Monday, September 19, 2016

The Carter Sisters’ Kook Book

Here's what my friend Alfy Meyer generously suggested last week: "You really should start compiling all your various short stories, anecdotes, observations, etc., for a book titled 'Pete's Blog and Grille." 

I really like his idea.

Some other Canadian journalists have pulled it off. A copy of the late Peter Gzowski’s “This Country in The Morning” made for great browsing and in fact maintained a place of honour in our basement bathroom for years.   

I think Alfy is on to something.

Except then he went on to suggest that because I write about my family so much, I could include some of my sisters’ favourite recipes. With pictures.

I love all my sisters. My mom gave birth to five of them. The middle girl, Mary Leona, died in infancy.

And I suppose there’s a chance that as I type Mary Leona is up in heaven turning out all sorts of tasty delights for her friends and family.

But beyond that?

When Helena and I got married, my sister Norma gave us a book full of her favourite recipes. It was a big fat text that, when we opened it, we found that she had removed all the pages and replaced them with take-out brochures.

Carter family legend has it that before Norma's wedding, she and her fiancé Paul played the following game: He placed a kitchen appliance on the counter and she guessed what it was used for.

I don’t know how she scored, but she married well. Paul is a splendid chef. He produces all sorts of great curries and cabbage rolls and delicious hearty specialties.

Ditto my sister Charlene. She also married a very good cook; namely, my brother in law Al.
My other two sisters, Mary and Bertholde, are single. I suppose they just never found partners with enough skills in the kitchen.

I credit my mom, Huena, with this phenomenon.

My mother was a very enthusiastic person in the kitchen. She had a great attitude. She never forced anybody to eat anything they didn’t like. She was not one of those parents who insisted we finish everything on our plates, and she tried really hard to please everybody’s tastes.

In fact, my sister Charlene once wrote a little poem about our mom’s generosity. It went something like: “Chicken salmon, beef or pork, she’ll cook what you desire, just visit Huena’s kitchen, it’s at 195 Eyre.” (Even though Charlene might insist on keeping her culinary skills under a barrel, she's not letting her literary ability suffer the same fate.)

195 Eyre, incidentally, is the address of the house in Sudbury that we grew up in. Mary still lives there. I’d wager it’s on the Caller ID of every takeout joint in town.

By the way, none of the Carter boys can cook worth a pinch of salt either. My brother Alex has some skills in the area, but I’m sure they’re only remarkable compared to those of his brothers. And stay tuned for my next blog post: “The Carter Brothers’ Top-10 Wood-(definitely not)-Work Projects.”

But back to my mom. Her cooking was what you might term legendary. 

When she died,  my very funny nephew Al MacNevin (Charlene’s son) cited Huena's memorable kitchen skills in a lovingly delivered eulogy. I seem to recall Al saying that even though her trademark gingerbread cookies might have been a little over-cooked, she was consistent. One batch of cookies was burnt to the very same degree as the previous batch, and in fact Al came to prefer the taste of burnt gingerbread. 

One day in her later years, in a conversation I'll never forget, my mom shared with me the following story that explains her philosophy, insofar as domestic sciences were concerned. 

She told me that when my father Tom and she were first wed, she told him, “if he wants all those children, I was going to need a housekeeper.”

Because Tom and Huena were devout Catholics, that translated to: “if he wants to so much as come close to me, we're gettin' a maid.” 

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