Prof. Huneycutt Weighs in on Coronavirus Baking, Historical Recipes, and Celebrating Quarantine-Style

Lois Huneycutt

I did my first “coronavirus” baking today. I’ve been reading about how stressed-out people have turned to baking as a way of coping with the isolation of quarantine, so much so that some areas are running low on flour and eggs.  I get it. My name is Lois, and I am a stress baker. 

Baking is a great stress displacer, because baking requires a lot of concentration, and it has to be done in the right proportions, and the right order, or you risk failure.  It’s a great head-clearing, calming activity, so I can see why a lot of people have been producing homemade baked goods in the last few weeks. There is something really satisfying about putting together all those disparate ingredients in just the right proportions, and then letting heat and chemistry do its thing, and ending up with something delicious.  And usually, I can make something and take then take it into to Read Hall, and put it on Patty’s counter to share with students and colleagues, so I don’t have to worry too much about my clothes not fitting because I have been consuming the results of my baking hobby again! 

Of all the things I bake, cakes are probably my favorite, and lately I have been finding my historian self take over my cake baking, in that I have become particularly interested in finding old recipes and trying to recreate them with modern ingredients. Some of my efforts end up in Read Hall, so if you’re around when the University opens again, come by and taste my best guess at what eighteenth-century gingerbread, or nineteenth-century pound cake really tasted like. My historical recipe obsession is an aspect of one of the occupational dangers of being a historian – historical thinking has a way of invading all the areas of your life. One of my colleagues in another academic department once jokingly informed me that the way to tell a historian from anyone else is that “if you ask historians what something IS, they’re probably going to start by telling you what it used to be.”

Today’s baking wasn’t stress baking, though – today was my son’s 24th birthday, and so we celebrated quarantine style. I made the cake, put it in the garage to maintain social distance, then he came by and picked it up, and the whole extended family showed up on Zoom to sing Happy Birthday to him, watch him blow out his candles, and cut his cake.  And as I was celebrating this adult son of mine, I was also thinking of HIS history, and where I was 24 years ago today.  In the first week of April, 1996, I did my “job interview” at Mizzou, hoping to join the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Medieval European History. I taught a sample class, did my job talk, checked into University Hospital, gave birth to our son, and received a job offer, all within about a 48-hour period. There have been a lot of birthdays, and a lot of cakes since – but this one might end up being the one we remember longest.

We’ve all faced a lot of challenges during this transition to emergency remote teaching.  But somehow, the historian in me can’t help but think that we are also going to emerge with a lot of stories to tell in a world that will be changed in ways that we don’t yet understand – like the story of the first time that we celebrated a family milestone over Zoom.  I hope that you are writing down some of your quarantine stories, and I hope that I get to hear some of them soon!