Memories of Yesterday’s Kitchen

Who did most of the cooking when you were growing up? Just thinking about this question has me remembering the hearty beef stews and pot roasts that my mother would prepare. There would always be enough roast beef left over to make a shepherd’s pie the next day. This would be an all-day affair with my dad securing the meat grinder to the edge of the kitchen table and turning the crank as my mother fed the slow-roasted beef into the silver colored hopper at the top. I loved to watch as the first bits of meat pushed their way through the plates in the front of the grinder and tumbled into the waiting Pyrex casserole dish.

My parents shared the cooking duties in our home, each having their own specific tasks. I remember our dad carefully watching to get just the right temperature before dropping freshly cracked eggs into the poaching water on Sunday mornings as mom spread the toast with creamery butter.

We ate well in our home but when it came to baking, that was our grandmother’s domain. She knew just how the pie crust should feel as she rolled it out and that the bread dough was kneaded enough when it began to ‘squeak’. I remember leaning over her kitchen table, pencil in hand, writing down her ‘receipts’ in my scribbler. 

My mom restricted her baking to Duncan Hines and Pillsbury. She always insisted that her mother had preferred to rule her own kitchen and hadn’t taught her daughters to bake; thankfully Gramma had changed her attitude by the time my cousin and I were teenagers and she taught us both the secrets to her specialties. 

My grandmother taught me how to can as well. When we were living in Toronto, we had a huge pear tree in the backyard that would get so heavy with fruit that my dad would have to prop up its branches to keep the golden globes from hitting the ground as they ripened. Once warnings of the first frost arrived, we would all go out into the yard, armed with buckets, baskets, and paper shopping bags to pick the fruit that my grandmother would soon peel, slice and sweeten in my mother’s kitchen. 

Up from the basement would come boxes of sealer jars that had been collected there as they were emptied of their delicious contents over the previous year. Bags of sugar and new lids would be purchased at Knob Hill Farms by my grandfather during one of his bargain hunting expeditions and soon our little bungalow would be filled with the sweet smell of pears as they softened in the open graniteware kettle on the back of the avocado green stove (my mother’s pride and joy…it was the 70’s.)

By day’s end, there would be rows of jars, filled with the light amber jewel toned pears, along with a few filled with rosy peaches if Grampa’s shopping trip had been successful, cooling on tea towels laid out for this purpose. Oh, how I loved this scene, one I have repeated myself many times over the years in my own kitchen. I couldn’t wait for one of the shiny jars to be opened so we could enjoy its delicious contents with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This was dessert on many nights, no need for fancy cakes or pies, just the simple goodness of the harvest. (Of course, there was always a cake for birthdays and anniversaries, nothing fancy, just a frosted rectangle but we loved them all.)

Gramma in charge of my aunt’s tiny kitchen
preparing Christmas dinner

Grama was also the one who took care of most of our family holiday meals. Even if we were gathering at one of my mom’s sisters’ homes, Grama would arrive early, freshly baked pies in hand, to help with the turkey. My mom and dad took care of the meal when we hosted, but we would still enjoy Grama’s pie for dessert. On those occasions, the meat grinder would make its appearance right after breakfast, this time churning out chopped onions, breadcrumbs and giblets for the stuffing that was cooked inside of the bird. There was an extra pan for us kids minus the giblets, thus avoiding complaints and helping to keep peace at the dinner table.

These days, our girls have taken over our the preparation and hosting of our holiday gatherings. Another generation of family cooks has joined the ranks.

They say that too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth…I think I’m lucky to have them all.

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