I love history.
More specifically, I love the stories that history provides us. The good, the bad, the horrific. Lives lived. When I think about what people endured, persevered against, or even put themselves through just to live a good life, it gives me pause to think about our place in this world, our human race.
I feel the connection to history, both recent and ancient, when I am able to connect viscerally. Touch, smell, sight; It is all tangibly evident. A hand flat against a sun-warmed stone on a building, holding a shard of pottery carefully brushed out of the dirt, listening to the recordings of people long gone, imparting their story. The aroma of baking that comes from a recipe passed down over so many generations, no one knows for sure which ancestor began using it.
I haven’t delved much into my family history. Most of what I know comes from my father’s side. I was raised rural, with an appreciation for the land, in my father’s family home, passed down from the original crown grant. The doorways and floor linoleum traversed by several generations before me. The cow paths and fence gaps older than that. The Oak trees in the back pastures stoic guards over all of us.
A few years before I met and married my husband, I discovered I loved to bake. My kitchen was woefully inadequate – at the time – to really pull off extravagant baking, but I tried my hands at various food like cookies, muffins, pies, cake; all the things that can soothe a hard day, sweeten the foulest of moods.
Amongst the arsenal of recipes I clipped from magazines in my quest to be more domestic was a tattered, patina-ed cook book, from the Women’s Institute of Drummond Centre. I hadn’t paid much attention to it, but had used the peanut butter cookie recipe once or twice to make my Father happy.
The recipe, in the book, is attributed to my grandmother.
My grandmother, and her sister-in-law (my great aunt Cassie) were members of this particular Women’s Institute. I don’t know much about the organization, other than what I can find online . In their time, I assume it was a place to discuss how to be the best wife and mother. Keeping a house, raising children, supporting one another through the issues, joys, and difficulties of being a woman in post-war Canada.
Now, married, and in a house of my own, I have periodically pulled that tattered old book down from my cook book shelf. I leaf through it, looking at the recipes, marveling at how simple cooking and baking was, how ingredients have changed. I have memories of some recipes from my Aunt’s home, perhaps even some my mother tried as she fumbled her way through her own self-education in farmhouse cooking and baking.
I never got to meet my grandmother, whom I am also named after. She passed away well before I was ever conceived of.
I had the book out last night while my father was visiting for dinner. He leafed through, pointing to ads of businesses gone, some still very much a part of the rural place I called home. People who are gone, some who are still here. We remembered people, we reminisced about food, the two types of memories intertwining, as they should.
A truth formed in the back of my mind that this small, spiral bound cook book is so much more than just a glimpse into my past, and a snapshot of the era. It is a direct link to my heritage. In it are all the recipes traded and passed down, tried and trusted, from my grandmother’s community. This was how they fed their families. These were the staples in their pantry transformed into the dishes you still see at church pot lucks today. Each entry in the book a recipe important enough to not only be recorded, but shared.
After my father left for home – which is the same farm house – The truth bloomed into an idea that I should be using this book.
I should be testing these recipes against modernity. Me, my Kitchenaid, ample counter space, and fancy oven, capable of even the most grandiose of celebrity chef recipes, should test our mettle against these simple, wholesome dishes.
I want to reconnect physically to my heritage, and this seems like a great place to start. ♥