Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Family Jewels

It has been a busy but productive two weeks in the family kitchens.  
The cucumbers are gigantic, yellow and bloated on the fence, but we've canned our fill of bread and butters and refrigerator dills and can shrug off any recurring guilt. A generous picking of blackberries was distilled down to 14 jars of jam.  Not to be out done, the four grape vines on the corner of our yard produced six ice cream buckets and a 2 gallon pail of little purple and marble sized green grapes. Then the late summer, early autumn apples began to drop, requiring yet more containers: 3 gallon pots, 5 gallon buckets and a couple of honest to goodness bushel baskets were pressed into service.  The apples are tasty out of hand, but there are so many wonderful ways to preserve them for fall and winter!  

Then...finally, the tomatoes come on. 

Right at the peak of a late summer heat wave, the vines I've been resolutely watering yield their bounty.  More pots, a milk crate and a couple more 2 gallon rubber buckets are piled high with Celebritys, Romas, not-so-Early Girls and whatever other orphans I couldn't bear to let wither away in June.  The slugs have taken a few bites, but for the most part, the fruit is smooth, firm, not mushy and perfect for canning.

From the depths of the basement, to the tall shelf in the kitchen closet, from the back of the utensil drawer to the tangled hardware of the crockery in the corner: out comes our version of the family jewels to be drawn into service for another summer of tomato seeds, pungent vinegar, and the royal purple of the brambles.  As steeped in tradition as any family recipe, as worn as any tarnished silver brooch, as indispensable as a spare set of keys, a fresh battery, an the stainless steel canner I bought from Spiegel after burning out two enamelware pans in six years; the jar lifter and jar funnel are original equipment.... is the 3 1/2"quart Revereware pot my mother gave me for my wedding shower.  It has boiled corn, pasta, and simmered more pots of chili than I can count in these 36 plus years.  It shares the cupboards with Grandma Eunice's deep and wide 14"skillet and Grandma Froerer's 1 and 1 1/2 quart saucepans.  There is more than a century of feet to the fire for those Revereware copper bottom pots and even boiling some tea bags dry but dimmed their stainless steel luster.  The next generation can try its luck....

How many cooks do you know still using their 1970s orange Tupperware measuring cups?  Or spooning the flour out of their 1978 faded metal canisters (purchased from goodness knows which defunct discount store with the aim of keeping varmints out of the baking supplies if not the rest of the porous household)? This measuring cup set has the oh so important 3/4 cup, something I use in nearly all my baking recipes.  For instance, the 3/4 cup is part and parcel of the 2 3/4 cup flour used to make a loaf of white bread in my ever so antique bread machine.

Blake and Ben bought me that refurbished, reconditioned West Bend bread machine many years ago.  When you are married to a farmer and your birthday falls in mid October, you had better plan on a steady diet of gifts from either a hardware store, NAPA, or the local equivalent of a Pamida or Dollar General.  In this case, when Blake asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I had just been to Pamida and had an appropriate answer....  I have ordered but two small replacement parts for that thing over the years.  A loaf of bread from that machine is considered a treat by the grandkids, especially slathered in butter and honey or peanut butter and home made jam.  The recipe is in my brain and the ingredients always on hand.

Ahhh, I do, of course, have more than one set of measuring cups.  These sturdy stainless steel cups and a matching set of spoons (my spoon set had shrunk to a quarter and a half teaspoon)were from Ben and upgraded my equipment one Christmas morn.  But that big yellow Rubbermaid batter bowl?  That I bought for myself.  Also many years ago.  I am rather daunted to find it for sale and listed as "vintage" on numerous Etsy sites.  

Alas, here is a casualty of long life and the multi tasking!  Millie gave me a big green Tupperware bowl when we were married along with the recipe for her Christmas morning Bubble.  I treasure the recipe card itself; it is well worn, though I will admit that, were a family vote taken, most would forego all gifts on Christmas and even Christmas dinner for a plate of Grandma Millie's bubble.  And the big green bowl?  One year someone used it in a remodeling project...after holding "mud"for sheetrock, it was honorably discharged from the kitchen.

Oh, all right!  You can say what's on your mind.  The kids have pointed it out more than once.  Yes, these utensils are SHOT!  As a matter of fact, they might even be hazardous to one's health.  The melamine (yes! melamine!) handles are faded (a classic harvest motif) or busted or both.  The chromed finish is history; only a matter of years before oxidation is complete and the spatula and soup ladle match the slotted spoon for liquid holding capacity.  The wooden spoons range from full to gibbous waning moon with the toothless grin befitting their relative antiquity.  But Laura gave me the utensil set and...I am loath to dispose of wooden spoons with such a patina of experience.  At least as long as there's room in the crockery.

Despite appearances, there is also room in my recipe box.

There is room for Granny's Brown Bread, chock full of raisins and baked in either a cranberry sauce or pork and beans can. The little round slices were just so darned cute and just the right size for kids to pack in their lunch box with their sandwich and apple.   I have a recipe card for her Favorite Fried Chicken too, even though its been years since I pan fried chicken  But Granny had Grandpa write that recipe card for me in 1977 after he had suffered a stroke and just seven months before he passed.  It is part of the family heritage.  Grandma Froerer could fry a mean chicken too, but the recipe she wrote out was for the pineapple upside down cake she had waiting for us every time we came to visit...whether it had been six months or six days since we'd seen her.  I still use the 9"cake pans she gave me....the white enamel is visible just below the rim. Guess we've probably ingested the rest over the years!
My mother's tiny cursive appears several times in the recipe box on random pieces of paper, notecards or index cards, but those are just pennies to the doubloons in the treasure chest of taste and tradition she has passed along.  Some recipes rest untouched, committed to memory and familiar by use, like the teriyaki marinade for chicken or steak, stir fry or grill.  

Others I read each and every time I make them, like this dog eared copy of Ma's Coffee Cake, so there will be no missteps, whether I'm making gooey rolls, crusted with sticky brown sugar and syrup topping as I tip them out of the 9x13 pan, or pulling out those same faithful paintless 9" cake pans and forming two fruity struesel topped coffeecakes.  These coffeecakes are labors of love tied by the apron strings of the past to the taste buds of the present.

But...enough flipping through the pages of memory. Today's tasks await and that means turning these:

into these:

using these.... oh wait, those are the old ones.....

Ah....that's better...newer, non rusty Wilton loaf pans from Ben and Kenz

To make these...

Apple Crunch Bread loaves...what passes for legacy around here...

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