup, so I invited her to supper at the house that evening. She declined. He said he had more work to do, so I shouldn’t wait up. I ate dinner alone to the sound of a train in the distance. I went on like this. He’d swing by the bar where she worked at night, and I’d eat solo at a table set for two. Eventually I put myself to bed, waking to the sound of his tires on the gravel hours later. The glow of his headlights on the bedroom wall and the sound of the doorknob turning became the opening bars to every country song.

What Does It Mean to "Heal" Your Kitchen?
What Does It Mean to "Heal" Your Kitchen?

It was impossible for me to leave the house without hearing passing comments on their budding friendship. Getting stopped in the toilet paper aisle of the grocery store to reassure folks that everything was fine became normal. Finally, her boss pulled me aside while I was getting coffee and mentioned seeing them together at her house at a time she knew I wasn’t aware of. I walked outside, called him, and told him it was over. We met on the front porch minutes later, and he asked how I was going to survive. I found something I never knew I had: a lucid calm stronger than steel. I turned to him with narrowed eye: “I don’t know,” I said. “But if I don’t respect myself, I’m poor in a way no silver or gold can repair.”

The day after he moved out, while I was at the one traffic light in town, they swaggered from the bar through the crosswalk in front of my car and piled into his truck. I pulled over three times on the five-minute drive home because my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t steer. I took the ring he had given months earlier for our anniversary and threw it into the pond. Starting a small fire in a small pit, I lay down in the moist earth, and it held me as I cried myself to sleep. My only wish was that I wouldn’t have to wake up. Our farmland was miles away from the house, and I never set foot in the fields again.

Tragedy Broke My Grandmother's Will to Cook—But Not Ours
Tragedy Broke My Grandmother's Will to Cook—But Not Ours

My psychology was shattered. I’d lost my partner and my way of life. I wondered how cavernous the heart could be that you might lie down beside a person day after day and never know them. Never know how brutal they might turn, or what exactly they yearned for when their eyes shut. And I was embarrassed. In the same bar that we had walked into, arms full of bread and flowers, the languid eyes of our community had watched him fall in love with someone else. I couldn’t make eye contact. My pride was the only thing I had, and now even that was threadbare.

I kept the jar of Turkey wheat we'd grown together on a bookshelf in the bakery. The grain was nearly five years old. I liked to check on it every now and then. Like a potion, swirls of perfume radiated from the berries. A cinnamon stick. A dash of pepper. Hay and sweat. Warm soil. It reminded me of what being innocent was like.

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A year after he left, I ordered myself a gift. It arrived on a warm afternoon, just before the bread dough was to be divided. Inside a heavy brown box resided a small, tabletop mill. I knew what had to be done. I grabbed the jar, turned the mill on, and let the turning stones transform my most sacred possession into dust. With a slight tilt, years were crushed. Crushed into a fragrant mess. Crushed into something more useful than regret. Turning off the mill, clutching my blue bowl of flour, I leaned into the door frame and wept. Closure is something you give to yourself.

Jenson maintains the best pancakes (or any bread) comes from freshly milled flour. Here, she uses fresh-milled semolina and pastry flour to make lemon poppy seed creations that put the "cake" in "pancakes."

Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes

Lemon Poppy Seed Pancakes

Tara Jensen Tara Jensen
Makes about 8 pancakes

Dry Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup freshly milled semolina flour
  • 1/2 cup freshly milled pastry flour (low protein)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
Go to Recipe
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Bake, Long Reads, Books, Essay