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    Home Columns

    Your Kitchen Ware Tells a Story

    As I related to my daughter the story behind the pink Depression glass cake plate that had been my parents', she remarked, "Mom, you need to write these stories down before they're forgotten."

    This made me realize that many of our family stories surround our cooking and dining utensils, as well as pieces of furniture. They can stimulate our memories and lead to nostalgic tales and bits of family history to pass along to our children and grandchildren.

    Make a list of items that played a role in your childhood, the early days of your marriage, your children's first years, and the times when grandchildren visited. Thinking of these items will stimulate memories of good times and challenging ones.

    Depression Glass Cake Plate

    This pink Depression glass cake place, of cherry design, was a wedding gift my parents received in 1934. My mother told the story of opening the box and finding it seemingly full of chocolate covered cherries, one of my dad's favorite. His boyhood friend, Walter, knew of Father's fondness for these candies, so it didn't seem unusual that he'd give such a wedding gift.

    However, as they ate the layers of candy, a pink cake plate appeared beneath them. This plate was used for birthdays throughout my childhood. When not in use, it was kept in the china closet with our "company" dishes.

    Wooden Chopping Bowl

    I was delighted to find my mom still had the oval wooden chopping bowl when I had to move her from her home as she developed Alzheimer's. Although it's no longer in usable condition (cracks have appeared), it's a nice decorative and nostalgic piece.

    I recall chopping cabbage and carrots in it so Mother could make cole slaw. She also mixed up potato salad there and other foods when she needed large amounts for our family of six.

    Meat Grinder

    This meat grinder, which attached to the kitchen table in our farmhouse, has more than food memories. When I was a child of about five years old, I was grinding beef for corned beef hash, when the grinder came loose from the table and fell on my bare toes.

    It cut my big toe so badly that I still have a scare there, many, many years later. I had trouble walking for several days, with a large bandage on it, until the pain was gone. We continued to use the grinder, only making sure it was screwed very securely to the kitchen table from then on.

    Canning Jars

    When I found some of the old canning jars in the cellar of my mom's home, it brought to mind those days before freezers. Our refrigerator had a small interior freezer section which contained ice cube trays, in which Mother occasionally made ice cream or sherbet. We did take some meat to the "locker" plant in the city 15 miles away and rented a freezer unit there.

    However, the rest of our food for winter use was canned...fruit, meat, vegetables, pickles, jams and jellies. Throughout the summer, Mother and we girls, sometimes with the help of a neighbor lady, prepared food for canning.

    Although we got tired of this hot work over the kitchen woodstove, we were all glad to have this preserved food come winter time. You didn't run to the store for your food as readily as we do these days.

    Look over the cooking and dining utensils of your childhood, or even the ones you're using now, and write down the stories behind them.

    Expand Upon the Utensil Stories

    As you tell the stories behind the dishes and cooking utensils, brainstorm about other memories. For instance, when I think of the birthday cakes served on the pink Depression glass cake plate, I can go on to record the stories of various birthday celebrations throughout the years...those of my childhood, my daughter's, my dad's 90th.

    The thoughts of canning jars may lead me to remember occasions when those foods were served. Or of the time my husband acquired two bushels of pears from a family tree and decided we'd can them "like Mother used to do."

    "You'll can them," I mentioned. "I did enough of that in my childhood."

    So he and our teenaged daughter did, creating canning memories of their own.

    Write or record on tape your family stories. Use the collectibles of days ago to stimulate your memories.

    Copyright © 2002 Mary Emma Allen

    Mary Emma Allen has been writing cooking columns for 30 years and has compiled a family cookbook. She's now writing a book for her family of the memories surrounding the cooking and dining utensils from her childhood. Her many publications are listed on her Web site --

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ

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