the kitchen was my mother’s place. it was the first place to look when searching for her.
the most wonderful food was prepared in our home when i was little. the coal range was stoked up early each morning, the kettle placed over the hottest part, warming for a cup of tea or coffee. the oven was usually crammed full of baking bread, or home-made pies. with nine children to feed, there was always something on the go. flounder freshly caught from the mud-flats behind our house would be cooked straight on the top of the coal range and often there would be a big pot of pipis or cockles (freshly dug that day) bubbling away.
meals were always a formal and often rowdy affair. sunday lunches after church were always a big roast meal and fresh vegetables. though my father worked for the church and we had very little money, we never went hungry; with kaimoana (seafood) in abundance right outside our door, fresh milk and often a side of cow from one of the farmers and a huge vegetable garden out the side of the house.
and the jams and preserves! there always seemed to be something new that my mother was bottling. i remember my father building an addition on to the back of the house so my mother could have a nice big pantry. i remember when i was little, my job in the kitchen was to churn the butter. we had a big chest freezer out in the hallway behind the kitchen and, when i was old enough, i was given a little step-ladder and control of the butter churn – you know, the old school ones with a BIG glass jar and a handle on the side. i still love hand-making butter to this day. there’s something quite meditative for me about the butter-making process. perhaps because it forces me to slow down, allowing my body to rest and my mind to wander and think on other things.
i think my favourite childhood memory was a totally new flavour i was introduced to by a lady who was renting our little flat out the back for a while. one night, i was asked to deliver her meal to her by my mother. when i got to the door, she asked me if could go and fetch her some butter and vegemite. this had me completely intrigued! when i delivered it, she mixed a big gloop of each in with her mashed potatoes. of course i had to try it out myself… now i don’t eat mashed potatoes without these two additions.
now the kitchen is my place too. i don’t often set enough time aside at the moment to really enjoy my time in the kitchen, but the love of cooking has definitely passed from mother to daughter. i love to try new recipes and attempt to re-create her old ones. i save up my preserving for when she visits so we can do it together and she’s always the first person i call if i can’t get my pastry right, or i’ve lost my fruitcake recipe.
i love the whole process of cooking. for me it’s not just the cooking time, it’s everything. right from choosing the recipe, to buying the freshest ingredients, cooking the meal and laying a beautiful table for the food to be presented on. it’s another way that i can be creative and it happens in the kitchen.