Svetlana Fischer grew up in Russia where her mother cooked from scratch. There was not much variety because of shortages or rationing, so the family ate foods that were the "labors of my Mom's and Dad's hands," the St. Johnsbury resident said. "It was very good quality, but a simple, Russian diet."
She often helped her mother in the kitchen and enjoyed making pies, cookies and other baked goods.
So when she immigrated to the United States, she experienced a kind of culinary culture shock, an explosion of flavors that allowed her to learn more about the world through food.
Svetlana now has a spacious, bright, modern kitchen and there enjoys not only baking but cooking, preserving and pickling.
It's the baking that caught the interest of her daughter, Peggy, who recently competed on Food Network's "Kids Baking Championship."
The 10-year-old liked baking with her mother – at first decorating cookies or spreading icing – and "got into it," she said with a smile. Now, she bakes solo, often not even using a recipe.
She made her first treat on her own when she was about seven: red velvet cupcakes.
Peggy, a fifth grader at Good Shepherd Catholic School in St. Johnsbury, said she is sometimes a better baker than her mother, "but Mommy is like queen of the flavors."
Svetlana and her husband, Stephen, an anesthesiologist, also have a son, Dimitri, 12.
Though mother and daughter share the baking "creative hobby," father and son don't. So the family members enjoy other activities like cross-country skiing, ice skating, running and swimming.
Peggy is a member of a local swim club, competing in the butterfly, breast, back and free. She and her mother enjoy running; in the 2015 Kingdom Challenge 5K Lana (as Svetlana is known) placed second and Peggy third in the women's division.
Peggy also enjoys watching YouTube baking videos and television baking programs. When she saw "Kids Baking Championship," she thought it was "awesome" and applied for its second season.
She was one of 20 children selected to try out then chosen to be on the program, filmed last summer in Los Angeles.
The children are judged on presentation, taste and creativity and compete for the title of Kids Baking Champion and $25,000. Valerie Bertinelli and Duff Goldman host the competition.
Peggy did not make it to the final three for the finale; she was eliminated in episode seven.
But she had great success in two episodes: In Episode 3 the eight still-competing bakers were challenged to incorporate hot spices into their chocolate desserts, and Peggy was the winner with her brownie with raspberry coulis and Sriracha ice cream. In Episode 5, the six still-competing bakers had to transform lunchbox items into delectable desserts. She made a chocolate zucchini cake with a tart orange sauce and a carrot and coconut ice cream. Again Peggy was the winner.
The native of Klamath Falls, Ore., was among the four remaining bakers that had to make a dessert item that looked like a savory dish and a cupcake that was not sweet at all.
Peggy's dessert imposter was "nachos" made of phyllo dough with crumbled cake to imitate chicken and lemon curd "cheese." Her dinner imposter was a cupcake made of butternut squash with a guacamole frosting.
Those creations didn't cut it, and it was here that she parted company with the show.
Asked if she learned it is okay not to win, the 4-foot-3-inch freckle-faced girl quipped, "I always knew it's okay not to win. Everybody should know that."
On a recent morning during a school vacation, Peggy shared her baking hobby with a visitor, making – without a recipe – lemon mousse served in white chocolate cups. She stood on a yellow step stool at the butcher block counter in the kitchen of the Victorian house and skillfully made the no-bake dessert which she garnished a blackberry sauce.
A seed from the berries evidently clogged her piping bag, but that did not deter her: She improvised with a plastic zipper bag to drizzle the sauce.
Wearing the orange apron she wore on the baking show – later autographed by hosts and contestants – Peggy said it was sad to be sent home from the show, but she was happy to have learned new baking techniques.
"It's fun to just eat well and create," Lana said. "I like to have all the aromas through the house especially when we are making bread or cookies."
Her favorite is a French macaroon while Peggy favors brownies or strawberry mousse. "I like no-bake desserts the best. They are a lot of fun," she said.
And Nina, the family's Airedale Terrier, runs to the kitchen as soon as Peggy gets her step stool out. After all, she gets to eat most anything Peggy drops.
Plus, the dog enjoys the dog treats Peggy bakes.
Though Peggy has a few customers who order desserts from her, she does not envision a career in baking. "I'll always do baking for a hobby . . . but I want to do something [for a career] in fitness."
One thing she did not like about the baking program was the amount of food that was thrown away. "It kind of broke my heart," Peggy said. "A lot of people are homeless and starving."
Asked about all the attention she got while a contestant on the baking show, Peggy said she didn't feel like a celebrity. "Sure, I get a good amount of attention, but it can get old."
She just likes to bake.
But she appreciates the fan mail she has received. One card was addressed simply: "Peggy Fischer, Kids Baker Extraordinaire, St. Johnsbury, VT."
Article and photos by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.