Mothers’ Day brings back memories that grow more vivid, more distinct, more special with each passing year…
I was a Hoosier Kid. No, not from the lovely state of Indiana, but one of those kids who hung on the side of the Hoosier while most of the kitchen activity went on there. The one we had when I was a child was the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen, the most practical, organized and complete “kitchen work center” ever, and I’ve never seen another like it. I’ve searched, and searched…
Our Hoosier was painted white & had small wooden doors with glass window panes up high, but I’m not sure what was stored up there, because it was way higher than I could see. At the very bottom there was a big door on the left (I think the pots and pans were in there) and more storage on the right — three drawers there, if my memory of back-in-the-day is correct.
In the very center of this perfect piece of furniture – this kitchen-in-one-piece – were wide and beautiful, wonderful accordion doors that slid open to reveal a large metal dispenser on each side, one for flour, one for sugar. Just a turn of the crank and the ingredients flowed into the tin measuring cup my mother held. I’ve got that cup; as far as I know, it’s all that’s left from that magical cupboard. In the center of that space, between the flour and sugar dispensers, was a suspended spinning rack that held ribbed glass jars with metal tops for spices. I don’t even have to close my eyes to see exactly what they looked like.
Below the accordion-doored section was the porcelain workspace, white with blue cobalt trim, and best of all – magical to this then-toddler/pre-schooler – it slid forward to create a huge workspace. I can still feel that cool porcelain on my fingers. This was the heart of the kitchen to me, the heart of the house where I grew up. Here was where my mother mixed pie dough by hand, rolled it out, tossing flour on the surface — because we really didn’t need a fancy non-stick slick plastic sheet, we just needed her slightly age-spotted capable hands to toss just the right amount of flour there. I can still see that motion of her right hand, tossing… She rolled the pie dough to exactly the right thickness with her white ceramic rolling-pin with real wooden handles, lifted the dough without a tear to place in the pie tin, trimmed it precisely with a plain old kitchen knife so it was the perfect size, filled it with fruit (sometimes what she’d canned the past season) then topped it off with another perfectly non-sticking, rolled-just-right crust. Next, she’d pinch the edges of the bottom and top crusts together, then ever-so-deftly spin the pie pan with her left hand while using her right thumb to press a pretty crimped design into the edges of the crust. Her final touch was to make freehand cuts of pretty shapes into the top crust to let the steam escape. No fancy tools; merely — wonderfully — my mother’s beautiful, aging yet beautiful, hands. I thought her pies were the most beautiful thing in the world. The memory of watching the creation of homemade pies on that Hoosier is way more special to me than any piece of pie could ever be.
But one more thing came from this pie crust making! The scraps of dough from the trimming of those perfect crust circles were placed in a miniature pie tin, or sometimes in another full-size one if it was a two-pie-day, sprinkled with sugar, and baked as a treat – for me! I was the only kiddo around during the school day. On an extra good day, cinnamon was added with the sugar; yummy.
Oh, but the Hoosier did more than provide a spot for pie-making. The porcelain top had a sturdy spot to attach the hand-cranked grinder, and tomatoes were pureed there, too. No food processor, no blender, just that grinder, a hand-held whisk, and the old yellowed-cream and black Hamilton Beach electric mixer, whirring away, mixing egg whites for my very favorite – Angel Food Cake, and then whirring again after it cooled, to create the makings of 7-minute boiled frosting. After the frosting went on with a small hand-held spatula, my mother took the time to make little curls in it, all over the cake. No microwaves, no just-add-water mixes, just creativity and hands-on activity right there on that lovely porcelain work area of my beloved Hoosier.
I remember watching my parents and two older brothers busy at work making “Beer Bottle Ketchup” at that Hoosier, too. Homemade ketchup, made from the huge red tomatoes from the big garden that provided nearly all our food, bottled into recycled and sterilized brown beer bottles. There was a bottle capper that rested on the edge of that porcelain surface, and I can still see my brothers, then teenagers, laughing and “cutting up,” as my mother would say, as they capped the ketchup bottles. It seems this was always done when it was dark outside, and I was made to stand in the kitchen doorway while “the big people” did the work. It never seemed to me that they were “working,” and if you could hear my brothers laugh and see those stinkers’ faces, you wouldn’t believe they weren’t having fun, either.
On the right side of the Hoosier hung the thick, thick & dark wood-stained yardstick with black lettering and numbers, and that year’s Farmer’s Almanac. I still feel a compulsion to buy the Old Farmers’ Almanac each year, although I don’t need to check the weather and planting guides there as my Dad did. Despite the weather channel and internet minute-to-minute updates… I prefer that Farmers; Almanac.
The Hoosier went away when a new kitchen was put in; remodeling, making things “new.” Gone were the beautiful grey-painted big old built-in cupboards with wide doors and heavy drawers, gone was the big old sink in the corner, gone was the full-size window in another corner – low enough for me to look out at the big, shady back yard with a lush carpet of grass — gone was my beloved Hoosier. The “new” kitchen always felt quite sterile to me, with no personality whatsoever. There was no more pie-making, no more Beer Bottle Ketchup, no more cool, smooth porcelain worktop.
I don’t know what happened to that bottle capper or the grinder. I shudder to think of what happened to the Hoosier. Two pie tins, the tin measuring cup and the red-wooden-handled wire whisk sit behind my mother’s rolling-pin on a shelf in my kitchen. I walk by them many, many times a day, glance at them, and each and every time, I remember the smell of fresh pie dough and flour and cinnamon and homemade ketchup, and best of all, see & hear my two brothers smiling at each other and laughing together.
Somehow, it seems if I keep buying that Old Farmers’ Almanac each year, one day I will come upon a beautiful old Hoosier exactly like that one I loved to hang onto, and will make it my own. If I ever find it, I shall build my own kitchen all ’round it.
Best of all, though, I can always keep all those good memories tucked away in my heart. It is great to be a “Hoosier Kid.”