Sunday, November 4, 2007

Kitchens - Focus of Food, Conversation, and Family Life

Lately I've been thinking about all the kitchens that I remember from my past and from stories that my mother or great-grandmother would tell me. This morning I posted an article entitled My Kitchens over on my cooking and recipe blog And I Helped! There are some great photos of the kitchen I grew up in and my current kitchen here in Chicago.

I remember my great grandmother's kitchen in the old farmhouse in Grahamsville, New York. The stove was from the 1950s and electric as was the refrigerator. The cabinets were very simple pine with a light stain and heavy shellac. The floor was linoleum. It was plain, it was simple and functional. And Grandma was able to churn out large meals when all 12 grandchildren visited.

What I don't remember, because I was too young, was the kitchen when my great-grandparents first bought the house in the mid-1940s. From what I have gathered, there was a wood stove for cooking, an icebox which would hold a block of ice to keep items cold, and a water pump since there was no plumbing. I could not imagine cooking like this for very long, especially if, like Grandma, I had a relatively modern kitchen back in my apartment in New York City. But once electricity arrived on Low Road, the kitchen was refinished with what were then all modern appliances and plumbing.

I also remember stories of the kitchen garden and how each summer a myriad of vegetables and fruits were canned and put up for the winter. With 12 grandchildren spending the summer there, I guess you could go broke feeding them all if you didn't have a garden! Grandma would can all types of beans (green, yellow, and wax), carrots, tomatoes - almost anything she could grow and that could withstand the canning process. If you've ever canned vegetables you know what a hardship it is to work with all those pots of boiling water to sterilize jars and lids and to seal the assembled jars and their contents. And this was in the middle of hot, humid summers with no air conditioning.

I wonder if anyone cans anymore? I've done some research and there are plenty of websites offering the Mason jars, lids, the huge pots for boiling, and ideas for how and what to can. Maybe because we live in a time when we can get fresh vegetables even out of season, that is why no one cans anymore.

To be honest, I rarely buy fresh fruits and vegetables out of season. Tomatoes and basil are late summer. Strawberries and asparagus are late spring. Apples and squashes are fall. Seasons were made for a purpose - to show us the cycles in our lives and our surroundings. When I am eating fresh vegetables in season, I can cherish what I've missed all winter or all summer. A fried green tomato in January just doesn't do it for me - it doesn't make me teary eyed or transport me back to a certain memory the same way making it in July does.

But homemade canned fruits and vegetables were different. These were gifts, works of art, crafted by thrifty, sensible women in my family like my great-grandmother. Jars of memories, containers of love.

Photo: my kitchen in Andersonville, Chicago, IL in 2006

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