When shelter-in-place orders started springing up around the country a month ago, some of the more optimistic among us suggested that all the extra time we used to spend commuting and sitting in traffic jams and going out to dinner and to bars with our friends could be used on self-improvement projects. We could learn new skills, like knitting or calligraphy or cake decorating. We could do multiple online fitness classes every day and get into the best physical shape of our lives. We could learn new languages so we could go on exciting vacations once we were allowed back in the world again.
For most of us, none of these things have happened. The only skill we’ve perfected is learning how the mute function works on Zoom calls, and the only thing we’ve discovered about ourselves is our collective capacity for sloth. Which, you know, it’s a pandemic. We can forgive ourselves for not being at our brightest and most chipper.
And then there is Lucy Pollock, a 97-year-old from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, who has used this time of quarantine to become an internet cooking star.
About a month ago, Pollock’s daughter, Mary Ellen Raneri, posted a photo on Facebook of Pollock making cinnamon rolls. One of her friends suggested that the two make an instructional video. So one afternoon just before Easter, Pollock, Raneri, Raneri’s husband Phil, and their two dachshunds Lilly and Alfredo gathered to the kitchen for a baking session broadcast on Facebook Live. With Phil filming on a smartphone, Mary Ellen narrating, and Lilly and Alfredo barking occasional commentary, Pollock produced a traditional Italian Easter bread with a whole egg baked in the middle. It was such a success that Pollock went digging through her recipe box for a nutroll recipe to make the next week. And then, as Pollock told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The world exploded.”
Now Pollock has her own Facebook page, Baking With Lucy, and more than 16,000 followers, many of whom use the comments section to reminisce about their own kitchen memories and favorite old recipes. So far she’s made nutroll, cinnamon rolls, halushki (a central European noodle dish) with homemade noodles and cabbage, spaghetti and meatballs, Italian wedding cookies, Italian ricotta rice pies, and garlic pizza, and she’s been getting her fans primed for this weekend’s gnocchi extravaganza. “I’m the chitchatter, and she’s down to business,” Raneri told the Post-Gazette. “We’re not putting on airs because we don’t have airs to put on.”
Pollock had a more succinct explanation for the show’s success. “I give advice,” she said. “Take it or leave it.”