Each summer my garden has its bumper crop. This year it’s cucumbers. I got a little impatient and sowed seeds a second time thinking it might have been too cold for the first ones to germinate. And then, for good measure, I bought a few seedlings of another variety. They all came through in the end. Two vine-laden teepees later and I’m covered with cukes.
So out come the bowls of summer. I never tuck them away too far. Some of them even hold places of honor on the countertop. But now they are put to use, as they should be, preserving summer for the darker months to come.
In one bowl, those prolific cucumbers are brining as I write, weighted down with a heavy plate that fits just inside the rim. This bowl belonged to Grandma Schlipf. It’s that creamy-colored heavy stoneware with the rough edge, so huge I can hold it with both hands and still struggle. So big I can knead dough inside of it during the winter. In summer it holds the harvest-plenty as I try hard to keep up and put up the best of the garden.
I never met Grandma Schlipf; in fact she isn’t even my grandma. She lived on a farm I can see from my in-laws picture window. My husband thinks I idealize farm life, yet still I’ve often tried to imagine my life in her tidy white farmhouse with the iconic red barn. He’s probably right; I’m sweating up a storm in my air-conditioned kitchen as I put up a single batch of pickles. I don’t have family and farm chores to perform while I mince around my marble countertops. I do wonder what delicious treats she produced from this bowl I made such a special point of procuring. I like to think there’s good juju at the bottom.
Everyone around my age knows the next bowl, a sizable yellow Pyrex bowl, the largest in a nesting set, the others descending green, red and blue. I have two sets, my mother’s and then a back-up set just in case. Anything made in the yellow bowl will taste fabulous because it has love embedded in it. She was a frustrated gourmet, clipping out magazine recipes she wished she could try, while in reality cooking for a picky meat-and-potatoes man. (Don’t worry, Mama, it all ends well -- your granddaughter is now a food editor at your favorite magazine)
Another bowl is always filled with mixed feelings when not full of cherry tomatoes. A soft jade-y green like so much California pottery, with subtle ridges and a good heft. It is also the perfect foil for golden peaches blushed with pink. My half-sister handed it to me on a visit we tried to make normal. Two sisters sharing a love of kitchenalia divided by mental illness or meanness -- the answer never became clear. No matter, when things in the kitchen are chaotic I make sure to put the green bowl, the sacred vessel of what might have been, up and away in a safe place.
Do you have everyday kitchen items imbued with memories, special meaning? Feel free to share your story in the comment section.