Gordon Pim, Toronto

Remembering Ruby

Some of my fondest memories of childhood involve my grandmother. An immigrant from the UK (she came to Ontario in 1921 with her best friend Sadie and $45 in her pocket), Ruby was tiny in stature but enormous in character. I can remember her up at the cottage, cooking feasts on a wood stove. Roasts of pork with golden, crackling skin, steamed puddings enrobed in a wild raspberry puree with a dark caramel sauce, tangy mustard pickle with pearl onions and green tomatoes, crispy fried fish caught that morning.

Food always played an important role in her life. Whenever she made brisket for Sunday dinner, there would invariably be a hearty lentil soup the next day, served with thick slabs of homemade bread and gobs of creamy butter. She grew black currants in her back garden; I’d help her pick the near-black berries and she’d turn them into a tart and sticky black currant jam. There was always something simmering in her kitchen.

My grandmother was 74 when I was born. I can recall my six-year-old self sitting in her kitchen watching her dart back and forth making Christmas dinner – stirring and whisking, tossing in knobs of butter or fat pinches of spice, always tasting – and I started to cry. When she asked me what was wrong, I said, “Granny, you’re old and you’re going to die. And I don’t want you to die.” Then she said she’d let me in on a little secret. “I’m not going to die for a very long time,” she told me. And she didn’t. She lived to be 100.

I’m sure she was the one who encouraged me to cook, using fresh and local ingredients for the best results, sometimes experimenting, always testing to make it just right. I covet the recipes of hers that I have – some in her own scrawling hand. My memories of her come largely through taste and smell. Wherever I am in the world, I can inhale or savour something and am instantly transported back to that kitchen. I’ve since spent countless hours developing my family tree, but only hers is a genealogy of aromas.

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