The Place in the Middle

On Saturday, I was making her doughnuts in her kitchen and she was right there next to me, coaching me along.  At least I think she was.

Thirty years ago, as a young bride, I’d asked for her doughnut recipe.  She recited it from memory while I wrote.  One of us left off the flour.  Or maybe she just figured that I’d know how many cups I needed because she knew how many it took to create the world’s best fried doughnut.  Who knows?

The only thing I know for sure is that I’ve tried many times to duplicate that darn doughnut recipe.  Sometimes, they turn out like hockey pucks with holes in the middle and sometimes, they look promising until someone takes the first bite and discovers a gooey, uncooked, really bad excuse for a doughnut instead.

But I keep trying, and since I was in her kitchen and it was summertime and I was missing her, I tried her recipe again.  I measured and stirred,  then patted the dough and cut out perfect little rings.  I heated the oil and then popped a doughnut hole into the fat to see what would happen.  When the hole sizzled and rose to the surface without burning, I was encouraged.  But it swam around looking pale and lost. Unfinished.  So I monkeyed around with the heat setting and tried another test hole. The wonderful little ball of awesomeness turned a crispy, golden brown.  I scooped it out and popped it in my mouth.

Success!

Pretty sure I heard angels singing.  Doughnut angels.

I’m not one of those people who posts recipes or reads cookbooks just for fun.  While I admire people who spend hours perfecting fancy dishes to serve their families and friends, I’d rather paint a room or dig in the dirt.  That is unless I’m baking something that makes the people I love smile and remember her because it is a recipe of hers.   Her pies do that.  Her doughnuts do, too.

There are certain August afternoons when the river is sparkling and there are sunfish under the bridge and little kids I don’t know are yelling, “Grandma!  I caught one!” when it happens.  Days when the wild blueberries are ripe and she’s not there to pick them when a girl misses her grandmother more than all the other days in the year.  And on those days, baking something she baked in a kitchen that was hers is about the only thing that makes things better.

My sister gave me the ultimate compliment after she sampled one from that batch on Saturday.  She told me it tasted just like the ones Gummy used to make.  High praise.  High praise, indeed.

Sometimes love is a doughnut.  And sometimes love is the empty space right smack in the middle.

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