Sometimes I think about Mother at the oddest times–like when I’m in the kitchen and reach for a box of raisins. Just for a moment, I can remember the taste of raisins from Mother’s kitchen. She added them to the Christmas fruit salad, sprinkled them into her homemade cinnamon rolls, and baked them in pies. Her brother’s favorite pie was raisin cream and Mother made a great one. Raisins were folded into vanilla cream custard under a golden-peaked meringue.
When I was growing up, Mother did a lot of preserving. There was always a garden and she canned and froze the harvest. It was a hot and hard work outside and inside. I learned how to can from Mother and once did quite a bit of it myself. I still do a little. It’s a way of visiting with my mother and grandmother in my kitchen, and I like the reward of seeing hours of labor packed away in jars or boxes for the freezer to be enjoyed later and maybe even shared with a friend or two. There are some things you just can’t buy in a store that taste like a home product. I suppose I take pleasure in preserving for the same reason I like baking: I enjoy the process as much as the end result.
I had six years of home economics, grades seven through twelve. I still have some of the recipes from the later years, one a recipe for stuffed pork chops. The recipe came from a Meta Given cookbook that our teacher particularly liked. If I remember correctly, we used that recipe when the senior class of home economics (more commonly known today as family and consumer sciences or home science) prepared a complete meal for the senior agriculture class. The dinner was somewhat like a final exam for us. We were required to make a notebook about the meal beginning with the menu and ending with a self-evaluation of our work. I kept that pictorial notebook until just a few years ago when I had a major cleaning out of the attic. The pork chop recipe, however, remains in my active recipe file as an established family favorite for holidays.
I suppose it is an age thing (I’m in my seventies now), but I do quite a bit of reminiscing and it’s not all about cooking. I like thinking of times when our country was safer and childhoods less complicated. I like thinking about a day when our roles in life were clearly defined and we came and went feeling safe and not at risk. I like remembering simple pleasures, respect for authority, and expectation and reward for hard work. I’m sure I didn’t know it then, but those gentler, more practical days were the very best of days and somehow they passed by without our realizing we were losing them.
Memories of family and yesterday’s values seem most vivid when I am stirring around in my kitchen. As I create or recreate through cooking, baking, and preserving, I give thanks for those days that gave my life its underpinning. I give thanks for my home and my heritage. And with a satisfied smile, I give thanks for the memories.