Several years ago my Mom and I created a family cookbook to capture the food and recipes of my grandparents. We are in the process of updating it; adding, editing, plucking and planting forgotten memories onto paper. Here are two memories written by my Mom.
Sharing Work by Carol Berg O’Toole
My parents had a traditional marriage. My father worked outside the home and my mother worked inside.
My dad never changed a diaper for any of my siblings but he always held the babies in the crook of his arm, for hours it seemed. He claimed his arthritic hands “needed” the hot water in the sink as he washed the dinner dishes and mashing potatoes was one of his specialties.
The kitchen duties rarely seemed to be women’s work. I think the esteem he showered on my mother’s accomplishments and the evening and weekend embrace of the household activities made the division of labor less gender based. He valued my mother’s accomplishments and showed it through small comments and his willingness to contribute.
On the day my mother made bread each week, my father would often bring an office friend home mid-afternoon for coffee and fresh rolls. Showing off to a friend and proud of my Mom’s skills.
Canning by Carol Berg O’Toole
Growing up we ate a lot of processed food. But processed food then meant fruit or vegetables grown in the garden, purchased directly from the farmer or procured at a discount from the grocery store because of its overripe status, and then canned by my parents.
Our canning recipes include just a few ingredients: the fruit or vegetable and salt or sugar, water or vinegar. Canning always occurred in the heat of the summer or early fall when produce was ripe and the kitchen was hot.
My parents canned together to get finished quickly while the produce was ready. My mother was the director of the operation, relying on some written recipes, and my father was the packer and chronicler. He wrote down yields, prices of the produce, variations in the recipe, and sometimes what we all were doing. Those notes became a treasured reminder of their teamwork and the “professionalism” of those doing it.
The canned goods were considered a very important part of our family tradition. They fed us all winter and we proudly packed them in baskets to give to family and friends as Christmas presents or housewarming gifts.
My father constructed a storeroom, painted orange because that’s the color he had leftover from some other project, to display the beautifully colored canned goods lined up on the shelves like soldiers. All winter we tasted summer with the bounty from the canning: chokecherry, grape and crap Apple jelly and apple butter, rhubarb and plum jam, pickled northern pike, sauerkraut, dill pickles, pears, plums, cherries, applesauce, peaches, chokecherry and grape juice.