Flour Power

By Melissa Masnik Pasanen '86 / November / December 2005
April 27th, 2007

It was ice hockey that led her to Brown, says P.J. (Peggy) McKearney Hamel '75. Like most kids growing up in Hingham, Massachusetts, she was an avid Boston Bruins fan, but girls didn't play hockey back then. "I loved ice hockey," she recalled recently, "and Brown was one of the only schools in the country that had a women's team."

The problem was that she couldn't skate - so she played goalie. Luckily, she seemed to have natural defensive talent. Hamel started every game during her four years on the Brown Pandas and was even written up in the Providence Journal. "I just had a feel for it," she says. "You have to think of yourself as a movable wall. You also have to be able to rebound emotionally because a goal is always your fault."

Brown sports also contributed - albeit circuitously - to Hamel's award-winning writing and culinary career at the 215-year-old King Arthur Flour Company, a national baking education, equipment, and ingredients mecca in Norwich, Vermont.

"I had never been a domestic person," Hamel says as she deftly formed dinner rolls in King Arthur's test kitchen. But after moving from a dorm into a house with friends, she quickly discovered baking's virtues: "You put a pan of brownies in the oven and everybody shows up." She other uses for her baking skills, too. "Women's sports were definitely second-class," she says matter-of-factly ."We were coached by the boys varsity team and we used their old equipment. We had to have bake sales to go anyplace."

Hamel also photographed sports for the Herald and served as yearbook photo editor. After graduating, she covered sports for a newspaper south of Boston and changed her byline from Peggy to PJ because readers complained, "Girls can't write about hockey." The name stuck when she moved to a Maine weekly, where her beat ranged from sports to food. For the last fifteen years, Hamel has been editor of King Arthur's Baker's Catalogue (praised by TV chef Alton Brown as "more useful than most food magazines") and the lead author for their cookbooks, including The King Arthur Baker's Companion, 2004 winner of the James Beard Foundation's prestigious Cookbook of the Year award.

Over the years, Hamel stayed involved with sports through her son and also played softball until she was diagnosed in 2001 with breast cancer (now in remission).

"If I had to do it again, I would choose to have cancer," she says. "It made me stop and assess my life and concentrate on what's important: family and friends, and leaving something good in the world." True achievement, Hamel reflects, "is taking the gifts God gave you, whatever they are, and using them to make the world a better place." She volunteers with a cancer support group and is reminded daily of why she first started baking. "Baking is kind of a dying art," she observed while pulling out the last of six dozen golden rolls destined for a free church supper. "It's a giving thing, a sharing thing. We aim to keep it going."

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November / December 2005