Thursday, July 21, 2016

Food for the Soul

The tradition of family recipes and methods of food preparation often tell the story of  a family. Grandparents,  mothers, daughters, fathers and sons of every culture have apprenticed  through the years in kitchens of every size and style from the very modest to the most elaborate.
From cookies to tamales, the story of a family is very often told through the particularities of secret ingredients passed on with an intimacy that spans generations.  Identity resides in the flavorful results - timeless and certain. Like all traditions, the familiar provides a sense of comfort and security.

I remember the smell of date nut loaf and chocolate chip cookies wafting through my childhood friend's house. My mother didn't bake so the treat of gooey, warm cookies straight out of the oven was something extra special if I timed my visits down the street just right.

I do remember the aroma of turkey roasting in my mother's oven. It fills my home each year as
I prepare my mother's Thanksgiving dinner with boxes of Mrs. Cubbison's cornbread stuffing drenched in artery -clogging butter out of a Good House Keeping cook book that is falling apart. I have the recipe memorized but still pull the tattered and broken book out each year. There I stand in my kitchen, chopping the onion and celery with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade playing on the TV in the background, each turn of the cookbook page a connection to my mother.

Far from a "foodie," my mother was of the post World War II convenience generation. Fast food was a novelty. Nutrition nary a thought.  Pudding cups, coke, and white bread filled her fridge.  As children, my friends and I snacked on potato chips, hot dogs, and Chips Ahoy. My mother was all practical and the convenience foods were made to order for her!

It was my father who dove into the art of cooking. Sunday breakfast with cream cheese omelettes or sheared eggs, English muffins, bacon, sausage and coffee cake on our patio by the pool were a regular occurrence.  Elaborate dinners included caesar salad with anchovies or wilted spinach salad tossed with flair table -side and cherries jubilee set a flame on a rolling cart fit for the most lavish restaurant.  My father's enthusiasm for cooking came later in his life and became a hobby that fit his personality.
He referred to his caesar salad as "an artistic chore."

But the most enduring of all family recipes passed on by my mother is actually not a recipe at all. It is simply, egg on toast.
My daughter, who is an egg on toast aficionado, has explored the many nuances of making this delectable of all breakfasts from the exact timing of the boiled egg to the method of cracking it and cutting the toast.  Recently, I became aware of one additional requirement for the perfect egg on toast:
a one quart copper bottom Revere Ware pot.

Solid, heavy, and the ideal size for two boiled eggs, the copper bottom pot is the perfect container for this comfort-inducing meal.
I recently rescued one of these from a box bound for rummage as a friend helped clear the garage of an elderly woman preparing to rent her home.  Drawn to it  because it sparked a memory of my  mother having one just like it,  I tucked the pot into the back of my car.

This morning,  I reflected on its pleasing weight, shape, and the black handle with its comfortable grip and handy hook on the end for hanging.
Far from sexy, this pot is a practical wonder.
As I explored its features I turned it over to discover that it is a patented brand. Handsomely engraved on the bottom is the Revere Ware insignia in a beautiful font encircled like a monogram, stamped with the words - Copper Clad Stainless Steel in Riverside, Cal.
Who knew?  I fixed egg on toast this morning and delighted in the reclamation of this tiny pot to a useful purpose.

The lid to the pot is equally pleasing with a solid fit and sturdy round black nob for a handle. This little treasure is now one of my favorite kitchen tools.  It, like egg on toast, like butter drenched muffins and roast turkey, connect me to my family.   Perhaps not as richly steeped in tradition as the authentic masa in Christmas tamales, the story of my family is a combination of my mother's practicality and my father's flair for the dramatic both in and out of the kitchen.
As basic as a copper bottom pot, the stamp of quality stands the test of time.

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