Tuesday, December 6, 2022

December Letter, 2022


Good afternoon all - Checking in again, finally.

First up, an apology. I have not had much desire or interest in creating 'new work' over the past nine months since mum died. To be sure there's been grief, but also, settling her - and the residuals of dad's estate - has been very time consuming. 

Not only is my parents beautiful centuries-old farmhouse for sale now, but we (my brothers and me) have had to empty it. After 70 years of accumulation and family living, that's no easy task!

Stoneacres, the well-known house and property, has been chock-a-block with fascinating remnants of the bygone decades. Not only did we jettison dad's 40-year old electric jig-saw (made in Guelph, Ontario), but we've tossed toys, school clothing and home-making artifacts from our youth. We've also chucked numerous domestic devices mum accrued over the years, (like 3 ironing boards in various states of collapse - as well as metallic sock and kid-glove stretchers!)

In truth, it's been a somewhat painful process. Sure, those items are of little use or interest today. However, they do bring back loads of memories of a somewhat blissful and carefree childhood ... 

We did have a happy home as youngsters.

I was looking through mum's cookbook cupboard the other day. Nestled above the stove, those pine shelves hold an amazing compendium of books, magazine and articles she saved. They succinctly document her transformation from a dutiful, meticulous and ambitious 'housewife' to an independent and 'liberated' female who was finally 'released' from kitchen drudgery by the invention of the dishwasher and microwave oven. That's not to say, mum was a 'woman's liber'. She wasn't. But, inherent in the cultural evolution of the 60s, 70s and 80s, she went through her own feminine evolution. Over time, she became separated from the repetitive and dull tasks that had previously defined her principal 'role' within our family as 'the cook'.

When first married, mum brought the best of continental training to her kitchen. She'd been trained as a teen in the 'Domestic Sciences' at the Atholl Crescent School in Edinburgh, Scotland. (She won Honours in baking, linen repair and monogram stitching ...) Her first hand-written recipe book in the cupboard meticulously catalogued the early dinners she prepared for her new husband and herself as a newly-arrived war-bride to Canada. Entertaining 8 to 12 friends over busy social weekends was not uncommon. Her handwriting at that time was precise, neat and small. There's also a curious self-congratulatory tone in those early written recipes. Mum loved entertaining with semi-exotic souffles, spiced beef and 'cocktails'. After five years of war-rationing and deprivation, they were living up the good life in their mid-to-late 20s - and were proud of it. She'd write, "Very Good!!"

By the 1960s, after her third child, mum's recipe books transformed into a filing card system with quick and easy to prepare healthy meals for us all. Porridge recipes, chicken pot pies and hearty lamb stews. Her handwriting evolved too. It was looser, freer, more open - yet decidedly firmer and more mature. The entertaining novelty had worn off. She knew what she was doing and she just efficiently recorded what worked and what didn't.

Claw bathtub abandoned in orchard circa 1980s
 Overall, Mum was a very good cook. 

 I especially remember her delectable soups. She made a variety of delicious cold soups - from an exotic tomato-sipper consomme to a garden-grown cold and creamy asparagus. 

She worked hard in the kitchen - and she fed us all very well. 

When dad died, she began to lose interest in cooking. The last recorded recipe - in her by now strong and definitive hand - was from 2001: the year he died. It was for special Christmas cheese cookies she knew he liked. I could find nothing else - no notes, no cards, no clippings of any food that interested her after that. If family were visiting, she'd buy prepared frozen casseroles and toss a salad. Otherwise, she preferred a light diet of eggs cooked in a variety of different ways, raw vegetables, periodic fillets of fish and her favourite dessert, rice pudding with dollop of Lyle's Golden Syrup. And tea, always lots and lots of tea ...

... I was going to add more photos to this post, but haven't transferred over the images yet. I was just conscious I hadn't written in a while, and I wanted to let you all know, I've not forgotten or given up. I've just been very, very busy - sorting, packing & sorting through the rich legacy mum & dad left us. 

When I get the photos done, I'll load them in. Until then - 

Season's Very Best to You All. - Eat, Drink & Be Merry!

with nothing but Good Cheer for the New Year!

- mlh - 


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