Sometimes, kitchen’s aromas make a home
There was the house on the farm in Schoenfeld that was my first home.
In a picture, Grandpa Friesen holds me, along with the handset of a black wall phone.
We are next to the kitchen, where grandma is probably cooking verenyky.
Or roll kuchen.
Or hand-cut noodles she’ll later swaddle with cream gravy.
“You know what? I think grandpa was listening in on the party line that day,” my mother says when I show her the photo.
She laughs and adds: “He shouldn’t have been doing that.”
After the farmhouse, there was the single-wide in the town of Shaunavon.
Then, the house on Swift Current’s Eighth Street, where I lived with my mother and sister and learned to bake blueberry muffins from a mix.
And, where I made marshmallow-covered apples after school, without supervision.
I probably shouldn’t have been doing that.
One summer on Eighth, a troupe of ants marched in the back door.
They followed each other in a single line across the walls, from porch into the basement, down the hall and into my sister’s room, where a square of white chocolate fudge had been left unwrapped on a nightstand.
Thirty years or more later, the memory of their chemical conversations still pinches my nose.
After Eighth, when I was eight, there was the apartment above my stepfather’s butcher shop — a landlord’s apartment that shared a hallway with several bachelor units, from which the eyes of single men peered as I swept and mopped from front to back.
Downstairs, pig carcasses dangled from the shop ceiling and I learned about smoking and curing hams and sawing and slicing meats.
Later, in my father’s house, I learned to be vegetarian, with meatless meatloaves and gluten washed from flour to make protein patties that were breaded and fried.
Where, until I became accustomed, I learned to say: “Please pass the ketchup.”
In Kelowna, our house sat around the corner from a boy who would become Chefhusband.
His grandmother cooked curry and rice and introduced me to a sub-continent of spice.
There was my college apartment, where I spent $25 a month on spaghetti and sauce and washed dishes in a too-low laundry sink that hurt my back.
There was another basement suite, where I stopped cooking and hid while the husband upstairs beat his wife.
And, then another basement suite — and another and another.
There was the first condo apartment Chefhusband and I bought and no one else had a key.
Where we both became food people.
Where we churned avocado ice cream as forest fires toasted the air.
Where pine ash snowed into our bowls, but the firefighters held the line.
We lived on a mountainside and cooked everything we could think of.
Then, when it was time to sell, made curries on the balcony, having been advised that all houses should smell of white bread or apple pie.
Today, a plum cake cools on our townhouse’s kitchen island on a rack not 10 feet from my writing desk.
Chances are, we won’t live here forever, either.
But, as I consider whether the cake has cooled enough to sample, I know I’ll remember the cooking and baking we’ve done here, long after we no longer call this place our home.
Italian plum cake
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup plus 1 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup yogurt (I used Activia’s prune yogurt)
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups Italian plums, pitted and chopped
Cream together butter and sugars. Beat in eggs, one at a time, followed by yogurt.
Whisk flour baking powder and salt together, then beat into wet ingredients, in thirds, until just combined.
Gently fold in chopped prunes (especially gently if they were frozen or jar-preserved).
Butter and flour a loaf pan. Scrape batter into pan. Sprinkle top with one teaspoon of granulated sugar. Bake at 350 F for 60 minutes, until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.
Darcie Hossack is a food writer and author of Mennonites Don’t Dance (Thistledown Press). For past recipes, go online. She can be contacted at email@example.com.