Are you someone who eats to live, or someone who lives to eat? I am most definitely someone who lives to eat. Both Hubby and I are. Thank goodness. We both think that food, glorious food is, well, glorious. Especially in the fall and winter.
On chilly fall evenings when the sun sets early and Hubby lights a fire in our living room woodstove, I long for savory beef stew with a glass of full-bodied red wine. Followed by my mum’s homemade mincemeat pie. Or roast chicken with tarragon and garlic, baked squash, and mashed potatoes. Followed by warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. Or hot scones right from the oven, strawberry jam, and a cup of strong tea. Sigh. My obsession with food has been ongoing for years. Decades, even.
I’ve always cared, often way too much, about what I’m going to eat. I don’t think I was a picky eater as a kid. But I abhorred certain foods. Like tomato sandwiches. Blah! I hated tomatoes in general for years. The thought of eating them made me ill. And the drama that could ensue when I was forced to do so is still a bit embarrassing to remember.
I recall with a shudder the day in grade three when my mum mixed up my school lunch with my older sister Connie’s. At noon hour, I opened my lunch bucket, unwrapped my sandwich, and took a bite without noticing that this was NOT peanut butter and jam. Oh my god, my nemesis was in my lunchbox. I swallowed the offending bite, picked up the sandwich and waxed paper, and scuttled over to the “big kids” side of the school. I was desperate or else I would not have dared enter this forbidden territory. My sister, in grade eight, conscious of her social status no doubt, and mortified by the sight of a blubbing younger sister demanding her peanut butter and jam sandwich back and proffering a half-eaten tomato sandwich in crumpled wax paper in exchange, snapped, “I ate it. Now go away.”
How I made do with only my cookie and apple until I got home, I don’t know. I do remember thinking I might starve before the bus dumped me off at the end of our driveway. Ha. I’m chuckling as I think about the reception I probably received from Mum, coming home after a long day at work to three teenagers and one eight year-old yanging on about tomato sandwiches. Poor Mum.
When we moved to the farm after Mum married my step-father the potential for culinary delights in our house expanded tenfold. Mum no longer worked full-time. She no longer had to be at the curb for her drive to work at 7:30 in the morning, and then lug grocery shopping purchased on her lunch hour home on the bus at night. She had more energy and more time to cook. And better resources. The farm provided all kinds of possibilities.
I still remember the first time she made raspberry jam from our own raspberries. This was heaven. And when my step-brother tried to eat his share of jam with peanut butter, I protested. “But Mum, he’s ruining it. Make him use “boughten” jam with his peanut butter.” We used the word “boughten” to refer to anything NOT homemade. When Mum started making her own bread, we all thought we’d died and gone to heaven. No more boughten bread for us.
Seriously though, my mum was a gifted cook. But she was known especially for her baking. Her rhubarb custard pie was divine. People in the neighbourhood would offer to pay her if she’d make an extra Christmas fruitcake for them when she made ours in the fall. Most of my friends remember the vast array of small cookies and cakes that were on offer to visitors at Christmas. Mum could roll out batches of cookies… tiny melt in your mouth shortbread, whoopie pies, ginger snaps, or almond fingers… without turning a hair. But my favourite thing for years was her chocolate chip cake. Every visit home, when Mum asked what I would like cooked, I requested chocolate chip cake. The chocolate-drizzled butter frosting alone would make me swoon.
After my step-brother and I had left home, some of the younger kids in the neighbourhood helped my step-father hay in the summer. One boy in particular I remember. A big, good-natured, slow-talking boy. He seemed to worship my step-father. And he loved nothing better than working with Lloyd all day and coming in from the hayfield with him for supper. Especially on those days when mum made her special white layer cake with sliced bananas and whip cream. Mum’s white cake was the best. Dense and moist and lovely. Mum and I still chuckle over the memory of her asking this boy if he wanted seconds. And his saying, “Well now Dorena, I wouldn’t say no to another sliver of that cake.” Gad he sounded fifty instead of fifteen. Ha. And I will say that Mum didn’t do slivers, much to his delight.
My talented friend Janet who painted the watercolour of the pumpkins and gourds, above, is also a wonderful cook. I remember one time she served our book club an appetiser of tiny cooked baby potatoes with some sort of stuffing in them and a perfect little dollop of caviar on top. Oh my, they were yummy. And delicious stuffed fresh figs one time too. A Janet says she’s fascinated by all the wonderful shapes and colours of autumn and can’t resist painting them. Since she finished that painting, she’s bought more autumn delights and says “her kitchen counter is one big still life.”
A love of food, glorious food, was one of the first things Hubby and I realized we shared when we met. Which is a good thing, I think. Wouldn’t it be a disaster to be someone who loves food, almost any kind of food, and be married to someone who doesn’t?
And now that Hubby loves to cook as much as he loves to eat, I am truly blessed. Ha.
I know that I’m extremely lucky to have a husband and friends who love food as much as me. And who can whip up a glorious meal, or two. To share. But I do wish that Hubby would get over his dislike of pumpkin pie. Or anything pumpkin. Especially in the fall. I swear, it’s almost painful to drive by the humongous fields of pumpkins and not have pie when I get home.
Still, mustn’t grumble.
Pumpkin pie isn’t the only glorious food available this time of year. Hubby came home from golf the other day with a bag of russet apples. I love russet apples, and they are difficult to find except at Smyth’s Orchard in Dundela, Ontario. Dundela is the home of the McIntosh apple, don’t you know. A variety of apple known and loved by most Canadians.
And probably the kind of apple in my lunch bucket on that fateful day in grade three.
How about you my friends? Do you live to eat, like me and Hubby? Any savoury food memories that bubble to the surface for you this time of year?