This is the first time I've used a photograph on this Blog that I didn't take! A momentous occasion! Just FYI.
This photo above is a very close facsimile of the stove my Nana had and used on a daily basis in the kitchen of her house in Maine. This cookstove was huge! Not just the centerpiece to the kitchen but to the entire house. You know how they say that the kitchen is the heart of the home? It was never more true than in Nana's house. The kitchen is where everyone gathered, sitting at the table talking, laughing, eating, and generally getting in her way as she baked and teased and scolded and handed out advice.
She also made baked beans in an old bean pot that, once filled with all the yummy ingredients, fit right down inside the stove. The cooktop itself was always hot, the entire cooktop. Not like nowadays where there are specifically hot areas that you turn on and off and up and down. Nope, The entire top surface was cookable. I don't know for sure that you can tell by the photo, but there are little circle areas and each one has a small hole in it. There was a tool with a handle on one end and a kind of squared off point on the other that was used sort of like a key that fit into that hole and lifted that circle off so that the bean pot could be set down inside where the dish simmered all day, then the circle replaced. Nothing tasted or smelled quite so good.
The stove didn't fit flush to the wall. There was a little niche behind it with a window. The space just big enough for a small rocking chair. On a cold, wet Maine day, it was the perfect place to daydream, warmed by the stove and looking out to sea. Nana's house sat right on the ocean's edge. There was just enough room for a small garden to stroll through before arriving at the wooden steps that went down to the beach. The shore Mainers call it. So the water was easily visible from that kitchen window. On the rare occasion that Nana ever sat, it was in that chair while she darned socks or mended ripped hems and torn pockets. She might have been snapping green beans or rocking whichever baby was nearby. too. But that rocker was a perfect place to sit in that kitchen, right behind that behemoth of a stove in the coziest spot in the house.
I remember sitting in front of the open oven door in the evening after washing my hair, combing and fluffing and allowing the warm oven air, still redolent with the fragrance of cookies to gradually dry my hair and drowse me ready to drift off to sleep. Towels hung nearby dried quickly and smelled wonderfully. And on a chilly morning everyone wanted to get dressed by this stove, both for the warmth and the proximity to whatever wonder Nana and that stove produced for breakfast. I remember donuts and blueberry cake especially fondly.
Memories of this wonderful stove came flooding back to me this week after Skyping with youngest son and his wife over the weekend. I don't recall how the subject came up but somehow someone mentioned baked beans (probably me). Daughter in law scrunched her nose in the same way I do when anyone mentions sushi (I am NOT a fan) I was surprised. I didn't know that anyone on the planet didn't like baked beans. She reported that she most definitely did NOT care for baked beans. I told her how one of her husband (my third son)'s favourite childhood meal was one all of my boys referred to as 3B, that is, 'basa, beans and biscuits (home made of course!) He and I waxed nostalgically about Nana's baked beans and the other amazing goodies that came off of that old stove and then the topic changed.
Daughter in law must have seen the longing in his eyes because shortly after that conversation she reached out to me with questions about making baked beans. Now of course she doesn't have Nana's old stove, but we figured that a crockpot would be a good enough substitute. We went back and forth a few times talking recipes and ingredients. A little later we went back and forth a few more times talking kielbasa and ideas about it's proper cooking. Lastly, we texted a bit about tips and tricks for making biscuits. She was so excited to make this meal and so hopeful that he would enjoy it. Spoiler: it was perfect and he loved it. And she enjoyed it too, not just eating it, but the creating both the meal AND the surprise for him.
It wasn't made on Nana's old stove of course, and I wasn't there live and in person to suggest and guide, as Nana would have but the spirit of it all was there without question. And that is how "family" carries forward generation after generation. By sharing the essence of what a family is: traditions, recipes, love and memories, we honour the past and create a future.
That is a lot of awesomeness to come out of the memory of an old stove.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.