Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mother's Hands

(Thank you to Bonnie Prinsen for this article.)

It is not exaggerating to say it felt like a disaster of epic proportions.  I opened our chest freezer two weeks ago, picked up some “frozen” chicken, and it was floppy.  As my daughter might say, “OMG!  The freezer’s not working!”

I’m sure I stood there a full five minutes staring, mouth agape, before starting to empty the forty year old relic.  Fortunately, I found it was only the very top layer that had thawed completely.  Everything in the middle was still frozen solid, and the very bottom layer was partially thawed, lying in nasty looking slush.

I knew enough to save the meat first—the organic beef and pork my husband earned through various odd jobs.  But for some reason, it really bothered me that my two packages of frozen hot dog bun dough were thawed and about to start on their life’s mission:  rising.  I’d purchased these from U-Bake for ninety-nine cents a package, but as any other fan of home-baked bread will tell you, the value was really beyond measure.

Since their shape as hot dog buns had been “compromised”, I became convinced that they should be hamburger buns—maybe because I was realizing we’d have all that partially thawed ground beef to use.

I set about shaping them into hamburger buns.  How many dozens of times had I watched my mother do this when I was a young girl?  I made a few attempts that resulted in ugly looking, misshapen balls of dough.  In frustration, I closed my eyes and tried hard to remember the motion of Mom’s hands forty-five years ago.  I could see her grab at the huge batch of risen dough and use a paring knife to cut off a pinch.  Her hands moved so quickly—those hard-working farm wife hands with the impossibly long, manicured nails, one of Mom’s few nods to vanity.

And finally I could visualize what she did next:  she stretched and flattened the small blob between her thumb and pointer finger of the left hand, sort of the way you prepare bubble gum with your tongue to blow a bubble.  Then her other pointer finger would shoot up through the bottom of this flattened dough, making a small balloon.  (Okay, this motion is even harder to describe in writing than it is for me to do.)

Soon I had a pan of my own slightly imperfect but passable hamburger buns.

What I know about food, I mostly learn from reading things like this blog by my friend, Peggy.  But occasionally there are these memories from my Mom’s kitchen that surprise me:  sensory memories, not really mental images. 
I watched her can pickles and beans.  She froze sweet corn each year, and, at least a couple of years that I remember, obtained a galvanized bucket of fresh, shucked peas from  the Bird’s Eye company, which had fields near our home, and froze those, too.  With the exception of the peas, I do all of those things, not really thinking hard about any of the motions, but allowing my hands to remember what Mom’s did.

Two happy endings:  the freezer is fine.  Apparently when power was restored after Rushford’s storm, the freezer didn’t come back on, but it turned out to be just a matter of pushing that little red “Re-start” button to start the familiar hum.  The partially thawed ground beef and pork has been cooked and frozen into enough meatballs for a church dinner—sure to save me cooking time a lot of evenings this fall.  We ate all of the thawed sweet corn last week, just in time to make room for this year’s batch.

And my Mom, who will turn eighty in two months, has already canned a batch of her famous dill pickles this summer, plus about a dozen pints of spicy pickled green beans from the recipe SHE asked ME for two years ago.  

So, life goes on.  And we’ve all got plenty to eat.

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