When I was very small I loved watching my grandmother knead and form the Italian biscuits she had learned to make from her own mother, in Messina, Italy. “Great-Grandma’s cookies” are hard and slightly sweet, a little “dolce” for after a meal, or mid-day coffee. My grandmother is not what you’d call a “calm” person. She is easily upset and when she gets that way she will lose her English syntax and fall into the Italian, but when she bakes, she is the picture of serenity.
“It’s her therapy,” her ever-present neighbor and best friend told me, and because I was too little to know what that meant, she explained, “Your grandmother uses her hands and her memory and creates something and that makes her feel better.”
This story from Smithsonian.com suggests that Grandma’s neighbor was more right than she knew:
Cooking or baking has become a common cure for stress or feeling down, but there might actually be some science to why small creative tasks might make people feel better. According to a new study, a little creativity each day can go a long way towards happiness and satisfaction in the bustle of daily life. […] This isn’t the first time researchers have drawn a line connecting making food with positive feelings. In recent years, psychologists have started spending more time exploring cooking and baking as a therapeutic tool to help people dealing with things like depression and anxiety, Meager reports. “When I’m in the kitchen, measuring the amount of sugar, flour or butter I need for a recipe or cracking the exact number of eggs—I am in control,” baker John Whaite, who won “The Great British Bake Off” in 2012, told Farhana Dawood for the BBC. “That’s really important as a key element of my condition is a feeling of no control.” For people like Whaite, who was diagnosed with manic depression in 2005, baking can help their mood by providing small tasks to focus on in a manner similar to meditation…
These days Grandma makes her cookies with a KichenAid mixer, and doesn’t quite get the therapeutic effect of banging on the dough herself, but all of this — plus a piece Aleteia recently ran about the value of a “house-wifey thing like sewing” — puts me in mind of a quote from Chesterton, in response to a question about freeing women from the drudgery of the home:
Of the two sexes the woman is in the more powerful position. For the average woman is at the head of something with which she can do as she likes; the average man has to obey orders and do nothing else. He has to put one dull brick on another dull brick, and do nothing else; he has to add one dull figure to another dull figure, and do nothing else. The woman’s world is a small one, perhaps, but she can alter it. The woman can tell the tradesman with whom she deals some realistic things about himself. The clerk who does this to the manager generally gets the sack..the woman does work which is in some small degree creative and individual. She can put the flowers or the furniture in fancy arrangements of her own. I fear the bricklayer cannot put the bricks in fancy arrangements of his own, without disaster to himself and others…A woman cooking may not always cook artistically; still she can cook artistically. She can introduce a personal and imperceptible alteration into the composition of a soup. The clerk is not encouraged to introduce a personal and imperceptible alteration into the figures in a ledger.
The suggestion is not that women should stop going to law school or med school, only that there is comparative value and creative freedom in the management of a household, no matter who is doing it. And, now I feel like ringing up Grandma and asking her for a few cookies, if she has the time.