The very first Apron Strings Contest entry comes from Jeff who shares a lovely story about how his connection to his father was bound-up with food they shared…
My father was always a bit of a mystery for me while I was growing up – he left the family when I was young and our interactions were sporadic and altogether too brief throughout the years that followed. But no matter how short the time we spent together or the number of months/years between those visits, there was a common thread that united us each and every time we met. Food.
I come from a Doukhobor background, where food holds almost as central a place in our hearts as religion. In fact, they’re often intertwined – bread and salt have pride of place on the altar along with a jug of water. A key role in the community is Head Cook at weddings and funerals. I couldn’t make this stuff up, seriously! I have so many wonderful memories of him, and I’m happy to say most of them involve food and family.
My grandmother was an amazing cook, and my father had not only her gift for creating enormous spreads that would make the table creak but her passion for it as well. He would close his eyes during a meal when the pleasure of the food overcame him, an ordinarily eloquent man struck dumb trying to share just how perfect the tomato (or perogy, or cinnamon bun, or borscht) was. He was constantly getting us to try this, sample that, taste this. No food was too foreign or too different – he loved it all. He made friends easily, and they shared their food with him and those foods became part of his repertoire to be shared with still more people.
When he was a high school principal, he began an annual fundraisers for the district – an International Supper Club where the students and faculty contributed dishes from their ethnic backgrounds and tables were set up in the gym. For the small price of a ticket, you could travel the world with your taste buds and your nose, and what a trip it was… I can remember him walking us through the crowds, stacking more and more foods on our massively overburdened paper plates, laughing the whole time with the joy of it all. And I can remember trying each thing – my first samosa, a spring roll, real Southern BBQ, a thai curry. When I was out on my own and starting university with a houseful of roommates in a strange city, I took a page from his book and threw my first potluck International Dinner and invited everyone I knew (and then some). In the crazy fun of that dinner and those that followed, I met and made friends with people that are still among my nearest and dearest to this day.
My father is no longer with us, and I think of him every day. His genuine love of people, of trying new things and learning about other places and cultures. He never cared what you did for a living or how much money you made – what he found interesting went deeper, to a cellular level. What do you eat, and how do you eat it? Who do you eat it with and did you grow it yourself?
I can still hear him: That smells delicious, can I try some? Try this, I have lots – have some. I’m Cec – nice to meet you…