Vintage Kitchen: A Connection to the Past by Elizabeth Penney

LUCY BURDETTE: We love nothing better than a new series here at Jungle Red--especially one whose author loves food and cooking! So today I'm delighted to welcome Elizabeth Penney with her book, Hems and Homicide...

ELIZABETH PENNEY: Thank you to the Jungle Red Writers for including me as a guest! This blog is among my favoritesand so are the host authorsso its an extra special honor to be featured here.
Many writers have elements that frequently show up in their work, whether its a location or an occupation or a personal interest. One of mine is history, more on the social and domestic end than world events. Historic homes often feature in my books, as do unsolved mysteries from the past. Blame it on my childhood reading, heavy on the early twentieth century classics, or living in New England towns with long histories and beautiful architecture. While of course every period had its problems and drawbacks, I cant help but wistfully admire certain aspects of life in former eras. (Who besides me, while watching Mrs. Maisel, envies the womens impeccable grooming and gorgeous outfits? I am such a slacker in my daily writing attire of yoga pants and t-shirt, hair up in a clip)
While pondering cozy mystery ideas, aprons came to mind and hence the Apron Shop Series was born. Although humble, aprons are garments with a rich history and tons of variety. Many are hand-stitched, made for every occasion and personalized by the wearer. After a couple of decades of disfavor, aprons seem to be having a renaissance, which encouraged me to write about them. Ive even seen frilly versions in big box stores, about as mainstream as you can get.
In my series, vintage aprons take center stage. Iris not only sells them in her store, Ruffles and Bows, she finds that these well-worn antiques connect the present day to women in the past. This is true for us, as well. Since publication, many people have shared special apron stories with me. For example, wearing one while helping their grandmother make cookies or stitching a first apron in home economics class. The simple apron holds a cherished place in our cultural history.
And so do vintage kitchen tools and cookbooks, at least for me. After writing all day, I enjoy nothing more than cooking dinner or baking bread. Theres something restful about the process of chopping, sauting, and putting together ingredients to make something delicious. Or proofing fragrant yeast before adding it to fluffy flour, then kneading the dough vigorously and watching it rise. I find that using vintage tools and cookbooks adds meaning to my efforts, joining me to a long heritage of women who toiled in the kitchen, preparing nourishment for loved ones.
One of my favorite possessions is a forty-year old KitchenAid mixer owned by my mother. She had that thing humming almost every day as she whipped up bread and cookies and cakes. Although she was a nurse before marriage, afterwards, like so many of her generation, she became a housewife. Perhaps due to her nursing background, she took nutrition seriously, and as one of Rodales first devotees, fed us whole grains and vitamins. We also had a huge garden bursting with organic vegetables. In addition, she sewed and knit beautiful garments, including aprons. While I cook, I don one of her creationsand wrap another around the child helping me.
But even more than kitchen tools gently worn by the hands of others, old cookbooks hold special meaning for me. The red Betty Crocker in the photo belonged to the grandmother-in-law I never met, although Ive heard many stories about the sumptuous meals she made during my husbands childhood. Another cherished cookbook, a 1951 edition of Fanny Farmer, belonged to a dear neighbor, Patricia Irwin Cooper. When I met Pat, she was already in her eighties, but we shared a wonderful friendship sparked by mutual interest in art, history, and gardening.
As you can see in the photo, Pats cookbook was more than something to reference for a recipe. She used this soft, faded book to save likes and dislikes, improvements to recipes, notes for future reference, and even letters from friends. When I leaf through and see her handwriting, it is as if she is speaking to me. Never leave cloves in jar, she wrote. They will make peaches and plums too dark. And, important to brown the flour, she wrote beside a gravy recipe, along with no salt. Perhaps most touching is this note next to a red cabbage and apples recipe, Homer likes best. Homer was her dear husband of sixty years.
Readers, now I ask you. Do you have a special kitchen item or apron that evokes memories for you?

Elizabeth Penney lives in New Hampshires frozen north where she pens mysteries and tries to grow things. Shes the author of the Apron Shop Series, with book one, Hems and Homicide, available now, as well as numerous titles for Annies Fiction and Guideposts.

About Hems and Homicide:

Iris Buckley has taken the plungemoving her online apron and vintage linen business to a storefront in quaint hometown Blueberry Cove, Maine. But the storefront she rented with her business partner grandmother comes with something extraa skeleton from the 1970s. Then their wealthy landlord, who has ties to her grandmothers past, is found murdered in the shop. Is Ruffles & Bows doomed to fail before it even opens?

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