Ahhh, the sweet smell of a freshly baked loaf of golden bread smothered in dripping butter and wild strawberry jam, made with buckets of berries that took all day to collect. The deep, musky scent of coffee percolating on the stove and eggs delicately sizzling in a bath of bacon fat. Having grown up in Quebec, these memories are so real I can still taste them.
If there is one thing we know well in Quebec, it is food. Really good food. It seemed to me that the front door of every house opened up to the kitchen. It was always the biggest room and everyone just naturally gathered there, enticed by the aromas and the vibrant chatter of mothers, aunts and grandmothers sharing secrets of smooth gravy and perfect pie crust. It was the heart of the home, and after a long day it felt more like a welcoming hug than just a place to eat.
Today I would love to invite you into such a place as we continue our photoblog series “The Antiques Toad Show” featuring a series of photographs we captured during a visit to the Metchosin Pioneer Museum last year. With many thanks to our dear friend the Curator, we were able to spend a day alone in the museum exploring many objects that were used by the very families who established this local community in the mid 1800’s. So without further ado, please come in, sit a spell and enjoy an afternoon in an old country kitchen….
When I was a little girl, I just loved to play house. In fact I even used to pretend that I had my own cooking show, and I would chop and dice and talk to an invisible camera like millions of adoring foodies were hanging on my every word! And while I still love to cook, albeit a little more quietly, I would certainly do even more of it if I had a kitchen such as this. Beautiful antique silver trays and sparkling crystal bowls are without a doubt some of my favourite things, and inspire even the most modest chef to let their creativity soar. A vase of freshly cut wildflowers adds the finishing touch to a table just begging to be shared.
Now while sugar and spice most certainly have earned their rightful place on the pantry shelf, snips and snails and puppy-dog tails are fortunately not to be found. Fragrant and exotic spices from all over the world gather here to become savoury stews and casseroles, sweet puddings and pies, or any number of tasty treats. And of course, no well-used kitchen is complete without those personal little touches like a pink crocheted chicken!
Isn’t it wonderful that a tin decorated with bright colours and whimsical designs can make even lard sound palatable? Perhaps that’s why they did this, I just can’t imagine it would have the same effect to see it packaged in a contemporary clear plastic container!
This fabulous old tin mixing bowl looks like it was well loved, just like the ones in my mother’s kitchen. These dishes were made to be used, and used they were. Mixing bread, washing dishes, picking berries, soaking a sore elbow or even serving as temporary housing for a handful of lucky caterpillars, these bowls served many duties and lasted forever.
Just as the washing machine and electric iron, this once modern toaster would have been a real luxury, no doubt. It makes me laugh to imagine what my great-aunts would have thought of this marvel of toasting technology. The bread loaves lovingly crafted by little old French ladies in Gaspe, who could beat anything in their kitchens into submission, are so large that the only way to toast a slice is to throw it on top of the stove! Surely there would have been much rolling of eyes and gales of giggles.
Now any of us who can remember at least one or two of those little tins on the pantry shelf would also know that if you wanted to be as strong as Popeye, you had to eat your spinach. I’m not sure I could pop the can open with my fist, but luckily we don’t have to thanks to another indispensable kitchen gadget, the can opener!
Paws down, this has to be my favourite item. If you cannot trust a squirrel’s endorsement of peanut butter, then who?
And of course, what modern day nineteenth century kitchen is complete without the grind-anything-you-have-on-hand tool? This surely makes light work of one of my favourite recipes, ragout de boulettes or meatball stew, a delicious medley of beef, pork and cinnamon served over buttered mashed potatoes. Mmmmmm.
If justice is a dish best served cold, then friendship is a dish best served warm and lovingly. We gather over food at every occasion, be it weddings or birthdays, Christmas or Thanksgiving, even wakes and funerals. Creating unique dishes and sharing them with friends and family has always been a part of every people and culture, indeed helping to define them. Food is what sustains us, without it we cannot survive. And it can be art, whether by the finest Michelin star chef in a fusion restaurant or by a newlywed making her first dinner for her new husband. Even in a place where survival was a daily task, chefs of all kinds patiently and deliberately mixed pinches of this and sprinkles of that until the last taste finally met with their exhausting standards and at last the delicious bounty found its way to the table. Nice to know some things never change.
Thank you for stopping by and puttering with me in the kitchen today. No kitchen is complete without a few friends, so please feel free to stop in anytime. I’ll keep a chair open and a place set just for you, the tea is always on!
Maybe you have your own fond kitchen memories, we’d love to hear about them! Please do feel free to leave your thoughts and comments, we sure appreciate them. Until next time!