Here in the Okanagan, it’s peach season. I am lucky enough to live next to a peach orchard, so I get the full magic of their beauty.
The ripe fruit on the trees are like glowing lanterns in the morning light. It’s as if fairies light the way to start my every day through the heat of summer.
The smell of so much fruit is intoxicating; the combination of a floral and honey sweetness envelopes the canopy under the trees.
To taste a ripe Okanagan peach in an Okanagan orchard is an experience without equal. Its firm flesh crunches just slightly as you bite into it, and the fuzzy skin tickles the roof of your mouth.
The juice runs down your arm as you take another bite, and if the moment is just right, the sun will hit your face at that moment between the trees.
When I was a kid, peaches were an entirely different experience. A juicy ripe peach was a rarity. The ones at the grocery store were often bruised and sometimes mealy. Once cooked up in a crisp they were still tasty, but cut up on my Grape-Nuts cereal they were hit-and-miss.
My dad was a big fan of peaches, but not their fuzzy skin. I remember my mom pouring boiling water over them in the colander so the skin would come off easily.
I wish Daddy could have visited us at Rabbit Hollow. We could have walked through the orchards of Paynter’s Fruit Market and picked them off the trees during u-pick time. Some of them are so perfectly ripe the skin peels off after the first bite!
I was thinking of you tonight, Daddy, as I savoured my peaches and ice cream. The taste of that snow-white vanilla ice cream with those tangy and sweet slices made me think of breakfasts of old.
Grape-Nuts cereal might not be available in Canada anymore, but my memories of them are still fresh, just as the moments we shared eating them. In my mind’s eye, I was back at that tie-dyed dining table sitting next to you as we smiled together, enjoying the flavours in our bowls and beginning another day.
Hello, my name is Kristin. I am a cookbook addict. 😁
Some people might ask why anyone would use a printed cookbook anymore. With the internet’s omnipotence and recipe apps galore, who needs one measly collection?
But it’s not just the recipes I love. The stories behind the recipes and the communities they come from are what really satisfy me.
Although I appreciate the mastery of the cookbooks I have from professional chefs, my most cherished ones are those from community groups, full of family favourites and garnished with household hints.
I found another such volume this past week while visiting a local antique shop. I bought it for its original price of one dollar.
The cover is tattered, held on with scotch tape. The title is simple and straightforward:
COOK BOOK – compiled by the Porcupine Plains Ladies Hospital Aid – Tried & Tested Recipes.
I think it was mimeographed; the ink is the same purplish tone that I remember from elementary school. At some point, a person overjoyed with a pen took to scribbling on a few of the pages, but thankfully none of the information was compromised.
Although the presentation is simple, many of the recipes assume a fair bit of knowledge. A recipe for Jelly Roll Cake lists ingredients and then just says:
Add egg whites last. Bake in a long tin and while still warm turn out on a damp cloth, spread with jelly or jam and roll.
This is a cake that was a featured test on the British Baking Show, and it takes up only 4 lines. Obviously this was a community that had a few star bakers. It is also worth noting that the recipe next to it is Puffed Wheat Cake.
There is a dog-eared page splattered with batter which I think became Apple Upside Down Cake. And a recipe for Six Day Pickles that has a number of check marks, as if someone was making sure they got it right. Tried and tested indeed!
Already I knew I had a winner for my collection, but when I saw the last page, I could hear my Gramps’ voice telling stories of “back in the day”. This page didn’t have recipes. It started with the heading, DID YOU KNOW…?
There is no publication date, but this historic booklet has indications it comes from a good while ago. It harkens back to a time when women went by their married name – as in Mrs. John Smith. The ladies in the Aid Society were recognized as such. There is a thank you note listing each member at the front of the book, and it says in part:
Without this help, and Moral Co-operation, the Board would find it difficult to give the high standard of care which we endeavour to maintain.
The list of equipment and supplies that were provided included items like basic linen and bedding as well as a furnished nursery that included an infant incubator. Exactly what “Moral Cooperation” entailed I don’t know, but given the capitalization it must have been important. Q
Today the world runs at a different pace. Hospital fundraisers are gala events. Recipes are shared by Facebook. Our community is global now, and sometimes that means we lose the intimacy of old.
There is a simple truth to recipes like Jellied Salad and Puffed Wheat Cake. And I have admiration for a community where cooking was common enough that baking times and temperatures were not needed when sharing a recipe.
Trying and testing is important too. It might be fun to cook something new sometimes, but we master a skill when we have a chance to learn from our mistakes. Once we gain confidence we can adapt and change and evolve from a solid foundation. The most solid foundation is made with a collaboration of people and ingredients.
I feel like an emissary, sharing this wee piece of history. Perhaps that is what draws me to these books, a sense that I am being called to carry on the traditions and continue the Moral Cooperation that gets people around a table.
I’ll let you know how the Apple Upside Down Cake turns out.
Reposting from a blogger whose work I enjoy immensely. Thank you, Beth, for sharing this quote.
This is why I love cooking. It gives me peace. In sharing food with others, I hope to pass some of that peace along.
“peace is not the end of the mundane, troublesome, and painful moments of life. peace is created in the midst of the mundane, troublesome, and …in the midst.
The old adage says
April showers bring May flowers
We haven’t had much in the way of rain this April, so perhaps that is why the flowers are a bit slower to come. My garden is green, but the flowers so far are mostly on the fruit trees in bloom. I don’t mind so much; spring does show off nicely in May with plenty of growth and colour. But my dream for May has always been to dance around a May pole.
What girl doesn’t like the idea of having flowers in her hair? And despite being rather uncoordinated, I have long fantasized about dancing with a ribbon and weaving it around the pole as I skipped with others in the spring breeze.
May Day has become a civic holiday in many places, dedicated to workers. Going back to ancient Roman times and then continued by the Druids, it is a celebration of the end of winter, taking us into spring – a new season of growth. Often these traditions collide and are combined in celebrations.
I learned of May Day during my university days when I was in France. It is considered “Labour Day” there, but a common practice on the holiday is to give loved ones the gift of flowers – lilies of the valley, to be exact, as they are known to bloom at this time.
If you have never smelled this tiny blossom, search it out. If you have a shady spot in your garden and you find a plant, do yourself a favour and take it home. It will transport you to the world of fairies and magic.
May Day celebrations are said to come from the ancient Roman festival that paid homage to the goddess Flora. Of course, the festivities were all about decorating with flowers and greenery, in reverence to all the new life, new beginnings.
It is said that in the 15th century the women would wash their faces on May Day with the morning dew, as it would give them a special glow. Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, apparently took her ladies in waiting to the fields to bathe in the dew. (I wonder if this is how World Naked Gardening Day came to be at the same time? )
In the Restoration period, Charles II of England abolished many traditions and customs that embraced a spirit of frivolity. May Day was converted to a civic celebration of farmers and workers.
There are Druids who still celebrate Beltane, connected to the full moon in April, and they keep alive the pagan customs of blessing gardens and thanking Mother Nature for her hard work. On May Day, the Maypole dance is one element that remains in some places as a demonstration of the joy that comes to people with the start of a new outdoor season.
I spent this morning on a walk of gratitude through the neighbouring orchards, and despite the rain and wind today I did breathe deep to appreciate the lilac blossoms. I jumped for joy when I discovered the first lilies of the valley blossoms just coming out from their leaf skirts. There is much to look forward to.
Tomorrow I will bake a rhubarb galette in honour of the new season. It will represent the Pink Moon that set us on our way this year for our growing season. Someday I will find a Maypole to dance around, but in the meantime I will continue to count my blessings.
In an age when technology allows us to find out almost anything with a Google search, it may seem odd to think of exchanging recipes personally with someone. But I will admit I still enjoy the chance to get a personal recipe from another cook, in their own handwriting. I have more than a few ingredient-stained pages glued in an old journal that I still cherish as one of my favourite cookbooks. It is not just the bits of ingredients on the page that adds to the magic of cooking the recipes and tasting them again and again. I think herein lies the true root of soul food.
This weekend I am making a recipe I call Best Friend Banana Bread. It’s an old favourite, one that comes from one of my best and longest-held friends, a soulmate who currently lives in England. This recipe is one she sent to me on airmail paper about 30 years ago, as one of her favourites. In those days she was living in her home country of South Africa, and had just started a family with her new husband and daughter (my goddaughter). It’s a wonderful combination of health food and decadence, and I love it for that as well as how it reminds me of my darling friend.
We have shared many great recipes over the years. I sent her my Mom’s Brown Sugar Shortbread recipe, and she sent me the one for South African Milk Tart. In my movie catering days, her recipes for bobotie and carrot cake were favourites with the crews I fed. And when she brought her family to Canada so we could share Christmas together, they were amazed at my husband cooking turkey in the BBQ, and they loved his French Canadian traditions of tourtière and bûche de Noel. Food was one of the ways that kept us connected across the miles and it added to our shared memories when we could get together.
I spent a week in England at my friend’s house 8 years ago this weekend, to catch up and join in the celebrations for her 25th wedding anniversary and my goddaughter’s 21st birthday. It was amazing to think that we had been friends almost 30 years, since my first trip to Europe. We hadn’t seen each other for 7 years, and yet as soon as I arrived, we sat down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and some biscuits and picked up where we left off like it had been last Sunday. I could feel my soul filling up like I had stopped in at the gas station. All week long we savoured moments, many of them around the table.
My husband and her husband shared time at the stove – hers loves to cook, and with mine being a chef the two of them are often engaged in a sort of kitchen chat. It’s a bit like that Actors Studio show, where you have this interview/conversation between an expert and an admiring and not unknowing layman. Martin shared some of his secret spice blends on that visit, and he got to see a pheasant prepared for a weeknight dinner like it was chicken. The grand finale was the men cooking Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict for the group of 12 staying at the house – all hot and perfectly cooked!
After coming back home, I felt as though I had been replenished. I posted some new recipes in the archives for her husband Vic to try – poached eggs in red wine sauce is one I know he found interesting! And Martin became a new lover of Sticky Toffee Pudding; he used Merle’s similar recipe for the South African Cape Brandy Pudding as a starting point for his own recipe which he now cooks for clients.
We met again in person a few times over recent years while they travelled but I was ever so grateful that we had a chance to stay with them in Senegal where Vic was stationed up until the end of 2019. It was another lovely opportunity to share recipes and time around the table, reminiscing about the many memories we have made together. We ate delectable African seafood and sampled coconut and mango jams with the French pastries available in Dakar, courtesy of the colonists. Merle and Vic spoiled us again.
The kitchen continues to be one of the best places to stay in touch across the world it seems, and I like the idea that our friendship might help warm some other hearts as well. Martin and I are hoping that when the world gets back to some kind of regular existence, we can finally host our friends in our kitchen here in the Okanagan and toast to our fantastic history across the miles.