BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York I Friday, 13 April 2018
Food is memories.
–Hassan Kadam, The Hundred-Foot Journey
It’s hard for me to write about this kitchen, now my mother is no longer puttering around in it.
This is the downstairs kitchen at the V House. Even though the place has been in our family for 50 years now, we were still calling it by the previous owners’ last name, to distinguish it from the other houses my parents used to have.
Finally, 1 1/2 years ago, when I moved here, to the upstairs loft, I decided to rename it the V House. My father’s first name starts with V, and so does mine, so why not? Plus, the people who built it, a German family, their last name starts with V.
Growing up, I always thought this kitchen was…not so great. The counters were a yellow-and-white Formica, and the walls a kind of strange-colored tile. Is it salmon? Or coral? I’m not quite sure, but I’m leaning towards coral. And to make matters worse, the tile was trimmed at the top with a deep purple tile, I’ll call it eggplant.
When I visited New York in the summer of 2015, I made several trips to Warren Kitchen & Cutlery in Rhinebeck, New York. I’m a big fan of pretty things for the kitchen, and on one trip I saw a floral dish towel in the perfect colors for the downstairs kitchen. It’s a combination of yellow and coral, and when I hang it on the oven door, somehow I feel like the kitchen colors aren’t a mishmash mistake, but intentional. The towel seems to pull the colors together.
This kitchen has the most beautiful white porcelain sink, with two large drainboards on either side, and a brass drain. There’s not a single chip in it, even though it’s been used for so many years now. I love it, when it’s clean and shiny and dried off, to run my fingers over its silky smoothness.
Over this sink, between the windows, is a built-in mirror. If it could talk, it would tell many tales, I’m sure. It would tell of me, in high school, standing at the mirror and painstakingly fixing my hair with a curling iron, then wrapping the cord back around its handle, putting it on one of the built-in shelves on the right, to cool down.
We only had one bathroom, growing up, and rather than fight for my turn in there, I did most of my getting ready before school in front of that very mirror.
If that kitchen could speak, it would tell tales of my mother, who is now gone. It would tell tales of her toiling over steaming vats, canning dozens of jars of peaches, tomatoes, and grape jelly in her kitchen, over the past 50 years.
The kitchen would also tell many, many tales of Swedish Pancakes. This is a recipe handed down from my father’s mother, Emma Christina, who came to America from Sweden, on a boat, when she was just a child. This recipe has become a family tradition, and it’s usually the first thing I make, when we move into a new place.
Back in the day, my mother would stand at the stainless-steel Preway stove, with the coral boomerang Formica backsplash, and make pancakes as fast as we could eat them, my father and me. Sometimes we would have eating contests. I think I remember eating nine pancakes at one sitting, when I was a teenager…
My mom would make a thin syrup out of Mapleine and water. But now, when I make Swedish Pancakes, I create a syrup out of brown sugar, or use real maple syrup. And, if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll buy a jar of lingonberry jam from the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store, and celebrate the Swedish in me.
If that kitchen table could talk, it would tell teenage tales of hamburgers eaten late at night, after I came home, ravenous, from hanging out with friends. We never had any buns, but my mom would always fry up a juicy, sizzling hamburger, which I would slather with ketchup, and eat with a fork and knife.
If that table could talk, it would tell mouthwatering tales of creamed chicken with mashed potatoes, boiled beef dinners with fork-tender carrots and potatoes, garnished on the side with delicious mustard pickles, pork chops with cream of mushroom soup, and Lunt Chicken. It would, unfortunately, also tell you tired tales of how my mom made it so often, as she neared the end of her life.
If this kitchen could talk, it would tell of me, as a teenager, nervously preparing stuffed shells, for whichever pair of church missionaries were coming over, the ones I had a crush on and wanted to impress.
It would tell of me boiling jumbo pasta shells, for usually a bit too long, so there were some broken pieces down in the bottom of the pan. Then, I would stuff them with a mixture of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, eggs, and Italian spices, line them up neatly in a 9″ x 13″ pan, and cover them with a thick layer of jarred spaghetti sauce. They were always a hit, and it was a good thing, because it was the only thing I knew how to cook!
But, getting back to the kitchen itself.
You see the area to the right of the photo? Where the washer and dryer are? That used to be cabinet space, when I was growing up, and there was a laundry room off to the right, with an old wringer washer, which I despised. Later, it was converted to a second bathroom, the washer and dryer updated, and they moved into the kitchen.
That cabinet underneath the microwave has been replaced with a dishwasher, and the original Preway stove and oven replaced, as well. Upstairs, here at Valoftten, I’m still lucky enough to have the original stove and oven!
And the copper-colored light fixture, hanging over the table? A few days before my mom died, one of the last things I remember was that fixture going bad. She turned it on, there was a loud snap! and a poof of smoke went up. Something in the cord had gone bad. Now, it’s been replaced with another copper-colored fixture.
When the sun shines through the eastern-facing windows in the morning, the kitchen is such a cheerful, happy place.
My mom always liked yellow. I’m glad she had yellow counters and yellow morning sunshine to look at, right up until she passed away.
More information about the movie,
The Hundred-Foot Journey:
Warren Kitchen & Cutlery in Rhinebeck, New York: