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.


  1. My sister just bought a La Creuset and has been cooking everything in it.

    My abiding memory of the kitchen is the smell of my mom's French apple pie. Any time I smell something even remotely like it, I feel at home.

  2. Hi. Your mention of scrambled eggs reminds me that it was the first (and, I think, only) recipe I learned to make in home economics class at school (I think I had to drop it when I took up Latin). We learned it the 'French' way - in a saucepan, with butter and milk or cream, over a very gentle heat, and stirred for a long, long time. When I first came to Canada my brother-in-law and family came to visit us. His wife offered to make scrambled eggs for breakfast and, to my amazement, got out a frying pan! This is how my husband also make them, and I have learned to do this too for the kids, but for myself, I stick to the way I learned - but only if I happen to have cream and, for some reason, spring onions. By the way, I loved your post about your snow day - I know you thought of it as a lazy day at home, but my, you packed a lot into it! Patricia

  3. Thomas: better not tell your sister what I use my Le Creuset for -- sacrilege!
    btw, I make a mean apple pie, but it's not French, malheureusement. . . I'll have to bake one up if the degrees of separation ever close right up and you, IndigoAlison, and I get together!
    Patricia: Scrambled eggs with cream and spring onions -- sounds yummy. I would imagine the texture is nicer cooked your way -- is that the case? And yes, my snow day was full of activities but what a difference when I get to pick what to do rather than work to an imposed deadline. So it felt lazy even while I was being busy.

  4. I made Tapioca the other day. It turned out great but I was remembering Dad lamenting that you just couldn't find good Tapioca anymore. No wonder!!It's alot of work. I also can't eat homemade soup without thinking about friday lunches with Grandma,Grandpa crunching his crackers in the soup and Grandma saying "Ulrich!"

  5. Wow! There are obviously some genes unshared between we sisters -- nothing that I remember about tapioca would make me want to try making it again -- could never stop thinking of the similarity to frog eggs. The only time I tried it since childhood was when Meg and I decided to check out the Bubble Tea and I remembered immediately why I disliked tapioca -- distrust is maybe a better word.
    And ah, yes, poor old Ulrich, with his name always being made into a scolding word. I think about him salting his porridge and adding flaxseeds to it.

  6. Yes, they are nice and creamy, I put them on toast. Tapioca - ugh, we used to get that at school dinners. Another school dessert was pink (!) custard with ice cream. Patricia

  7. A blinding blast of my own past, looking up at the Magic Chef stove at my parent's house, seeing the white Corningware with the blue cornflower, hearing the simmer, hoping it was the creamed spinach that would eventually make it to the table with bacon crumbles and egg slices on top...

  8. Over the summer, I was peeling a kolhrabi, and I was irked because didn't have a proper paring knife. Immediately, I thought of my maternal grandfather, his small garden (yielding very tasty kolhrabi) and how he would peel and slice me bits to eat as we sat outside. So simple, and so wonderful.

  9. dana: I wonder how many kids anticipate creamed spinach with pleasure -- someone at your house must have been a good cook!
    gina: lovely memory -- savouring the simple, no cooking required.

  10. Hi Frances -- While I read this I am waiting for the cheesy beer bread to finish cooking in the oven and there is a big pot of vegetable soup (a great melange of vegetables nicely flavoured with lots of garlic, basil and red wine) simmering on the stove. But how well I remember the days of canned soup -- our favourite was Campbell's bean 'n bacon -- and the CorningWare casseroles that featured cream of mushroom soup mixed with canned vegetables and chicken or ham and, yes, the potato chip toppings. I also made miniature meatloaves in cupcake tins and topped them with marmalade,and surrounded them with mashed potatoes, but that was for very special occasions.

    Hard to believe the meals we made in those days. On the other hand, food was just not a big focus of our attention back then. What did we do with our time? Maybe we read more?

    Nice nostalgic post. And I also like your transition to the golden pears. Lovely!

  11. I have some of my grandparents' cutlery- nothing fancy, just their everyday things. Sometimes when I use them, I am transported back to my Grandma's Sunday dinners. Barbequed chicken, carrot salad, apple salad, corn on the cob, and homemade lattice-topped blackberry pies for dessert. The produce was all from my Grandpa's garden, and my Grandma would pick buckets of blackberries to freeze and make pies with all year long. Delicious.

    I wish I'd kept some of their '70s plastic bowls in red, orange and mustard. Her kitchen was a repository of retro kitchenward.

  12. Carol: Yes, who have thought we'd become nostalgic for canned soup now that we're all slow food enthusiasts. Have to say, when I'm sick, there's nothing to touch Lipton's Chicken Noodle.
    Miss Ripley: Thanks for sharing this memory and refreshing my own -- Ah! Grandma's Sunday dinners! And 70s plastics, no other colours quite like them. (btw, I checked out your blog and you've made a very nice beginning -- your Endpaper Mitts are brilliant)

  13. My mother had an orange/red Le Creuset roasting pot in which she used to make beef stroganoff.

    A few years ago, I stumbled across some recipes for "Dutch oven" and thought of that pot, but was shocked to discover what the current day prices are. I still have that oval roasting pot on my wish list.


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