I grew up in the south…well, south of Maine anyway. I was born and raised in Rockville, Maryland in the early 50’s. I was looked after by my Mom’s sister, my Aunt Edna. She kept watch over me at the old homestead by the railroad tracks. My Mom told me stories of her childhood there and of the hobos from the trains coming up to the back porch and her mother offering food. The Rockville Metro Station now stands in that spot. It is a bustling rail station for those riding the commuter train into Washington D.C.
Aunt Edna was my favorite Aunt. I believe she instilled in me my passion for cooking and sharing. Her personality dances round me as I bake in my kitchen. She always wore a clean apron over her house-dress everyday. She wore her stockings rolled up by garters. She had a tight perm in her hair and her special glasses on her nose. I felt like she could see everything I did no matter what room I was in in that big old house, even the coal shed. She loved me and watched over me, but her true talent was baking and cooking for the family.
From Left to right – My Mom, and all of her older sisters-Aunt Myrtle, Aunt Elsie, Aunt Margaret and Aunt Edna with her apron)
Aunt Edna could cut the heads off chickens with an axe and not flinch. I would watch them run around and sometimes try to chase them. But, those chickens tasted so good fried up. Using our family garden plot, she would make the freshest vegetable soup she could. On pie baking day, she would cover the old table with all sorts of berry and fruit pies.
The old homestead had no plumbing or bathroom my first years there. We had coal stoves in the living room and dining room, a ringer washer on the back porch, and a cold-water hand pump just off the back porch. I do remember the big old gas range and the black cast iron skillets full of hot bubbling oil, made ready for the chicken. Basically, I grew up “country” with a love for farm fresh food and made-with-love homemade desserts-like apple dumplings, chocolate cream pie or Aunt Myrtle’s creamy coconut layer cake.
I watched her, I helped her, I ate the food she cooked and the desserts she made. That is why I was close to 200 lbs by the time I reached junior high school. It also didn’t help that another Aunt was the head cook of the elementary school I attended. Those were the days when a hot lunch was cooked on the premises, fresh and delicious. I would often get seconds.
Food gave me comfort as a child and still does. I cook or bake to unwind. I share it with others because it is a part of me. I pay respect to my Aunt Edna by trying her old recipes.
I also watched Aunt Edna’s husband, my Uncle Bernie, be drunk as a skunk at the dining room table. He would slurp, eat, drip and just barely hold his head up enough to get the food to his mouth. He would complain that Aunt Edna’s fresh vegetable soup was too hot. He would complain that she didn’t get home made rolls made that day for him.
He was disrespectful in many ways, but to disrespect all the hard work that my Aunt Edna did each day to feed the family, now makes me a bit angry when I think about it. As a child his actions and words were hard to watch and understand. Besides Uncle Bernie being around the homestead, I was also raised with her hell-raising sons, Thomas, Billy & Jack. They all liked to drink and carouse. There will be more about Uncle Bernie and the boys later. I will share stories about Vanilla Extract, Aqua Velva, mumbley-peg, the backwards alphabet and eventually a tragic ending to some of the men mentioned.
I am dedicating this blog to my Mother and her sister Aunt Edna. They would never have understood this thing of sharing yourself with people outside of your family and close friends. I admit, sometimes I wonder why I am feeling the need to do this at this point in my life.
My mother always encouraged me to try new things. While living with me the last few years of her life, I attended my culinary classes and continued with my day job, which I consider a dream job, at StockFood. Mom was more open to tasting new foods that I prepared in my classes and loved hearing stories about my day at work and school. That sharing time was special. As for Aunt Edna, she is the one that set me on my path to cooking.
My core person was developed in those early years at the old homestead. My standards and beliefs came into being. I wholeheartedly believe that food and family should be given the utmost respect.