Aprons My Grandmothers Wore 1950-1970
When Grandmothers Ruled the Kitchen
My grandmothers were bakers, needleworkers and nurturers. The magical little things they created and shared with me and my family are still with me: some in my drawers or recipe boxes, and many stored away in my head as wonderful memories.
Aprons are a symbol of how important kitchen skills were to women of my grandmothers' generation and they speak of the differences between my city grandma and my country grandma. There is quite a bit to learn from an apron.....
City Grandparents/Country Grandparents
It was the 1950s and 60's and I had one set of grandparents who lived in the big city of Detroit and another who lived on a little lake in Michigan in a house my grandfather had built himself.
Our family visits to the homes of each grandma and grandpa were, to me, exciting, nurturing and full of entertainment. The memories of those times spent with my grandparents are stored inside my mind so that I can turn them on as if I am playing a movie--a great escape.
The differences between the two houses were fascinating to me and helped to expand my view of "normal".
My City Grandma
The city house was in the middle of a block of small brick houses, each with a cement porch and a small backyard. My grandmother had "furnished" the back yard with rosebushes and hollyhocks. My grandfather would pull us girls around the block as we sat in a small red wagon.
Upon arriving at their house, the first thing I did after bursting through the front door was to run through the living and dining rooms to the back of the house where the kitchen hid: the kitchen with the sparkling, glass jar full of brown sugar. Parts of the moist sugar stuck together to form soft chunks: perfect for grandmother to carefully remove and deposit on my waiting tongue. I would let that jewel of lovely, golden, brown sugar slowly melt, feeling the sweet crystals rub against the roof of my mouth. "Another, another, please!", I would plead, but, no, there was just one. One precious taste a visit.
But, as far as the cookies and the bars and fruitcakes that grandmother baked for Christmas, well, it seemed that I could have all I wanted. When grandmother removed her pretty, little apron--a special, new one just for the holiday--we knew it was time to sit down at the big dining table and that the cookies would not be far behind. Each year it was the same fancy treats: cut-out sugar cookies with frosting and colored sugars, date-nut bars with walnuts and covered in powered sugar and fruitcakes glistening with bright red, green and yellow candied fruits and nuts.
My city grandmother was a bit mysterious. She was shy and, sometimes, seemed quiet and sad. I remember being shocked at age 7 when she burst out crying as I started to play "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" on an small, plastic electric piano they had given me and my sisters for Christmas. My grandfather and mother rushed to comfort and stop her. I never learned why she cried, but I knew it had nothing to do with me.
Mostly I remember the brown sugar in the glass jar; her perfect, thin sugar cookies; the slippers she knitted me after measuring my feet on a piece of cardboard, her fragrant garden roses and the colorful quilts she made and placed on every bed in the house. And, of course, her aprons, a few of which I still have, along with some of her many fancy handkerchiefs.
"City Grandma" Aprons
My city grandmother, who lived in Detroit, baked all kinds of sweets for us, but she always wore a fancy half apron. My city Grandma and Grandpa were up-to-date on all the latest. This included fancy aprons, many of which she made herself. These are the kind of aprons my city grandmother wore, and she had many of them.
Make Your Own Aprons - Just Like My City Grandmother Did
My Country Grandparent's House
Lake Pleasant, Michigan
A trip to my country grandparent's house was an adventure. It was an "over the river and through the woods" kind of journey and we actually sang that song as we drove along the back roads. If we took the exciting "back way" we would have to creep up a small dirt road and around a very steep, blind hill honking our horn all the way in case another car was coming toward us. From there on, it was dirt roads most of the way and as their house came into view, it was a beautiful sight to me.
We always entered through the garage and into a door which led directly to the basement and on into the lower floor of the house. This part of their house had been hand-dug by my grandfather into the side of a hill. A big picture window faced the lake and a door led you out to my grandfather's impatience gardens and to a long set of stone steps leading up the hill. The beautifully landscaped hill gently sloped down to the equally grassy lake where a rowboat waited under the large willow trees.
For years, the house's lower level with its tiny open kitchen; stone fireplace and built-in couches, bookcases and fold-out tables was all we saw. It was a study in how to use knotty pine, and, to this day, I feel comforted when I see the warm glow of a knotty pine interior or piece of furniture.
Behind the hand-built fireplace with it's carefully fashioned sections--each made to hold matches, a teapot or extra wood--rose a dark staircase carpeted with a luscious, red wool runner. It rose up mysteriously only to come to a dead-end. I would creep up those soft steps and hide at the top, sitting quietly and trying to imagine what was beyond the wall.
Eventually, my grandfather finished that unseen place at the top of the stairs and a beautiful light-filled 2-bedroom home was revealed. A showcase for the antiques they collected, the upstairs was a quieter, less-frequented place. Their many years of living in the lower level had set up some habits and, despite the new and larger upstairs kitchen, most of their time was spent "down below". A lovely space on its own looking out over the lake and my grandfather's gardens, the lower level was where we gathered for holidays. It was where all the meals were cooked and presents were opened.
My Country Grandma
On the Lake
I love my country grandmother's first name: Jenny. Jenny was a sturdy and confident woman. As far as I know, she never worked, but she had gone to college and finished. For a woman of her generation, that was quite an accomplishment. She baked us cookies, but she also expertly pulled the bloodsuckers off of our toes when we finished swimming in the lake. It was nothing to her. To us it was horrifying.
I can still see her now, in my mind, in her full and plain apron, standing in the narrow aisle of the downstairs kitchen. She is brushing her hands on the front of her apron bib. It is dusted with flour. A large pot of boiling water on the stove holds carefully peeled white potatoes. The steam rises and drifts throughout the larger room. My grandfather is helping her. They always work together.
I know that if I were to creep through the door leading to the only other space downstairs--the space where my uncle has his room at the back--I will find the freezer. If I were to lift the heavy top of the freezer slowly enough, maybe it wouldn't make that tell-tale squeak and I'd be able to steal a few cookies from one of the plastic bags nesting within. Though frozen, they would thaw enough to allow me a secret snack or two.
My country grandmother's cookies were delightful treats, filled with something I'd never heard of before: currants. And, the secret that I thought I was keeping was no secret after all. As I learned years later, my grandmother and grandfather would giggle with each other as they heard the tell-tale sound of the freezer door. Looking back now, I know how precious I was to them. They expected me to find the cookies and they were pleased with my antics.
When I was old enough to drive, I began making frequent trips on my own to visit my grandparents at the lake house. If I stayed overnight, I could lay in the antique bed in the second bedroom upstairs and listen to my grandfather as they settled into bed in the next room. Every night he would read out loud to my grandmother from a book of daily inspirations. I don't think they ever knew that I could hear them. It quietly colored my love and admiration for them.
Currants - ... that "secret" ingredient in my grandma's cookies
Currants are like little raisins. The cookies my country grandmother made had currants in them. I have a recipe for a cookie that tastes just like her cookies. I'll post it soon!
"Country Grandma" Aprons
These are aprons like the one my country grandmother had, but she only had one, I think, or at the most, two. The apron was, for her, a practical necessity and it was always a full apron covering her from her shoulders on down to her dress hem.