In what is news to precisely no one: women’s work is never done

Peeling potatoes for the Turkey Supper

Me in the midst of peeling 20 pounds of potatoes late at night, after a long day’s work, in the cramped Manse kitchen. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

More than once here at Meanwhile, at the Manse I’ve paid tribute to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, for somehow surviving the Manse years of my childhood. Now that I am living through the Manse years of my adulthood (having moved back to this great old house in Queensborough a while back), I think I have a much better appreciation of what was involved in raising four small children, working full-time as a high-school teacher, keeping a big old house in reasonable order, preparing three meals a day for an ungrateful lot (and this when she hated cooking), and last but certainly not least, fulfilling all the demands that were placed on a midcentury minister’s wife – including having company to dinner pretty much every single Sunday.

And all this without a dishwasher! Or many other of the conveniences we all take for granted today. (Mind you, Raymond and I still don’t have a dishwasher at the Manse.)

My mother told me not long ago that quite often on Friday afternoons, when she would arrive home at the Manse after a week of teaching, she would just sit in the car in the driveway for a while, too exhausted to immediately face the job of cooking supper for the family. Too exhausted to even face the family.

Now, my workload is not nearly as heavy as my mum’s was. For one thing, there are zero small children to raise, though there are three cats. For another, my husband does an immense amount of work around the house, including cooking meals more than half the time. That said, my paid job (co-ordinating and teaching in the journalism program at Loyalist College in Belleville) is probably more demanding and time-consuming than my mum’s job was. And I have a daily commute of almost an hour each way, whereas Mum only had the less-than-15-minute drive to Madoc and back, to teach at Centre Hastings Secondary School. And even though I don’t have minister’s wife duties, I do have quite a bit of work in my role as secretary at St. Andrew’s United Church. And then there is Meanwhile, at the Manse to produce!

Let’s just say that I sometimes feel, as I’m sure my mother felt a hundred thousand or so times back in those Manse days of my childhood, that I am really tired of being tired.

But who doesn’t feel that way these days? Every working person I know is putting in more hours than workers did even a generation ago. Nine to five? What the heck is that? And we’ve all got so much going on outside of work as well. The other day I was talking to a businesswoman in Madoc who works full time six, and often seven, days a week. How does she do it?

While I fully realize that many, many men (like my husband) work every bit as hard as their wives do, I’ve been thinking a lot about “women’s work” over the past two or three weeks. You won’t be surprised to know that these thoughts have been prompted by being at the Manse, and by thinking about my mum and the women of her generation, and the generations before that.

These reflections kind of got started on a recent Friday night, when, after a very long and trying week at work, I had to spend several hours in the Manse’s ridiculously small and poorly laid out kitchen/pantry doing prep work for a meal to be served to guests the next day. They are guests whom we always enjoy having over, and the meal was not at all a fancy one; but because Raymond and I had out-of-the-house stuff to do most of the following day, I had to get things ready Friday night – when, let me tell you, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. Here I am whipping the cream for the world’s greatest retro dessert at about 10 o’clock at night, feeling more than a little sorry for myself:

late-night-whipping-cream-in-the-manse-kitchen

As I whipped, I kept thinking about my mum, and all those long-ago evenings in that very same kitchen when she, as exhausted as I was, would be using the hand-held mixer to prepare some dessert or jellied salad or other so as to lighten the load of same-day preparations for company. “How did she do it?” I kept wondering.

(But you know, it paid off: the next day when dinner was a snap to get on the table because of all the advance work that I’d done, I felt pretty pleased with myself. That, however, was after a good night’s sleep.)

I got thinking along the same lines last week, on the night before the Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church that I told you all about in last week’s post. My assigned task, because I am utterly incapable of baking one of those homemade pies that St. Andrew’s and Queensborough are so famous for, was to peel and cut up (into small pieces, so they’d cook quickly) 20 pounds of potatoes. People, do you know how long it takes to peel and cut up 20 pounds of potatoes? I’ll tell you. It takes exactly an hour and a half – 45 minutes per 10-pound bag of potatoes. There was a time when leaning over the kitchen sink for an hour and a half would have caused my back no problems whatsoever. But as a woman of a certain age, I can definitively say: this is not that time. And this hour-and-a-half mission happened, of course, after another very long day at work and another long commute home. You can see me hard at work on the potato front in the photo at the top of this post, and here’s another view where my peeling hands are just a blur!

peeling-potatoes-2

But I hasten to add that I wasn’t really feeling sorry for myself on potato-peeling night. Instead I was thinking about all the other women of St. Andrew’s United Church and the wider Queensborough community who, that night and over the past several days, had worked way more than my measly hour and a half to prepare food and make everything ready for the Turkey Supper. And then there was the day to come, when many of the same women would be working all day long doing prep work and setup, then serving up the food at a furious pace during the 2½ hours of the supper, and then working late into the night to clean everything up. And people, I hope I’m not giving away any secrets if I say that most of those women are older than I am – some by quite a bit.

They are amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Every year I vow that I will take lots of photos of our Turkey Supper, and every year I fail to fulfill that mission. Why? Because I’m so busy running around helping out! There’s just no time to stop and take photos. And most especially not this year, when – thanks in part to you excellent people – we had what was probably the biggest crowd in the long, long history of St. Andrew’s Turkey Suppers.

Cars parked all through Queensborough for the Turkey Supper

“The cars were parked all over Queensborough!” one visitor to our Turkey Supper told me, completely accurately. I am pretty sure it was the biggest turnout in the history of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016

A view of the newly renovated hall at St. Andrew’s packed with people who were there for our famous Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016 2

Another shot of the Turkey Supper diners, featuring Raymond (in the checked shirt) who, with our minister, Norm Long, never stopped pouring coffee and tea.

I hope my photos give you some sense of how busy we were. Thanks to ticket sales and donations, our church has received a wonderful financial boost that will help its work a lot in the coming year. But oh, how I wish I had photos or video of Lorraine mashing the potatoes and keeping a steady stream of warm and delicious food coming out of the oven; of Ann Lee making sure all the trays on the buffet table were always filled; of Joan and Stephanie and Barb and Wanda and Lorna and Doris tirelessly washing and drying the plates, cutlery and glasses over and over and over as they kept being used over and over and over; of Netta and Debbie and Susanna racing to clear tables and install new place settings in time for the next round of diners! How I wish I could show you Eilene, making pot after pot of coffee and tea; of Joan, filling bowl after bowl of salads; of Lois, cutting and serving up dozens and dozens of pies; of Sandra, keeping track of when there were spaces at the table and summoning expectant diners to fill them; and especially of Betty, overseeing the whole shebang, as she has done for so many years, and doing a fantastic job. And how I wish I could show you the bustle – exhausted bustle, but bustle nonetheless – as everyone worked to clean everything up afterwards – on empty stomachs, because the crowds were so huge that there was no turkey dinner left to feed these hard-working volunteers!

Pictures failed me. And really, so do words.

Except this: thanks to the work of these women, of women like my mother, who have spent the majority of the days of their lives working until they were ready to drop – we have been fed, and cared for. The world is a much better place for “women’s work.”

In which we eat locally, and well, in glorious surroundings

Railway Creek Farms at Feast from Farm

Visitors check out the amazing selection of different kinds of organic garlic grown by Elly Finlayson (behind the counter, left, aided by her mum, the artist Jean Finlayson) at her Railway Creek Farms operation – which, I am pleased and proud to say, is just up the road from Queensborough in the hamlet of Cooper. Note the brilliant blue skies and the setting right beside Stoco Lake. Pretty nice!

Many’s the time I’ve told you about how good we are, here in the Queensborough area, at serving up great community meals. Whether it’s the famous St. Andrew’s United Church suppers (the Ham Supper in the spring and the Turkey Supper in the fall, and more on the latter at the end of this post), or community potlucks, or pancake breakfasts, or barbecues that are part of special events, or the food booth at the recent Hastings County Plowing Match – well, let’s just say that if you are fortunate enough to be in Queensborough when there’s a meal to be had, you will go away happy and replete.

Yesterday there was just such an event in our little hamlet, but before Raymond and I could even get to it, we had the opportunity to eat very, very well just a few miles away. The occasion was the annual Feast From Farm event in the village of Tweed, where local food producers show off their bounty – vegetables, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, herbs, baked goods, and so on – and we lucky visitors get to sample delightful dishes made by local chefs with these local products.

Palmateer's at Feast from Farm

Palmateer’s Meats of Tweed has been in business a long, long time, and there’s a reason for that – great-quality local products. Yesterday people were lining up for a taste of sausage freshly made by Tara Palmateer (left). It was delicious!

So I’m going to show you some photos from Feast From Farm, and then carry you on into a much lower-key but also delightful food event that happened later in the afternoon right here in Queensborough. All to show you that we really know how to eat and have a good time around here.

Enright Cattle Company tent at Feast from Farm

The booth of the Enright Cattle Co., a farm just outside Tweed that produces beef that’s in demand in top Ontario restaurants. We enjoyed an amazing snack – Hoisin Glazed Enright Cattle Beef Taco with Srirachi Aioli – prepared by the folks from the excellent Capers Restaurant in Belleville. Yum!

Leather bags from Enright Cattle Company at Feast from Farm 2016

Also at the Enright Cattle Co. booth: a display of the gorgeous handcrafted bags made from the carcasses of the farm’s cattle. I am lucky enough to own one of those bags!

Lineup for Langevin lamb, Feast from Farm

A lineup (which Raymond was in, though toward the back) for treats made from Langevin Sheep Company lamb.

Langevin Sheep Company, Feast from Farm

I like the fact that there’s a sheep farm not far from us – it’s between Tweed and Flinton – and I also like their pretty sign! Raymond, who loves fresh lamb, likes all of this even more than I do.

Pumpkin carving, Feast from Farm

Another thing you can do with locally grown food products: carve them! The kids were enjoying this.

Aside from all the good food we got to enjoy, I have to say the beautiful early-fall weather and the glorious lakeside setting made the event that much more enjoyable.

Great trees and blue sky at Feast from Farm

Beautiful trees (I believe they are ash) tower over the lakeside site of Feast From Farm.

Lineup, Potter Settlement Winery, Feast from Farm

The Potter Settlement Winery booth was a popular spot, where lineups formed as soon as the sun made it over the yardarm. Don’t worry – I don’t know what “the sun’s over the yardarm” means either, and I’m not sure anyone does. Basically it think it means  it’s a respectable hour to taste some amazing wine made with grapes grown right here in central Hastings County. The owner of Potter Settlement, Sandor Johnson, was on hand to pour and talk about his products, which are very quickly gaining wide acclaim. Just check out this recent splashy article in the Toronto Star!

Potter Settlement Winery at Feast from Farm 2

Another look at the Potter Settlement Winery booth. Raymond and I were lucky enough to be able to purchase a case of the fast-disappearing 2013 Marquette, which is an absolutely outstanding red. And made right here in our neck of the woods!

So after all this tasting, we headed back to the car with a case of Potter Settlement wine, some fat, fresh Hungarian garlic from Elly Finlayson’s Railway Creek Farms, a bottle of Kricklewood Farm Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil, some recipes and business cards to aid us in future purchases (fresh lamb, yum, says Raymond) – and very full tummies.

But the eating wasn’t over yet!

Cornstalk/scarecrow at QCC corn roast

This friendly cornstalk scarecrow welcomed visitors to the Queensborough Community Centre corn roast.

Next on the agenda was the annual corn roast hosted by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which we are members.

Garden at the QCC

What a lovely garden! It was planted by children taking part in the annual summer youth drop-in program at the Queensborough Community Centre. There’s a mix of annuals and perennials, including some from historic local gardens. Since the summer program ended at the start of August, volunteers have been carefully tending to the garden.

The QCC holds several events throughout the year, and the corn roast is probably the most laid-back of them all. On a sleepy September Sunday afternoon, 10 or 12 dozen ears of fresh local corn are boiled, a few dozen hot dogs barbecued, and people come, grab some nosh and a drink – all free of charge – and sit down for a spell on one of the benches that have been set out under the trees in front of the community centre, our village’s former one-room schoolhouse dating from the dawn of the 20th century.

Did I mention that these food events were taking place in beautiful locations?

Yesterday as we sat on the benches under the trees, we shared stories and news and gossip with our neighbours as we enjoyed the simple but good food. People came, people went; there was a quiet buzz all afternoon. At the corn roast you almost always meet someone from the neighbourhood whom you didn’t know before, and that’s really nice.

QCC corn roast 2016

A relaxed way to spend the afternoon: enjoying hot dogs and fresh corn on a bench under the trees at the historic Queensborough Community Centre (formerly the village’s one-room schoolhouse).

I would like to think that right about now you are saying to yourself: “My gracious but there’s a lot of good stuff going on in the Queensborough area! Notably when it comes to food. I must visit one of these times…”

Which is exactly what you should do. And I will tell you exactly when.

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

Homemade pie is the specialty at the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper on Sept. 28.

The St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper – at which you will enjoy a full turkey dinner, including our absolutely fabulous homemade pies – takes place Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. It’s held in the hall of our church, at 812 Bosley Rd., and this year while you’re eating your amazing turkey dinner you can also take in the renovations we (the St. Andrew’s congregation, that is) have done to the hall over the past summer: a new floor, newly painted walls, and a fresh look overall. The ticket price for the supper is $14 for adults, $6 for young people aged six to 12, and free for children under six. All proceeds go to support the work of St. Andrew’s, a vibrant little rural church.

It’s an event about food and community, in equal measure. It’s in Queensborough. In lovely surroundings. What more could you ask for?

Everyone loves a good apple. But what kind is it?

First apple from our tree

The first apple I picked from the apple tree that Raymond and I acquired when we bought the property next door to the Manse. This photo of it proved ever so popular on social media. Now comes the important question: what kind of apple is it?

The goldenrod is yellow,
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
with fruit are bending down.

Did you learn that little poem in your school days? I certainly did, sometime early in my elementary-school career at Madoc Township Public School, when I was growing up right here at the Manse. It was one of the poems we students were required to memorize and recite out loud, back in the time when such things actually happened in elementary schools. Longtime readers might recall a post I did some time ago about my younger brother John and his youthful recitation of this poem, hampered by a missing baby tooth or two: “The goldenwod is wullow…”

Anyway: despite the terrible drought that has gripped Eastern Ontario this summer, the trees in apple orchards really are bending down with fruit this September. Or actually – I can’t speak for the orchards, because I don’t know of any cultivated apple orchards around Queensborough. But the apple trees in people’s yards, and at the edges of farm fields and fence lines, and along the roadsides, are most certainly bending down with a bumper crop of fruit. Maybe drought is good for apple crops? Hard to imagine, but there sure are a lot of apples.

Apples on the tree

The branches of our very own apple tree are laden with fruit.

Including, I am pleased to say, on the apple tree that graces the property next to the Manse – a property that Raymond and I bought about a year ago. It’s from that tree that the apple you can see me holding in the photo at the top of this post was picked about five seconds before the photo was taken. I posted the photo on Instagram and Facebook a couple of days ago, with a few words to the effect that it was the first time I’d ever picked an apple from our own tree, and that it tasted really good. (Which it did. Super-crisp and perfectly sweet-tart.)

Gracious, the number of likes and comments that came in! From old friends and new, from all over Canada and the U.S. Perhaps it’s the season: late summer turning to fall, when apples are at their best and people are thinking about them. Perhaps it was a reminder for some of the childhood treat of picking and eating a just-ripe apple from your family’s tree, or that of a neighbour. Whatever the reason, I was inspired to carry on with the apple-tree theme for today’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse.

One of the nicest responses I had to posting the photo on social media was a reminiscence shared in person yesterday morning at church (St. Andrew’s United in Queensborough). A neighbour and friend said to me: “That apple tree – I remember walking under it on the way to school.” The tree stands on the edge of the property, alongside Queensborough Road and the narrow sidewalk along which generations of children once walked every day to and from classes at Queensborough’s one-room schoolhouse, which stands maybe a hundred yards west of the tree.

Queensborough Community Centre

The old one-room schoolhouse in Queensborough, now the Queensborough Community Centre.

I will always regret missing – by just one year – the chance to attend that one-room schoolhouse; it was closed the summer before six-year-old me was to start school, which is why I ended up at much bigger and fancier (for those days) Madoc Township P.S. But regrets aside, I love the image of schoolchildren decades ago stopping to pick apples from the very tree that Raymond and I can now call ours.

The apple tree coming home from school

A view of the apple tree as a kid would see it walking home at the end of an early-fall schoolday. I would think those easy-to-reach apples would be pretty tempting.

And I love the idea that our apple tree is an old one. Because – well, you folks know me. I’m a sucker for history, and for stuff that’s been around a long time. Like the Manse. And the apple tree. And the house on the property next door, the property where the apple tree grows:

Kincaid House by Dave deLang

The house on the property next to the Manse, commonly called the Kincaid House after the family that lived there for many, many years. This beautiful picture is by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang.

At the moment we use the house for storage, primarily of our large (to put it mildly) book collection. But someday, someday… a bookshop, maybe?

But back to the apples. One question I got as a result of my apple-photo post on social media was what kind of apples they are. Wealthy was one suggestion, and I have to say I had never heard of that variety before. (I have since learned a bit more, thanks to various websites including this one from Maine, which says that the Wealthy “is considered to be a standout among pie apples.” Sadly, as my friends know, pie-making is not my forte.) Another suggestion was Northern Spy. My own first guess was McIntosh, since those are common around here, but my friend who remembered the tree from her Queensborough school days was doubtful about that. As this site (from an apple-growing outfit a bit southwest of Toronto) indicates, all three varieties are to be found in Ontario.

But if you’ve ever looked through the criteria for discerning apple varieties (as Raymond did, when I posed the question to him of what our apples might be), you’ll find that the variables are many, and coming up with the right answer is pretty darn hard. So, readers, it’s your turn.

Does anyone familiar with our Queensborough apple tree know what kind it is? Or are there any apple experts out there who can identify it from my photo?

And hey, if you need a taste in order to come up with the answer: stop by and pick one yourself! You just have to reach over the fence – like many a schoolkid before you.

Good food, and lots of it, in a historic setting – times two

RMS AscaniaI suppose you might be wondering what on earth an old postcard showing the Cunard ocean liner Ascania has to do with life here at the Manse in Queensborough. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s all about the food.

Along with my love for vintage cookbooks, I have a soft spot for vintage menus. I’ve got a small but interesting collection of them: bills of fare from long-gone midcentury restaurants in various parts of North America, and also menus that were handed out to passengers in the glory days of air and ocean-liner travel, when elegant dining was considered to be an integral part of the excitement of long-distance voyages. I love poring over these menus, imagining the people who once held them to ponder their selection for “luncheon” or dinner. I love the reminders of how things used to be when people dined out, like how it was once common for a glass of tomato juice to be served as an appetizer. I love the way the restaurants, and especially the cruise lines and airlines, did their best to make everything sound so refined and fancy. And I love the vintage prices!

My latest addition to the collection came from an antiques warehouse in the pretty village of Orono, which is a drive of about an hour and three-quarters from Queensborough on the way to Toronto. Orono has done a fabulous job of turning itself into a destination for visitors, with nice restaurants and pretty shops, many of them focused on antiques. In one of those shops this past Saturday, I spotted this delightful image in a boxful of stuff:

Ascania menu front

Because it said “Cunard” on the front, I guessed, correctly, that it was the cover of a long-ago menu from that venerable British luxury cruise line. And here’s that menu, from 62 years ago:

Ascania luncheon menu

Isn’t it lovely? Sounds like some pretty nice gastronomic offerings there on the R.M.S. Ascania, though I’m not too sure what “Home-made Brawn” is, and I’m not entirely sure I want to know. Also, I wonder what “Colonial” cheese is. Maybe it’s the very cheddar that our own Hastings County has specialized in making for more than a century and a half – Canada being, of course, “the colonies” in the eyes of British steamship owners in 1954.

I have subsequently learned that I was on the mark in finding the offerings of the Ascania menu appetizing. How do I know this? Because of this interesting discovery that the internet turned up! It’s the flip side of the colour postcard of the Ascania featured at the top of this post:

Postcard from the Ascania

Note how Jack writes from on board, as the ship is passing Newfoundland and Labrador en route to Montreal, “The boat is very overcrowded but oh Elsie such good food – it makes my heart ache each time I sit down to a meal.” Isn’t that lovely? One can’t read the year on the postmark, but I suspect the card was sent in the years after the Second World War, when England was still suffering from food shortages that would have made the offerings of the Ascania look sumptuous indeed.

Here, from the website of the London Telegraph, is more evidence that the shipboard food was much appreciated: a lovely memoir by a chap named Cyril Collie of emigrating from England to Canada on board the Ascania in February 1952. He reports, in part:

“The Ascania was not a luxury liner but to me it was first class all the way. I shared a stuffy inside cabin with three other young men, two of whom spoke very little English. Along with many others on board they were refugees who had survived the holocaust and were seeking a new life in Canada.

“Britain at that time was still a country of shortages and rationing and I’d known little else since age 11 when the war had started. There were no such conditions on the Ascania. It was as though we entered another world.

“The food was excellent, plentiful and we could order anything we wanted. Any amount of liquor, chocolates and cigarettes could be purchased at tax free prices. Overnight we went from a world of austerity to a haven of abundance.”

I wondered if there was any way to find out where exactly the Ascania had been on the day my luncheon menu was handed out to its passengers – Wednesday, March 17, 1954. I didn’t find that, but I did discover from various sites, including this one and this one, that at the time the Ascania sailed the route between Liverpool and Montreal – and that in 1957, only three years after that menu was printed, the ship was decommissioned and destroyed.

So that’s a lot of history learned thanks to one luncheon menu!

And now, while I have your attention and we’re talking about food, let’s turn to your opportunity to eat very well in historic surroundings. Not a vintage Cunard ocean liner, granted, but the homey and historic setting of the Queensborough Community Centre, our village’s former one-room schoolhouse. Here are the details:

Pancake Breakfast 2016 poster

That would be this coming Sunday, people, and you don’t want to miss it. Not only is the food good and plentiful, but the company – your neighbours and friends, whether you’ve known them all your life or have just met them – is second to none. And as an added bonus, this year you get to admire a fantastic bit of renovation that’s just been completed: the schoolhouse’s classic original tin ceiling has been freshly painted, and looks wonderful!

Newly painted ceiling at the QCC

The newly painted ceiling at the Queensborough Community Centre – another beautifully executed project by Queensborough craftsman Ed Couperus. (Photo courtesy of the Queensborough Community Centre Facebook page)

The food may have been bountiful and delicious aboard the Ascania, but somehow I doubt the shipboard breakfast buffet could compare with the new-crop maple syrup, freshly made pancakes, sizzling bacon and sausages, soft scrambled eggs and buttery warm toast that you’ll enjoy at the Queensborough Pancake Breakfast this Sunday morning. I’m getting really hungry just thinking about it.

Or maybe I’ll rephrase that by echoing Jack in his postcard to Elsie: “It makes my heart ache.” We are blessed with bounty!

A spot of vintage colour

Fluffo canI had one thought, and one thought only, when I spotted the item you see above in a giant antiques flea-market place recently. It was this:

“How did they get into my grandmother’s kitchen?”

I hadn’t seen a tin like that for close to four decades – maybe longer. But it was instantly familiar, because my maternal grandmother, Reta Keay, always had one on the counter in her kitchen. Colourfully painted exterior; plastic lid with a clever design that made it easy to grab and lift off. (This was long, long before those clever and ergonomically friendly Oxo Good Grips kitchen tools had been invented.)

But what was in that tin in my grandmother’s kitchen? I realized when I saw this one, all these years later, that I didn’t have a clue.

So I examined the tin in the antiques flea market a little more closely. On the side I discovered, sideways in small print, the very familiar name of the maker of the product that was once inside:

Fluffo can Procter and Gamble

And the mystery was completely solved when I turned the tin over and had a look at the bottom:

Fluffo can bottom

Fluffo! Do you remember Fluffo? It was a brand of shortening that was in wide use for whatever shortening is used for – can you tell I’m not a baker? – for, I gather, much, or maybe all, of the last century. Here’s none other than 60 Minutes newsman Mike Wallace (with some help from Mrs. Thelma Styra, Indiana State Fair Baking Champion) extolling its virtues back in 1955:

However, my (admittedly brief) search for Fluffo information online suggests that it is no longer with us.

What is still with us, however, is my brightly coloured Fluffo tin – because of course I had to buy it. (And at something like $7, it wasn’t much of a reach.) I like the fact that it can be used for storing pretty much anything – which is what I imagine my grandmother and many housewives like her did with their colourful Fluffo tins once the Fluffo was gone. It is the dimmest of dim memories, but I kind of think my grandmother kept her homemade cookies in that Fluffo tin, after lining it with waxed paper. (Waxed paper! Remember getting your sandwiches wrapped in that?)

I found some images online of similar Fluffo tins for sale at places like Etsy. Here is a link to someone selling a pair of them, one of which is just like mine. And here’s a little gallery of some of the others:

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I couldn’t agree more with the Etsy seller’s description of their “colourful retro outline graphics in a fun funky pattern,” and his suggestion that they are “perfect to add a spot of vintage colour” to your kitchen.

That’s exactly what my newly acquired vintage Fluffo canister is doing right now at the Manse: adding a spot of vintage colour. Well, that – and bringing me happy memories of my grandmother’s long-ago kitchen.

A newfound treasure of local sports and culinary history

Cooper Comets Cook Book

A copy of the Cooper Comets Cook Book from sometime in the mid-1970s – do you happen to know when? There is no date on it – has made its way to the Manse. I couldn’t be more thrilled!

A treasure, people! And I don’t use that word lightly.

Oh all right – maybe when it comes to finds from the era of my 1960s and ’70s childhood here at the Manse, I do use the word lightly. What I mean is: all such finds are treasures to me, be assured. But sometimes I suspect readers must roll their eyes at my breathless reporting on my vintage finds, whether they be pieces of Blue Mountain Pottery, or multiple copies of Donna Parker in Hollywood, or old roadmaps, or a record by the Singing Post Family. “Why is she accumulating all this junk?” is probably the question in at least a few minds. Because, as we’re constantly told these days, our mission is to declutter, to simplify our homes and thus our lives by keeping only the things we constantly need and use. Well, I ask you: where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, a desire on someone’s part to get rid of – well, if not exactly “junk,” at least something that this person considered old and no longer useful, is what was behind my latest thrilling vintage acquisition, the topic for today’s post.

I have my Queensborough friend Jen to thank for my newly acquired copy of the Cooper Comets Cook Book. Jen happened to be in one of the local hardware stores recently when someone there – I’m not sure whether it was a customer or an employee – brought forth this delightful little volume and announced that he or she was getting rid of it. Jen, who well knows my love of local history and artifacts, immediately offered up that she knew someone who would be thrilled to have it. And before you know it, the Cooper Comets Cook Book was in my hands. Which means I get to share it with you good people!

Now, there’s absolutely nothing that’s not great about this slim little volume, but let me tell you some of the things I love about it:

Queensboro Cook Book

My most treasured cookbook from the days of my childhood here at the Manse.

One: It’s a classic example of those locally produced midcentury cookbooks that I’ve written about before – the ones in which members of a church group like the United Church Women, or of the local branch of the Women’s Institute, or of a sports organization, or of a school group, get together and contribute their own recipes and those they can beg, borrow and steal from their friends, mothers and mothers-in-law, so that a cookbook can be produced and sold as a fundraiser for the group in question. My most treasured example of these cookbooks is the Queensboro Cook Book, produced in 1966 by the U.C.W. of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough; thanks to two wonderful women and Queensborough natives, Barbara Martin and the late Isabella Shaw, I have two precious copies of that foodstained cookbook. But the Cooper Comets Cook Book is now a close second to it in my heart.

Two: It’s a great reminder of simpler days when every little community in rural Ontario – hamlets like Queensborough, and Eldorado, and, yes, Cooper – had sports teams, primarily hockey and baseball. And, as the Cooper Comets show us, they weren’t just men’s and boys’ teams; women played too. (I’ve written before – that post is here – about the hard-to-beat teams that were fielded in those midcentury days by “The Tannery,” a community that wasn’t really even a hamlet, more a collection of homes and farms in the Tannery and Riggs Roads area north of Madoc.) I remember that Cooper in particular had a reputation for teams that were skilled and tough. The Comets were no exception; as is explained in the introduction to the book, they were league champions from 1971 to 1973. Here’s that introduction, complete with the listing of the team members:

Cooper Comets Cook Book, introduction

The introductory page of the cookbook, including a listing of the team members at the time of publication. So many familiar names!

Three: The ads. All cookbooks like this one were funded partially by ads paid for by local businesses, and leafing through them, you are frequently reminded of businesses that you patronized long ago that are no longer with us. And sometimes, happily, you spot ads for businesses that are still here, like Johnston’s Pharmacy and the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Madoc:

Cooper Cook Book including ads

A typical page of the cookbook: half recipes, half ads. What a delight to see that one of those ads is for Johnston’s Pharmacy, still in business (though now in a new location) all these years later!

Most of the ads – featuring stores like Stickwood’s Dry Goods, and Ross’s Ladies’ Wear, and Rupert’s Drugstore, Brett’s Garage, and the Madoc Cash & Carry, and Kincaid Bros. IGA – are an exercise in happy nostalgia for me, and I bet they will be for you too, so here you go:

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Oh, and here’s a very special one, featuring three Queensborough businesses:

Cooper Comets Cook Book Queensborough ads

Wow! Sager’s and McMurray’s general stores (about which I have written fondly many times, including here), and Allan Ramsay’s trucking company (Allan being the man who finally got general-store proprietor Bobbie Sager to say yes to matrimony) were all advertisers in the cookbook. A good showing from Queensborough! (Though the cookbook company should have had a proofreader to catch the misspelling of Doug Chapman’s name.)

Vintage cookbooks

Some of the many vintage cookbooks filling a bookshelf dedicated to them at the Manse.

And finally, of course, there are the recipes. As I’ve written before, I love vintage cookbooks in general, and have a fairly good collection of them. I am intrigued by what these culinary guides tell us about the lives of people in those eras – what they ate, how they prepared it, and what their attitudes to food were as compared to how we approach food and cooking now. (Hint: they were a lot more Jell-O friendly in those days.) Now, many of my vintage cookbooks are by “the experts” – people such as James Beard, and Julia Child, and Elizabeth David, and Irma Rombauer (of The Joy of Cooking), not to mention giant food companies like Betty Crocker and homemaking publications like Chatelaine and Better Homes and Gardens. But many others are collections from groups like the St. Andrew’s U.C.W. and the Cooper Comets. These recipe-writers are not famous TV chefs like Julia Child, or newspaper food columnists like James Beard, or literary types like M.F.K. Fisher. They are ordinary women who had busy lives and families to feed when they weren’t doing chores on the farm or working at a part-time or full-time job in town. They did not have a lot of time for fancy-schmancy stuff in the kitchen. Many of the recipe titles feature the words “quick” or “easy;” many of the recipes are along the lines of casseroles whose ingredients are hamburger (“hamburg,” as we used to call it back them), a can of soup and some bread crumbs on top, perhaps with some ketchup or mustard and salt and pepper added in for “seasoning.” And you know what? There is nothing wrong with that.

One other interesting thing about the recipes, though, is the emphasis on desserts and sweets. As the pie selection at the St. Andrew’s United Church Ham and Turkey Suppers always shows…

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

… desserts are kind of a specialty around here. As I’ve often said, you never leave a community meal in Queensborough (or environs) hungry, and you especially don’t leave feeling the need for more dessert. Here’s a typical double-page spread in the Cooper Comets Cook Book, just one of several featuring squares and “bars” (another name for squares):

Cooper Comets Cook Book, squares and bars

I have to say that, while I might not be trying too many of the casserole or pickle recipes in the book anytime soon (I think it’ll be a frosty Friday before I ever try to make pickles), some of the dessert recipes look pretty darn tempting. And easy! Like this one:

Cooper Comets Cook Book, Chocolate Ribbon Cake

I mean, yum!

So yeah: this cookbook is my new favourite thing, and I thank the person in the hardware store who parted with it, and Jen for her quick thinking in nabbing it for me – and most especially the women (some of whom are no longer with us) of the Cooper Comets – who in my eyes were, and are, superstars of sports, cooking and the home front. Ladies: play ball!

An object of hungry desire

Weston Biscuits shelf

This gorgeous metal biscuit shelf is among the fine selection of food-themed antiques for sale (along with amazing baked goods) at Madoc‘s Hidden Goldmine Bakery. How I covet it to help store our collection of vintage cookbooks!

There is something for sale in beautiful downtown Madoc that I would just love to have. Its price, however, is a little north of $300, and while I am quite sure the amount is fair, it’s a little rich for my blood right at the moment. Because it is located in the wonderful Hidden Goldmine Bakery – source of the best butter tarts you will ever eat, as well as possibly the best cookie, the splendid Cinnamon Sparkle – I get to see and ogle this object frequently – because you can’t make a trip to “town” without stopping by the Hidden Goldmine.

This object is, as you can see from my photo, a vintage metal store shelf for holding packages of Weston biscuits. Now, Weston being a fine old Canadian company and all, the name is a big lure for me. I’m also very interested in the fact that this particular shelf may have come from Raymond’s home state, Massachusetts, because in the small print at the bottom it tells us that the biscuits it was helping to market to consumers had been made in a factory in Watertown, Mass.

(Now, before we go one bit further I need to point out that Watertown, Mass, is not the same thing as Watertown, N.Y., home of WWNY-TV, channel 7 CBS on the old black-and-white TV that was at the Manse when I was a kid growing up here. In the period, I might add, that I think constituted the golden years of television [as I wrote about at length here]. Those golden years included a corny made-in-Watertown kids’ show featuring the late Danny Burgess. Anybody here remember Danny Burgess? I’m sure at least a few of you do.)

Anyway, I am surprised to know that the George Weston company, Canadian through and through, had a factory in New England, and so far I haven’t found anything about that on my friend the internet. But really it’s no matter. What does matter is how much I would like to have that biscuit stand!

Why? Because I think it would be the perfect funky place to display some of our large (and growing) collection of vintage cookbooks. The ones I find at yard sales and flea markets and library sales, that promise midcentury hostessing perfection, not to mention a limitless supply of casserole recipes. I love those cookbooks! (As I’ve written before, notably here and here.)

To show you how much I love them, here are some photos featuring some of the titles. Perhaps the pictures will bring back some culinary memories for you too:

Vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks

Thanks to Betty Crocker, I have instructions on being the perfect hostess and making the perfect dinner for two. Like: Liver and Bacon Patties, with Glazed Sweet Potatoes, Broiled Tomato Halves, Fruit Compote and Ginger Creams. Wow!

Serve At Once/Dinners That Wait

I deliberately put side by side the two cookbooks Serve At Once (subtitle: The Soufflé Cookbook) and Dinners That Wait, a classic featuring recipes that finish themselves off on the stovetop or in the oven while the hostess sits down with her guests for “a leisurely cocktail.”

Vintage cookbooks

More vintage classics (and not-so-classics).

Vintage cookbooks 2

I have a soft spot for anything by Elizabeth David. And the bright colours on the dust jacket of her cookbook brighten up the shelf!

Oh yes, I guess I should also show some proof that we do have modern cookbooks too:

Modern cookbooks

And also proof that I actually use my cookbooks. Just look! Do you think any previous occupant of the Manse has ever made such a nice cheese soufflé? (Thanks for the recipe, Julia!):

Katherine's Famous Soufflé

Hot and beautifully puffy, light as air: a cheese soufflé (recipe by Julia Child) just out of the Manse’s vintage Harvest Gold oven.

Anyway, that’s a very quick partial tour of the contents of the Manse’s cookbook collection. Now can you see how perfect Mr. George Weston’s biscuit shelf would be to show them off?