Sweet and sour balances this cook

For Holly High, good food fixes everything.

A nurse by profession, her nurturing spirit sends her to the kitchen whenever she senses a need — soups for a sick friend, cake to celebrate a co-worker’s achievement or mend a heartbreak, hearty casseroles after group outdoor adventures.

“I’m drawn to do that. It’s my hobby,” she said. “If someone is having a bad day, my first thought is that maybe they need some cookies. I’m the person that forces food on people, like dropping off zucchini bread at a friend’s house.”

For High, there is no distinction between comfort and food.

“I love to feed others,” she said. “It brings me joy. It’s my way of showing people I love them.”

At the encouragement of her computer-savvy boyfriend, High began to blog about her culinary predilections, ala “Julie and Julia.”

Defining herself as a “cultural Mennonite” she’s embracing her roots and exploring the palate she developed as a child by cooking her way through “The Mennonite Community Cookbook,” and reporting on the results in “7 Sweets and 7 Sours: Cooking Therapy for my Mennonite Soul.” (7sweetsand7sours.com)

According to High, the “Mennonite Community Cookbook: Favorite Family Recipes” by Mary Emma Showalter, with “1,100 mouthwatering recipes from old Mennonite cookbooks brought up to date with standard measure” is the go-to tome for anyone raised in a Mennonite household.

“Everyone I talk to that is Mennonite is excited by this,” she said. “It really strikes a chord with them. This is food all our moms and grandmas made and they recognize and remember it.”

She named her blog “7 Sweets and 7 Sours” from the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of properly balancing food, whether sweet and savory or sweet and sour.

“My plan is to bring a similar balance to my life as I learn to cook with joy and freedom,” she writes in her introduction to her blog, promising to share her experiences with the recipes as she offers step-by-step observations and photographs, unless she’s too excited by the recipe and devours it first.

“Sometimes we forget and eat it before I take the picture,” she admitted, which is why some pictures are simply crumb-filled plates.

Although High now works as a nurse, she comes by her Pennsylvania Dutch cooking honestly, working for years at Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earl.

“I started as a dishwasher, then spent five years in the bakery, learning cookies, breads, cream pies, crullers and even how to make 2,000 apple dumplings at once,” she said. “It made me comfortable around food, but I always smelled like a doughnut.”

Growing up with both sets of grandparents conservative Mennonites, High credits them with developing her strong work ethic.

“To them, work came directly next to God in importance,” she writes in her blog.

Writing the blog allows her to explore what her heritage means.

“I want to honor my upbringing and embrace the good in it,” she said. “I know that I am industrious and driven and that it comes from my Mennonite roots, but I want to find out who I really am.”

High credits the blog with helping her forge a deeper bond with her father’s mother. After finding a recipe for Molasses Crinkles, childhood memories of “Grandma High” came back, prompting a long overdue visit.

“Molasses Crinkles brought us together,” she said of the afternoon she spent reconnecting with her grandmother. “It’s something I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t been writing the blog. I learned it’s never too late to mend a relationship or learn to love.”

High shares this moment in her blog: “She talked to me about the many, many weddings and church events she has cooked for in the past. It brought her joy to work and provide, and be a blessing to others. We talked about being productive and using our hands. It was eye opening to me; that I could have more in common with her than I ever thought. I came away with a better understanding of her, and a better understanding of myself.

“Of course I think of my grandma when I make these cookies. I would be so happy when she made them for family gatherings and would love to know her secret. Part of who I am, my love of food and desire to work with my hands, I inherited from my grandma.

“It’s a bittersweet though. Although I have been to countless family reunions and weddings, I don’t really know my grandma on a personal level. As my immediate family became less conservative, my grandparents remained very conservative and religious. I always felt a separation from my grandparents and a desire to have a deeper connection with them. Now that I am older, I am starting to see that it’s never too late to reach out; maybe Molasses Crinkles are a good place to start.”

For High, the blog offers an opportunity to reflect on her heritage and prompts cooking experiments with traditional food. But all the canning, pickling and trials with lard are balanced with her love of French and Thai cooking.

“At first I was gaining a lot of weight. These foods were meant to be hearty because people were working hard out in the fields,” she said. “So now I’m slimming them down for today’s palate, and adding spices I like, like curry.”

Again, it’s all about finding that balance.

“I do want to stay true enough to the recipes that people can recognize them and that they have the same feel, but I want to play and try to make them more spectacular.”


One Response to “Sweet and sour balances this cook”

  1. Carol Dailey

    I also love to cook comfort foods and desserts.

    11/06/11 07:42

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