Sunday, 14 November 2010

Just Desserts

Not long after we moved to this town, I baked five dozen oatmeal, cranberry and walnut cookies, packed them into a clean foil-lined tin, and took them down to the local church where I proudly handed them over to the women running the church bake sale. All profits from the bake sale would be donated to Save the Children. I told myself that my good deed was worth the hassle, and getting my kids to help out with me was a good way for us to meet the local people.

"Where are your cookies, Mom?" my kids kept asking as we set platters of meringues on tables.

"They'll be out soon, I'm sure."

Ten minutes later, my girls frowned as the ladies from the kitchen handed us trays of cupcakes and tray bakes. "They're still not out!"

"Be patient. A lot of people have baked things."

In the kitchen, I heard two women at the sink chatting. "Fancy somebody bringing her failed scones to a bake sale!" one of them huffed. "I'd have thrown those right into the bin, so I would have!"

"Aye, these younger women," her friend agreed. "They take no pride at all."

I took out a platter of rice crispy bakes and handed them to my daughters to distribute. "Your cookies still aren't out?" my older daughter demanded.

"It looks like they haven't gotten to them yet," I said, shrugging.

My eyes scanned the platters for my cookies, but I couldn't see them anywhere.

Thirty minutes later, we'd served dozens of people, but we still hadn't seen my cookies. The kids were especially irritated: I'd promised them a few if any were left over. "I'll bet the people in the kitchen saved the good ones for themselves," my younger daughter said. "Yours are so good they decided to keep them for their own families."

Actually, I was a little disappointed -- and mystified, especially when I went into the kitchen to reclaim my tin and found that it was empty. Could my daughter really be right? Had the kitchen ladies really wolfed down five dozen oatmeal, cranberry and walnut cookies?

If I hadn't gone to get a plastic bag to put my tin in, I wouldn't have passed by the garbage bin. God knows what made me look down.

But when I did, I saw my five dozen freshly-baked cookies lying in the trash.

I stood there, shocked and devastated. Those cookies were made with real butter. They had a shot of decent whiskey in them and several cups of cranberries and walnuts. But more importantly, they were chock full of all the good will in the world.

I took a deep, fortifying breath, then bent over for a better look. The bin liner was new and there was no other garbage in it. In two seconds, I had whipped open my tin, emptied my poor cookies into it, and stuffed it into a plastic bag. If any of the women saw me, they were wise enough to keep their mouths shut.

Walking home, I held my daughters' hands and fought back tears. I remembered the bake sales of my childhood, how the cookies that nobody bought were the ones that stank of cigarette smoke or tasted of hand lotion. The 'failed scones' the church ladies had been dissing were in fact my very own oatmeal cookies. Maybe the ladies who dumped them had problems with their vision, but still, how humiliating!

"Were there any of your cookies left?" my daughters wanted to know. All I could do was nod.

A few months after this, I ran into an acquaintance just outside the church. She was holding a large covered pot and she looked irritated.

"What's in the pot?" I asked.

She curled her lip. "Soup."

"Ooh, what kind?"

"Mushroom," she sighed.

"For the church potluck?"

She nodded, but her face looked grim. "At least I don't have to make dinner tonight."

"You've got a lot left?" I said, trying not to smile. I was beginning to feel better about my oatmeal cookies.

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, I do -- the whole pot, in fact." She sighed. "I got up at five in the morning to make it because the ladies who organize the potluck asked me specifically. And then they didn't even serve it!"

I stared at her, relief beginning to flood through me. I'd eaten at this woman's house and knew that she was a fine cook. "At least they didn't pour it down the sink," I commented. I told her my cookie story and she perked right up.

Not long after this, we were both approached by the church ladies and asked to bring baked goods to the church bake sale. We politely declined.

"Ach, these younger women," I heard one of the ladies commenting to a friend. "They can't be asked to spend time in the kitchen!"


Anonymous said...

Ooh! I love how you managed to take the sting out to make it a good, funny story. But how it must have stung at the time!
Please send me the recipe for your "failed scones," as I will always call them. They sound wonderful!

Angela Ackerman said...

Oh my goodness! They tossed them out? How awful!

You had a lot more control thn I would have. I would have said something. What a waste!

Angela Ackerman said...

Oh yes, send me the recipe too! It sounds wonderful!

Vijaya said...

Oh, I cannot even imagine this, with people going hungry. This is just so wrong. We generate so much money from food sales -- and food brings people together for a good time. How could they even do something like this is beyond me. The Lord knows what they did, Mary, and there is justice.

Liz Straw said...

I say the next time they ask you to bring something. Ask them why they want it if they are only going to throw it in the trash. Tell them you would rather bring it home than have it go into the trash.

Of course I LOVE to confront people mascaraing as Christians. If they cannot accept everyone and change, then indeed they are poor Christians.

Robin said...

That's terrible! They could have at least tasted one. I'm no baker, but I can tell a cookie from a scone. "Ach! These older women! Can't tell a cookie from a scone!"

e said...

I am so sorry you had to endure this, Mary! Those cookies sound wonderful.

Reviews Of Unusual Size! said...

This is why people bake razor blades into cookies. Old People.

I would have happily tried your "failed Scones" and I'm even allergic to walnuts. I love oatmeal cookies that don't have raisins in 'em!

Check In To The ROUS Motel!

ditdit said...

I love how you tell this story. Those "older" ladies better get out of the church kitchen before they scare away all potential help.

Anne M Leone said...

Wow, your story's left ME steamed!

At least there's a nice end, that you were able to commiserate with someone else. And have the opportunity to say "no" in the future.

The cookies sound GORGEOUS, btw.

Mary Witzl said...

Elizabeth -- Boy, did this sting. I can laugh about it at the time now and it really is funny in retrospect, but back then, my baking ego took a huge blow. In all fairness to these women, when I baked bread for other town bake sales which they showed up to, they bought it right out. But they truly didn't get the idea that oatmeal cookies were not scones. Silly twits.

Angela -- Yes, right into the trash! What really incensed me was the waste, and the fact that they threw ALL of them out, so obviously. If they'd really wanted to do this right, they could have hidden the evidence. I couldn't say anything -- I was literally shocked speechless. But as I lay in bed that night, many excellent retorts came to me. I've got a nasty passive-aggressive streak, though: you can bet my cookie/church story has made its way through the town.

I'm thinking of posting the recipe on my blog: 'Mary's failed scone oatmeal cookies'.

Vijaya -- Yes, this irked me on many levels. First of all, the proceeds were going to a charity that fed hungry children, so how ironic. Also, it was a shabby way to treat a newcomer. Later, when I heard a few of the women complain that the church was not gaining enough younger members, I almost laughed in their faces -- no wonder why!

Liz -- Some of the ladies who helped out at church were lovely. Their idea of Christianity was in line with mine. The ones who dissed my cookies were the hard cases -- the kind with fixed notions about food, whose idea of practicing Christianity was putting on your best clothes every Sunday and going to church to gossip with your friends. Unfortunately, they were also the main bakers there, and the ones in charge. I wish I'd had you there to confront them for me!

Robin -- Me too. I've got a great sense of smell and I put it to good use. If I see something that looks like a scone, but smells like a cookie, I'm all over it. My cookies were drop cookies, and those ladies were used to uniformly shaped cookies. I think if I'd made my cookies using a compass and a spirit level, they might have stood a fighting chance.

e -- (sniff) Thank you! I've baked for plenty of people in my life, and if they were all lying about my cookies tasting good, they're definitely in line for Oscars.

ROUS -- Thank you for visiting and commenting.

I got my revenge in other ways. Whenever anyone bemoans the sad decline in church-goers, I've brought my oatmeal cookie story out.

Isn't it awful to bite into what you're sure is a chocolate chip cookie and find that it is actually a raisin cookie? The trick to making raisins in cookies taste good is to soak them in juice or alcohol ahead of time and bury them deep into the cookie dough before you bake. If they're sticking out, they dry up and taste nasty.

ditdit -- Those old ladies are the last of the line, and very rigid in their thinking. It's sad, but they are part of the reason more young people don't join the church.

Anne -- Me too! Just writing this irritated me all over again. There was a really good, brave minister at the church and his wife was truly lovely, but they couldn't make up for the cookie dumpers and soup rejecters.

Kim Ayres said...

"They can't be asked to spend time in the kitchen."

I think you'll find they were probably saying, "arsed" rather than "asked"

Bet those cookies were good. Real butter? mmmMMMmmm... slobber...

Pat said...

My God Mary that made me so angry.
I'd like to think I could have maintained a dignified silence if that had happened to me but I think I would have exploded and my cooking isn't perfect - my baking worse.
How dare they?
I've heard similar tales of 'Ladies of the church' never allowing new members to arrange the flowers and lording it over everyone. Is the vicar aware of such antichristian behaviour? These women should be names and shamed. Rotten old cows!

Pat said...

No offence:)

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I translated their speech into mainstream English, but I'll be able to do a good impression for you next time we meet -- their words are seared into my memory.

Those cookies were perfectly edible! They just weren't what the church ladies were expecting. I suspect if I'd studded them all over with M & Ms or forced them into perfect geometric shapes, they'd have passed muster.

Pat -- Your comment pleased me no end -- no offence taken whatsoever!

One of the nicer women in the church later told me that the vicar's wife herself was bullied by those women. She was a sweet, intelligent, compassionate woman, so she didn't have much in common with them.

I've eaten my way through dreadful rock cakes and salty cookies; I once managed a whole piece of tablet that was 95% sugar without once gagging. My cookies might not have been everyone's favorite, but they were tasty and perfectly wholesome -- especially compared to rock cakes and tablet.

Bridgette said...

Oh my. What a horrible thing to happen to you or anyone else. Sadly, I've met a few of those older ladies in my years of church work also. But I love the way you tell the story. Have you pitched it to some of the Christian mags and devotional books? They are always looking for true stories like this.

2to4aday said...

Your story sounds like it could be a parable in the New Testament. Of course, in the Bible, Jesus would have come in and overturned all the bake sale tables as He admonished the hypocritical church-kitchen pharisees for their hoity-toity attitude. AND He would have multiplied your cookies and fed them to the 5,000 after the main entree of loaves and fishes!

Mary Witzl said...

Bridgette -- Thank you for commenting, and those kind words.

I'm sure you've heard the expression 'preaching to the choir'? Most of those ladies belonged to the choir and believe me, they could have used the preaching. I know I'm imperfect, but they seemed wholly unaware that their actions might be considered mean or un-Christian. Robert Burns said it all when he wrote his poem about seeing ourselves as others see us, and that was inspired by a visit to a Church of Scotland too, come to think of it.

2to4aday -- Ooh, I love that fantasy! Thank you for that!

Some of the younger people at the church used to come to worship in sandals and jeans, causing no end of scowling, whispering, and haughty looks. If Jesus ever showed up there, he'd be given short shrift with his sandals, robes, and longish hair.

Dale said...

I thought of this as a parable too, about the importance of recognizing gifts that aren't what you expect them to be, & the consequences of failing to do so. It's a wonderful story.

Charles Gramlich said...

You gotta wonder (often) just what the hell is wrong with people. Just inexcusable.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Mary, I would have told the church ladies WHY you declined! Church people need to occasionally be reminded of the fires of hell.

Kit said...

How dare they!!
I want to taste those cookies - they sound great. More fool them for missing out on something new to them!

Carole said...

Great story and as a preacher's wife can absolutely assure your readers this really does happen. Way more often than it should. And just like going to the zoo doesn't make one a snake, going to church doesn't make one a Christian. But you wish they'd hide it better.

debra said...

Heaven save us from church ladies!!
Another wonderfully written story, Mary. I just baked oatmeal, raisin, chocolate chip cookies for my vegan daughter; tasty!

Anonymous said...

Those cookies sound delicious. They didn't know what they were missing out on. You might as well have just purchased a tin of cheap cookies for those ingrates.

laura said...

Well this story just about broke my heart and I know for a fact I would have loved those cookies!!! Perhaps this is why I have a problem with a few (but not all) church ladies!

Christine said...

Those cookies sound delicious! Those women remind me of why I don't go to church anymore!

Mary Witzl said...

Dale -- The cookies those ladies recognized had colored bits sprinkled on them and were shaped like stars or Christmas trees. I'd have been better off bringing plain sugar cookies.

This would actually make a good sermon, wouldn't it? How our narrow-mindedness keeps us from growing and keeps other people away.

Charles -- I really wondered! Part of me wished I'd been a fly on the wall in that kitchen when my cookies got trashed. Part of me was glad I wasn't.

Robert -- On another occasion, I let loose, but not on this one. I've got a bad passive-aggressive streak and will do just about anything to avoid confrontation. But I got those ladies back my own way: there are members of that church who DON'T know what happened to my cookies.

Kit -- Thank you. When I (eventually) told my husband, he said 'Pearls before swine'. That cheered me up, and so did my friend and her uneaten soup. (And so do all these comments!(

Carole -- I was pretty sure that our church wasn't the only one full of flawed human beings, but it's good to have it verified by others. It used to drive me crazy, looking at all of those women sitting there, apparently listening to the truly excellent sermons the vicar preached. I'll bet their minds were elsewhere --
on somebody's new hat or whether they'd thawed tonight's pot roast.

Debra -- Ooh, I love that combination! After that bad experience, I was tempted to bake perfect sugar cookies for the church, shaped like angels. And full of garlic.

Medeia -- That's what my husband said! And in fact, some people had done just that: bought store-bought shortbread. The packages were duly opened and laid out on plates. It made me gnash my teeth just to see it.

Laura -- A couple of the women at the church are the nicest, most egalitarian, open-minded, sweet-tempered people in the world. Anybody meeting them might assume that all Christians were like that. But we know better, don't we?

Christine -- People like that ruin the idea of Christian fellowship, don't they? I'd rather collect money for charities, teach my children right from wrong, and worship all by myself than have to suffer those women every single Sunday.

Falak said...

Loved this post. I could connect with ithght in my case it was something I wrote an not cooked:)

Miss Footloose said...

Oh my, how awful. Was there no way to gently "educate" them about your cookies? Unfortunately it's the same story the world over: Most people (not all!) won't eat what they don't know. Luckily I am not one of them, and of course you are not either.

I remember bringing a large loaf-shaped country pate to a church potluck dinner in the US. I had nicely arranged it on a platter with grapes and some parsley, and crackers for serving. It looked like something out of cooking magazine if I say so myself ;) I'd even sliced a couple of slices to get it started, arranging them prettily.

I think one slice was taken apart from the ones my husand and I took.

The rest of the food on offer was take-out chicken or tomato pasta dishes and some salads. All of them had been eaten from and were mostly gone.

Only my own beautiful country pate remained behind in all its (almost)uneaten glory.


Mary Witzl said...

Falak -- Believe me, every writer knows what it's like to have the words they've so painstakingly written trashed! For every story or essay I've had published, there have been dozens that were rejected, scorned, dissed, or just ignored. All that rejection and criticism was painful at first, but you do learn from it. I've gotten used to taking it on the chin when it comes to my writing.

But until that church fund-raiser, NOBODY didn't like my cookies!

Miss Footloose -- Its so frustrating to read about something tasty that has been wasted or ignored! If you had brought a potato chip cheese 'n bean bake or a dish of lime Jello prepared with canned fruit and marshmallows, you'd have gone home with many compliments and no leftovers. But that is too high a price to pay, isn't it? It's a wonder that people don't get tired of eating the same boring old things, but I suppose the adventurous ones who are game to try new things are the ones who go abroad. Like us.

(I should have known that you'd gone through a similar experience and would understand how this felt!)

AnneB said...

Another vote for putting up that recipe, Mary! But in the meantime, I bet any oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie recipe can be adapted by substituting dried cranberries (or dried cherries) for the chocolate chips.

My trick is always to use half again more nuts and cranberries (or chocolate chips) than the recipe calls for; i.e., if the recipe calls for 1 unit of cranberries, use 1.5 units.

Marcia said...

You know what corks me off about this? Well, there's more than one thing, but the main thing? If Americans were this culturally insensitive, in our own country or abroad, it would become an international "ugly American" incident. But when it's done to us, we're supposed to take it.

Mary Witzl said...

AnneB -- The only thing that makes the cookies special is the addition of wheat germ, orange peel and cranberries soaked in whiskey, mace, and nutmeg. Other than that, they're just your basic oatmeal cookies.

I LOVE oatmeal chocolate chip cookies! I've actually tripled the chocolate chips a few times, that's how hardcore pro-chocolate I am. But I tend to do it for people with good appreciation track records. Never again for strangers!

Marcia -- The vast majority of people I've cooked or baked for here have been kind and appreciative (or quiet and polite), but sadly the actions of those ladies will stick with me for a long time. What hurt me the most was that other than a little pride, my intentions were mainly good: I wanted to do my bit and meet the locals -- and share something of my culture. They seemed to see me as a scary interloper pushing her foreign agenda. People here can be very strong in their insistence on always eating the same thing the same way, on the same days. And a lot of elderly people here in Scotland seem to be terrified of change. It makes me think that's why their ancestors chose to stay here and not emigrate to another land like ours did.

If I'd heard even a sniff of "You Americans" (or more likely "You Yanks"), I'd have forgotten my wimpy nature and been all over them. I won't take anybody stereotyping my country -- or anybody else's. And if I slip up and do it myself, feel free to put me in my place!

MG Higgins said...

Ack!! This is horrible!!! And what's made it worse is reading Carole's comment that what happened at your church isn't unique. Christian, indeed.

Anne Spollen said...

My kids have a rule: don't make your cookies with the zucchini and flaxseed in them for anyone outside the house. Make regular chocolate or peanut butter ones with nothing healthy...

Your cookies sound delicious, btw.

And so much judgment from those church ladies: what if someone loved failed scones because that's the way her Aunt Rose's scones always turned out?

mARTy said...

I love your story, so vivid! I enjoyed reading it! Have a good one!

Anonymous said...

I swear to God that Mary makes the best cookies I've ever had!
Those people who claim to serve God, I believe, have a very different perception of God than mine.
Right now, I feel very angry and upset!... and I've just remembered why I stopped going to church... Arrogant enough to waste what God's given us and to break hearts in the name of Jesus... Güzin

Mary Witzl said...

MG -- I keep waiting for someone to tell me that nobody at her church has ever done anything like that. I know it's possible!

It is sad to find uncharitable Christians who miss the point of Christ's teachings. But it is sad to find people of any religion who puff themselves up and feel as though their particular spiritual beliefs give them a moral edge on everybody else.

AnneS -- We've got that rule too (though nobody has ruled out wheat germ, so the sky's the limit with that.) I really DO leave flax seed, beets, and zucchini out of my cookies. But I put them (and pumpkin, squash, wheat germ, etc.) in my cakes and you should see how they get gobbled up by sworn vegetable haters. It gives me secret pleasure every time. (I'm betting you do this too -- right? It works fine as long as they can't see it.)

Those ladies make THEIR scones with lard -- I know because I've asked. They come out white and puffy and perfectly formed. I just look at them and feel my veins and arteries recoil.

mARTy -- Thank you for those kind words. It felt pretty vivid to me too.

Güzin -- Awww, thank you! I really should have made more cookies for you, you know? If I were in Ankara right now, I'd put on an apron and start making them right this minute! (How is it there? Colder than Scotland? It's FRIGID here!)

I'm feeling a little guilty now. This really happened (and a few other things too that I haven't written) and it made me very angry at the time. But I fear I've stirred up too much bad feeling. When I see those ladies in town now, my ears are going to burn at the thought of how I've roasted them on my blog.

Anonymous said...

And Jesus said ' the meek who baketh rightously shall inherit the hearth' or some such. The mean mindedness of some people who think they are doing good is a lesson in itself. Bake on madam, and damn the torpedoes.

sarah said...

there are always those deceptively arrogant types as I like to call them. Best to keep clear of them and concentrate your energies on the good ones. Would love to give your failed scones recipe a try, if they don't come out, I'll just call them cookies ;-)

KLM said...

See, this is why church ladies get such a bad rap. :)

It's also a warning to those of us as we get older: the "these kids today" attitude can be infectious. When you start assuming that standards are falling and younger people just don't have any moral fiber and everyone around you agrees, you're probably surrounded by a bunch of old bags. Run away!

Mary Witzl said...

Anonymous -- That is a clever twist on that proverb -- I like it!

After my cookies got dumped, I boiled righteously for a good long time. Then I girded up my loins and baked some more for charity. And it was good.

Sarah -- Life's too short to waste it brooding about people who make you miserable, but I'm afraid it took me a good while to get over my trashed cookies. Now whenever I bake them, I tell that story. It's become an amusing incident rather than a cause for righteous indignation.

KLM -- Yes! God forbid I should ever turn into one of those ladies who condemns an entire generation as 'these young people today'. (Shiver) It's so easy to do, but whatever satisfaction you get from whining about how your generation was smarter, harder working, more righteous, etc., has got to be leveled out by the realization that you've turned into a close-minded bore.

I've got a couple of blogging pals over 80 who could hardly be less close-minded. They're my role models.