The Book. The Material. The Reason.
Each book's materials were chosen for deeply personal reasons. When my mother passed she left a wake of questions and confusion. I have spent years sifting through memories and redefining truth. Within the emotional rubble what remained connected were the experiences in the kitchen, at the table, and the constant passing of recipes.
Three Maples Farm was a property where my parent's lived. It is located between West Portal and Asbury NJ bordered by the Musconetcong River. The Farm, as we all called it, was the place I thought I would always be...and I was wrong. It was the place they thought they would live out their lives...and they were wrong.
The house I lived in from birth until 18. It was a fantasy house filled with wonder, mystery, beauty, and judgement. With all of these trappings, my mother still coveted a magnificent magnolia tree at a neighboring house. It seems there are people who never have enough or do not know when what they have is actually more than enough...perhaps my mother was one of them.
My family had a summer home on the Jersey Shore. The hot drives through the Pine Barrens wondering if there was a Jersey Devil was a summer ritual. The hot nights at The Shore with wafting smells of pine, tide, and tar was actually a comfort. They lived apart those summers...we were at this place for three months and Daddy joined on Friday and left Sunday. I never thought about it at the time but this was their happiest time.
She was not much of a baker. From her stunning ability to bake repeated "empty pies" where she swore she put filling in them to the time she sent me to school with egg shells in the brownies... she loved to bake. I have such amazing memories of her melting chocolate in a double boiler for her brownies. I waited patiently sitting on the counter to lick the beater. I never got that recipe. Maybe it was more the love than the physical ingredients that made them so special. These small rolling pins have rolled my biscuits, fondant, tart crusts and so much more. The paper is a from a roll of butcher paper. It is what I use to line my tins for my baked goods. Now these pins will encompass a book hopefully filled with recipes of love and stained with chocolate.
A staple in the kitchen, a utility that comes in many shapes, sizes, and materials. She was picky. Wood only. That was the deal. Wood only. I have four of her cutting boards in my kitchen and every time I use one I can almost feel her presence. This book is made from two mini classic bamboo boards and is left to function as a hotplate / cutting board as well as a book.
Pouches filled with salmon filet - use foil she said, it makes easier cleanup and a better seal. Wrapped sandwiches as the beach then building little foil adornments for my sand castles. Then there were the endless dishes of left overs wrapped tight in foil where I had to open each one to see what was what. As my Father's health was failing my Mother became desperate to pinpoint a cause for what could only be described as age related demensia. The aluminum purge of her kitchen began and with that, the foil disappeared replaced by parchment and wax paper but the salmon was never the same.
HER PRIVATE TREASURE BOX
This box sit on my mother's desk for as long as I can remember. In my first home in South Orange, their farm house, and then her final stop, Bay Shore Court. I never messed with with this box. I never opened it. It was just there, as much as her other totem and trinkets she surrounded herself with. The morning she died I took this box from her desk. Five year later I opened it. It was treasures! Coins from her travels, keys from her past, love notes from my father; like a little sarcophagus of treasured memories. Today it hold books. Books made from hand made paper from India (the one place she wanted to visit and did not) and pages made from recycled passports.
Grace followed her; or preceded her. Sometime it was hard to tell. It was a privilege to know all of her. The elegant, beautiful, poised beauty that shone wherever she went as well as the damaged, scared, lonely woman who lurked inside her. Both my grandmothers as well as my mother had custom made kit-skin gloves. I have all of them. This pair looked to have a food stain on the old, soft, leather. I wonder what glorious event the wearer attended and the fantasy that it fulfilled.
My mother designed a kitchen for her farm house but somehow when the idea of marble in the counter top came up THAT was the item that was too much. She passed but the yearning for a marble baking / candy slab never went away. Ma, here is your marble. Love, Me.
She could not bake! She made boxed angel food cake, brownies from scratch and schnecken. Once a year she made lemon meringue (or bought one) and a strawberry shortcake (she bought the layers at the local bakery) for Daddy's birthday. These pans were hers. I have baked with them. I have taught my boys to bake with them. Now they will come to this project to share to symbolize hope...hope that one day the recipe will come out right.
My mother taught me how to knit. She made sweaters and could not knit the sleeves so she taught me how to knit the sleeves for her sweaters. I would sit on the kitchen counter and knit while she cooked. It is hard me for to hold knitting needles without thinking of sitting, knitting, and watching her cook. I miss her a bit every time I knit.
JUST A COVER
I hate to admit it but my parents were a shallow and focused on surface appearances. All I thought was real was not. It was all a shell, like this book. I ripped out the pages of one of her cookbooks and replaced them with blank pages so I can start fresh while maintaining a link to the surface of the past...and that was good.
We met once a week for years. We had coffee. Sometimes we talked. Sometime we did not. Either way it was time was time together.
When I was looking for materials for this project I pulled out all of my mother's old aprons (and there were many). She never threw out anything. I was testing the stretch grain of the material by tugging on the strings...and then it happened...the strings snapped off in my hands. The release was extreme. The fabric gave way and there in my hands were two dangling apron strings. Cutting the apron strings, the well know cliche for letting go of parental comforts, was right there in front of me.
What do you do with ratty dish towels? If you were my mother you saved them. I have about a dozen of her dishtowels. They patchwork together to make a pair of covers that hold her labor, her laughter, her tears, bits of her success and her failures.
During the US Depression of the 1930's materials of all sorts were scarce. Women used books that were discarded, such as out of date tax guides or old catalogs, to paste in their personal recipes and create a repository. These can still be found in antique stores. I was looking for one and happened across The Courage of the Commonplace. The title struck me. Maybe if they embraced a bit more of the commonplace things could have been different. Maybe if she made decisions from a base of courage and not fear there would have been less resentment. This book will stay intact with recipes pasted to the narrative - creating a new state through meaningful re-purposing of this little treasure.