I enjoy cooking but admit that I am spoiled by having some of the best tools of the culinary trade. It was not always so. I began with a set of Farberware stainless steel cookware that was a wedding gift from my mother and Mrs. Gracey, the mother of my dear friend Nancy. Those pots and pans have served me well for over fifty years but in the early years I was sadly lacking in decent cutlery or other important implements. Over time my husband gave me top of the line gear to use whenever I entered my kitchen, including a set of knives that would make a world class chef smile. I have enjoyed the cutlery greatly since so many recipes call for ingredients that must be diced or chopped into various sizes. There is really nothing better than a sharp knife designed for a specific task.
Whenever I cook in other homes I sometimes find myself silently stewing over having to use cheap cutting tools that make it difficult to slice without great effort. Generally when I encounter such situations I consider purchasing better cutlery for the individual whose kitchen is so lacking. Sadly few people understand that a great knife might cost hundreds of dollars. Such a gift might appear to be inexpensive to the uninitiated. Still, once someone receives their first beautifully crafted knife they never want to turn back to those created with little effort or skill.
A nephew of mine got married recently in the midst of the pandemic. He already has a nice house that is filled with all sorts of things so I did not know exactly what he might appreciate as a gift. I decided to send him a knife block filled with good knives even though some say that giving cutlery as a wedding gift is bad luck. I can’t imagine any worse luck that what the entire world has been enduring in the past few months but I know that having good knives for cooking is a joy. I decided to send him and his lovely new bride the one tool that I think is essential for making the art of cooking a pleasant task. I included a cutting board to insure that his countertops are not damaged as he slices and dices and chops.
I hope he enjoys creating yummy food as much as I do and hopefully he and his wife will use the times when they are preparing ingredients to talk and laugh and grow even closer to one another. Cooking can be as much of a shared adventure as traveling and it costs very little to do. I suspect that so many are using the time of Covid to prepare dinners and desserts because it is a way to celebrate our creativity and to bring families together. The very image of a table is a metaphor for community and love. Gathering for a meal is basic to our natures but also an opportunity for sharing and communicating both our hopes and our fears. If those knives make it easier to have a lovely meal then I cannot imagine how they could ever be a symbol of bad luck. They will not cut the ties that bind the newly weds, but instead become instruments for keeping them together always as they work together to feed their love.
This is a season of gifting. Sometimes we don’t quite know what to give the people we love. My husband asked me for a gift list and it was difficult to think of what I might want given that I have essentially spent ten months mostly in isolation due to the virus. I asked for some very basic things like a journal and a book of writing prompts. I also wanted new dish towels and an apron for using in the kitchen which has become the center of my world these days.
I find that Covid 19 has made me feel a deeper and deeper connection with my grandmothers. My memory of them is in their kitchens. That room was their domain and the work they did in there was focused on love for their families. I’ve thought of how both of them must have witnessed the pandemic of 1918. My paternal grandmother’s first husband died in 1918 and he was a very young man. I have often wondered if he caught the flu and it killed him. Grandma never spoke of either her first husband or the worldwide tragedy of 1918. She ended up working as a cook in a boarding house shortly thereafter where she and her daughter lived and toiled just to keep a roof over her head. Eventually my grandfather ended up there as well and their love began over the delicious meal that she had prepared for him and other boarders.
My maternal grandmother managed to feed a family of ten on a wing and a prayer during the Great Depression. My mother often boasted that they never missed a meal. She said that Grandma found ways to stretch the limited ingredients that she had into filling delights that kept their tummies satisfied. Even years later Grandma would take great pride in having a fresh loaf of rye bread to offer guests along with a warm cup of coffee. I can still see the loaf sitting on a board with a butcher knife sitting ready to cut a slice. I suppose that if I had been allowed to ask for one thing that had belonged to my grandmother I would have wanted to have that knife because to me it was always a symbol of her concern for her family.
I hope that my gift to my nephew and my new niece will bring them great happiness. One day I would like to tell them the stories of their great grandmothers who used cooking to keep their families satisfied and happy. Their kitchens were delightful havens of generosity and love. That’s why I thought that a set of knives would be a wonderful gift for starting a long life together. It was a gift of love.