Thursday, January 10, 2008
cooking up some memories
Apropos of wanting what I have, I am so enjoying the simplicity of steel-cut oats, brought to a boil and then simmered in salted water for 15 or 20 minutes, served with milk and a sprinkling of brown sugar or a dollop of maple syrup. Sometimes I add diced apple to the pot for the last few minutes of simmering; sometimes I stir banana slices to the porridge in the bowl and let the hot oats bring out the banana's full flavour before adding the milk. While I generally grab one of the copper-bottomed steel saucepans, today I remembered my CorningWare and dug out the perfect porridge-making pot. So odd to realize that this dish, one of the few surviving wedding gifts, is over 33 years old! A (perhaps spurious) rule-of-thumb sets one hundred years as the minimum mark for antiques. By such a rule, this stovetop-to-oven-to-freezer-to microwave marvel of the 70s is one-third of the way there as is the Pyrex measuring cup and a few useful pieces of 70s-coloured Tupperware. And so is the orange Le Creuset casserole dish which has served several generations of family dogs, having been pressed into service decades ago when the resident boxer chomped down yet another plastic dogdish.
The LeCreuset has an honourable lineage and its simple, durable, shape in honest materials cannot be faulted -- which cannot be so easily said of the Pyrex, Tupperware, CorningWare, all trademarked products of industrial chemistry labs. Nonetheless, these items have survived equally to harbour domestic memories, releasing them at random between bursts of chopping, stirring, scooping, and scouring. My measuring cup differs from my grandmother's only slightly in its shape (mine is less rounded) and in balancing cups and fractions thereof with metric measures, but the differences are transcended by the similar erasure of their raised red markings into mere vestiges. When I spoon porridge from the CorningWare dish into my bowl this morning, I remember making chicken noodle soup in it for someone home sick with chicken pox, and years before that, making a now-so-unfashionable 70's casserole (onion soup mix for flavour; crushed potato chips for au gratin!) for my new husband. And I remember back, back before the CorningWare, back before the marriage, way, way back to the crowded kitchen at home, myself trying to gag down the then-not-so-appreciated porridge in the morning, confident that any I couldn't manage would be willingly accepted by my little-brother-with-the-bottomless-pit-for-a-stomach. Chris will never be an antique, having been gone for over thirty years now, but porridge always brings him back to me momentarily. And then I remember my mother's memories and fall back decades further to that little girl who'd skim the cream from atop the milk and dollop it onto her porridge for a rich treat.
As my own oats have turned out to be a rich treat, affording me nourishment and the comfort of memories -- wanting what I have indeed.
What memories has your kitchen triggered? And were they triggered by specific foods or single ingredients? By implements? Smells or kitchen sounds? A gesture that surprised you by reminding you of your grandfather scrambling his eggs? I'd love to know.