Taste: Three Generations of Family Cooking, by Irene Neal

Taste Cover.jpg

“April showers bring May flowers.”

All of us know this famous rhyme. This year, after our harsh winter, every one of us is anxious to push winter out the back door and welcome those May flowers and warm sunshine. But a more important thought comes to my mind when I think of the month of May. I first of all think of my Mother.

I have always said that every day is Mother’s day in my world, and having a designated day in May gives me more reason to celebrate the greatest person in my life ... my mother.

I have my mom to thank for her special attributes that i have inherited. Her uncomplicated ways of cooking and baking, her gentle and loving character, her warm and engaging personality. Her love of reading and storytelling, and many more of her ways that i hold dear to my heart.

Now I have reached out and have included some of this into my most recent book entitled Taste – Three Generations of Family Cooking, Seasoned with Life * Served with Love.

As a dedication to my parents and my grandparents, and most specifically my mother, my book expresses some of my thoughts of growing up in a loving family, learning life skills from my mother, cooking and baking and entertaining friends, and believing that

“Eating is a Celebration.

It’s all about Love.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms that we daughters admire and love.

* * *

Following is an adapted version of a chapter in my book.

I became immersed in cooking and baking when I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

Out of necessity to help with the meal preparations at home on the farm, I was sometimes left with the task of putting the entire meal on the table while Mom worked alongside dad in the fields during haying and harvesting in the summertime.

Back in those years of my young childhood, before farmers had all the machinery like today, it was common practice to hire a “thresher” to come to the farm to harvest the crops. This man, who owned the threshing machine which was used by the entire community, would announce the days he would be arriving and then dad would round up the neighbours to come and help. It was the busiest time of the year.

Ultimately, with a crew of perhaps a dozen or more men working from early morning until late at night, bountiful meals had to be prepared and served to the hungry workers, whose ravishing appetites were fuelled by the nature of the labour and the great outdoors.

Today, as i sit quietly in my comfortable home in Guelph, sipping a cup of Earl Grey tea, I often reminisce about those summers when my Mom creatively planned her baking and cooking to coincide with her duties outdoors; and how she left me in charge of the meals in complete confidence that i would be able to successfully put it all together.

Very early morning would see Mom setting a batch of bread dough to rise in the warming oven of the cook stove, and several apple pies would be made ready for me to bake. Jars of home-preserved fruits would also be part of the dessert, along with tea biscuits, cake and muffins.

I was given the jobs of peeling the potatoes and carrots, shelling the peas, and putting them on the stove to cook at the proper time. the roast, sausages, chicken or ham would already be in the oven, and it was my responsibility to baste it, not let it burn, make the gravy and be sure it was cooked just right for dinner at noon.

The table had to be set, the tea and lemonade had to be made. Tubs of water had to be put out on the veranda to warm in the sun, along with a bar of soap and clean towels for the men to wash up before coming to the table to eat.

Dad would say the blessing, and within an hour, all the food was devoured, the mean headed back to the fields, and I was left with the kitchen cleanup. Mom assessed what would be on the menu for supper before she, too, went back outside to help.

My duties didn’t stop at the kitchen table, as there were dishes to wash, floors to sweep, laundry to do, eggs to gather, strawberries and tomatoes to pick from the garden, and baby calves and piglets to feed before evening chores.

I remember feeling as a young girl that these tasks given to me were more than I wanted to do. But now as i recall those summers of many years ago, I can say I appreciate the discipline and responsibilities that were expected of me, as a contributing member of our family.

I can truly say this style of upbringing definitely contributed to my joy of cooking and baking, and my continued love today of putting a bountiful meal on my table for both my family and friends. For many years, i made food the feature of my entrepreneurship when i trained as a certified foodservice manager and became a restaurateur, owning a cozy dining room in a heritage building in Mount Forest, Ontario.

At Country Lane Dining Room, many of the recipes passed down to me from my mother and grandmother formed the basis of the menu for my restaurant. all of those recipes were based on everyday country cooking using healthy foods seasoned with robust flavours enhanced by local, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Another passion of mine is culinary travel to distant countries, and journal writing of my many experiences both at home and abroad. Journal writing has been something i have done over many years. I have found this to be an inspiration to sit down and record happenings and feelings that Ii have experienced. it is a way for me to express joys and sorrows, as well as remember events, places and important dates that have transpired throughout my life. What a great feeling it is to pick up one of my journals from days gone by, reread what i have written, and remember!

Just like my Mom’s expectations of me as a young girl: to become a responsible member of our busy farm family by teaching me to cook, bake and complete the many chores that needed to be done every day, and expecting me to put a meal on the home table with ease and reliability; my journal writings have become an important part of my life. These writings express my love of growing up in a close-knit family, my inherited joy of cooking, baking, and entertaining friends and family, and my culinary cultural adventures during my travels around the world. Many of these exciting experiences are in my book.

Taste: Three Generations of Family Cooking was published by One Thousand Trees in 2014.

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