By Karen Rushen O’Brian

firstThe Baking Group is in its third year, co-led by Sylvia Barge and Karen O’Brien. We started by teaching baking–specifically, American style foods that are made in an oven: cakes, pies, breads, cookies, casseroles, etc.

Of course, many of the women in our groups come from cooking cultures that don’t traditionally use ovens–for example, many East Asian cuisines and a lot of Latin American cuisines don’t involve using an oven. So, our women have appreciated learning how to use this contraption called an oven that is now in their new Ann Arbor kitchens.

However, as a group, we also stress learning from one another, and everyone takes a turn hosting in their homes, so, we have had to expand the meaning of the term “baking” when it comes time for our members to share their own “baking” traditions with us. For example, an Indonesian member shared pastry with us that involved steaming rather than baking the pastries. A member from El Salvador made pupusas, which are “baked” on a griddle, and our Macedonian member demonstrated several delicious “baked goods” that required no baking whatsoever, just “chilling” the ingredients to form cakes and loaves of sweets.  And our Japanese members frequently teach us to make “baked goods” that are made with rice flour rather than wheat flour, and include ingredients like sweet bean paste and match (green tea).

Our baking group always ends with us sitting down together and eating what we’ve baked. Around the holidays we always have a cookie swap, and towards the end of the year, we try and have a potluck gathering or picnic of some sort. We have become good friends around preparing and eating food–something we believe is a universal way women get to know one another.