Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kitchen Memories

When I think of how I reached this homesteading life I lead, I can point to an evolution in a life from single mother to married homeowner. I can think about those times when I daydreamed with a MotherEarth News on my lap. I can remember the feeling of satisfaction as I learned new skills that allowed me to be more self-sufficient; gardening a small community garden plot, learning to knit and purl, the first batch of strawberry jam..err syrup. I learned to trade time at work with time spent using my own skill.

But really the journey begins in the kitchens of my childhood.

I have memories of my mother in a frenzy of flour, sugar, molasses and chocolate chips as she baked cookies for Christmas presents one year. My mom was not the best cook. She could cook a good porkchop into shoe leather. She would get in a rut with menus where every week we could rely on tuna noodle on Tuesdays and chili on Fridays. Wednesdays really were Prince spaghetti nights in our house. But cookies, she could bake. My memory of my kitchen at home is always of me standing so high to the kitchen counter, waiting for a little hand of chocolate chips as they tumbled from the bag into the bowl. She was so adept at scooping a consistent amount of dough from the bowl to the baking sheet with two teaspoons. Cookies were a real treat in our home. Dessert was not something that showed up on our table on a regular basis. But when it did appear, it often appeared as cookies.

When my mother worked on weekends my brother and I used to spend the weekends at my grandparents house. This was where the real lessons took place. I would help my grandfather in the small veggie patch he grew in the backyard. My grandmother taught me how to embroider and crochet. Food is so connected to my memories of my grandparents. My grandfather always made us soft boiled eggs for breakfast. Only he could cook it just the right way. My grandmother used to make spam ( yes spam) and egg salad sandwiches with bread and butter pickles. My grandfather was designated potato masher. But there was one smell that IS Saturdays at my grandparents and that is the smell of homemade tomato sauce simmering on the stovetop all day.

And then there were the pickles. Every Christmas my Aunt Lil would give our family a pint of bread and butter pickles. My Aunt always had a big, big veggie garden. During the summer we would be gifted with paper bags full of corn, tomatoes, cukes and the ubiquitous zucchini. For so many years I wondered at the pickles. How did they find themselves in the jar? Finally one year when I was around ten years old I was welcomed into the kitchen to help with the pickle making. I was given chopping duties because the pickles could be thick and my unexperienced hands could manage thick. The cooperative effort of everyone in the kitchen is the greatest memory of pickling, even if after the pickle magic was diminished.

When I think about the abilities I want to instill in my sons, I think the most important skill is knowing how to cook good, healthy, simple food. Tristan can bake bread and is creative in his choice of ingredients for the dinners he prepares for us. But there has not been a bad meal yet. Evan wants to stand so high to the counter and not only sample the chocolate chips but add and stir the ingredients himself. The best lesson and memory I can give him is to allow him to stir to his hearts content....


Wendy said...

Loved reading this. Wonderful memories and insight.

Lamb said...

Your comments on your mothers cooking made me laugh, as I can relate. My mother's cooking was EPICALLY bad. Alas, she didn't have baking skills to make up for the dinners that could be timed by smoke detectors!
Fortunately, I was bundled off to my grandmother's during the summer and school holidays. An infinitely patient and loving woman, she made me an apron to match hers, and included me in her cooking, sewing and gardening.
From her, I learned to cook on a wood stove, can, dehydrate, grow, pick and use herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes.
My memories of her and how she ran a household on the tiniest of budgets has inspired my efforts my whole life.
My mom is still around (age 82) and has happily discovered the Swan delivery guy and is quite content with that, lol!

Wendy said...

I wonder if it's a generational thing. My mother's cooking isn't stellar, either, but she loved to bake (although her pie crusts were always a bit thick and dense).

Unfortunately, I never had the grandma experience you had. My grandmas never invited me into the kitchen to learn, and I ended up learning all I know by myself, once I became a "married homeowner" ;).

I hope I can teach my girls to cook, and not just that, but to enjoy it, as well.