As soon as the screen door squeaked open, the little, blond-haired girl with pig-tails scrunched up her nose. The fading light of sunset was lost in the tangy, humid air of the house. The scent was strong, sour, spicy, and unfamiliar.
“I just love that smell Mo,” her father said to her.
That was over 30 years ago, and the aroma of chili sauce boiling on the stove still takes the little blond-haired girl with pig-tails back to that humid August night.
My Grandmoter was in the steamy kitchen boiling down her chili sauce. She was a fabulous cook. Granny could take the most basic home-grown ingredients and create a feast.
The cheesecloth bag that was bouncing around in the bubbling pot was full of spices, and I always think of that day when I cook up a batch of my own chili sauce this time of year.
Even though my other Granny wasn’t much of a cook, she made the best roast beef. We don’t eat a lot of red meat, but when I cook a roast, I think of my maternal Grandma bent over the stove in her apron, turning the beef. She would say to me, “You only turn it once.” She smothered the beef in black pepper, the same way she did her parboiled and fried turnip slices. Mmmm!
This weekend I bottled tomatoes, salsa, pickled beets and cooked peach jam. Anyone who does any significant amount of home preserving knows that the cost savings are negligible. Everyone seems to want some, and very few bring back the jars. But that’s not the point.
The process provides as much satisfaction as the end result. My big, tall, football and baseball-playing teenaged son donned an apron and spent the entire evening with me preparing the fruit, stirring and washing up. I know that these are precious moments that will soon pass as he grows up and spreads his wings.
My son also manages to be around when I prepare the fruit for the fruitcake, measuring it by sight, and pouring the rum over it. Every year I point to my Granny’s handwritten recipe, and tell him the stories of growing up in the country, and the particular Christmas Eve that the town drunk let himself into Granny’s house when we were out at church. There is comfort in ritual, even in such a simple atmosphere as the kitchen.
The scents from the kitchen bring back wonderful memories of family, holidays and full tummies.
Although I appreciate a finely cooked meal, the abundance and friendship that are nurtured around our meals is more important.
As a young woman, I had dreams of a country house with a huge harvest table. Instead, I live a city life. As I pulled the protective cloth off of the antique maple table that my Mumster gave me, I realized I already have everything that I wished for. My table is a harvest table during the month of August. My home is filled with love, friendship and abundant laughter.
More often than not, my son comes home, opens the door, and says, “Oh, something smells good! Is that…”, and sure enough, it usually is. Whether it’s my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe, or a pot of chili sauce, there’s usually something cooking at our house.
Friday Night Football Lights games, Thanksgiving and Christmas will all see our little home filled to bursting with friends who visit and join us for a bite to eat.
As I sat reading the paper and having my tea listening to the jar lids pop and seal, I was that little girl in blond-pigtails again, back in my Granny’s kitchen.