I don’t remember the origin of the pail in which mother stored her ten-pound bag of flour. Only that It was always handy as mom baked most days. I remember her hefting it from the bottom kitchen cupboard to a kitchen chair so it was beside the wooden kitchen table where she baked. I would like to believe someone painted the pail to make it more attractive, but probably mother painted it to cover up an advertisement. Over the years, this pail has seen better days, as it is now a little faded. But the memories associated with it have not. And the dents that have appeared over the years add to the charm.
When my mother moved into a retirement home, she no longer needed her flour pail. And I became the recipient of it as my sisters claimed me, next to mom, to be the baker in our family. Although mom never taught us how to bake, I enjoy doing so for some reason. However, I would never claim to be the expert she was. Maybe, I picked up a few pointers around her as she made her flaky pie crusts or soft, tender biscuits. For one thing, she always used Robin Hood flour, claiming it to be the best. And interestingly, I, too, use only Robin Hood flour.
She certainly got to practice her baking skills, especially when we had a threshing bee and many hungry men to feed. And usually, every day, she would bake a dessert or two. On the weekend, she would make a layer cake in case visitors might pop by and a pie of some sort for the company after church on Sunday, which was often apple, a family favourite. I can still envision and almost smell the intoxicating mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar and apples baking in the oven of our old wood stove.
Mom started early in the morning, going out and picking up all the apples that had fallen overnight. She would fold up the bottom of the apron she was wearing and carry as many apples as possible in her apron basket. The best apples in the orchard came from the Duchess tree-the one bent over with age but still the one that made the best pies, applesauce, and apple crisp- my favourite desserts. The apples were small and often had railroad worm tracks through them (definitely organic). But mom would sit on her high stool and patiently peel away until she had enough to fill a deep dish pie (two-crust, of course) or a large dish of warm applesauce to go with biscuits right out of the oven.
As I pull out mom’s flour pail to make pastry for a couple of pies, I see mom back then-when nobody could make an apple pie like her, and still, nobody can, including her daughter. It may have been the Duchess apples, which I have tried to find at the Farmers’ Market to no avail, but it was more than just the kind of apples that made those memories. And it was more than the patience and expertise involved. But I believe that for mother, who was not readily open to expressions of affection, this was her way of showing us her love.