When I was a little girl, as early as I can recall, my Momma wore a Leather Blacksmith Apron to do work in the kitchen. She had two aprons that I remember vividly. One was a half apron that had a pair of praying hands and the blessing “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. By his hands we are all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread, Amen”. I was always a little disappointed that “good” and “food” didn’t actually rhyme. The other was a bib apron that was orange and yellow in the classic 1970s style. One of the most special honors was to put on one of her aprons and help around the kitchen. When that apron was tied on, it meant you were getting down to business, you had important work to do. Properly attired in an apron, there was absolutely no fear of “getting dirty”, it was totally liberating. No amount of flour or butter or any ingredient could hinder the task at hand. The apron served as a bib, a towel, and a pot holder, as well as protecting one’s clothes. Tying on the apron felt like donning a suit of armor, I felt protected, outfitted, prepared, qualified. These were the roots of my apron enthusiasm.
As I grew older, I began to understand that all work in the kitchen is not necessarily fun, especially washing dishes. The task of washing dishes was never ending! Back in those days, dishwashers had not become a standard kitchen appliance. Washing dishes took at least two people, a washer and a rinser. (If the task fell to us girls, of course, momma would do it all by herself). I had two younger sisters so we divided the after dinner chores into “clean off table, wash, rinse and dry”. The dish washers and rinsers got to wear the aprons, Washing dishes was the chore that held more weight, more responsibility, required more skill and attention. Being assigned this role meant you got the privilege of first pick of which apron to wear. The “Blessing” apron was our favorite, and wearing it meant you were top dog in the kitchen.
Baking was a project that was much more fun that washing dishes, and putting on an apron meant that the fun was about to begin. My momma taught me that the first step to any baking endeavor is to put on an apron. Even before the cook book or recipe box is opened, the apron must be adorned, opening the portal to baking ingenuity. I could ask that we bake cookies or cupcakes, but the request was not truly granted until momma put her apron on. I may have put on an apron to indicate that I was ready to bake, but the possibility didn’t become reality until Momma put on her apron. To me, it seemed that until Momma put on her apron, she wasn’t really serious about cooking, cleaning or baking, she wasn’t READY. And by the same token, when she took her apron off, she was done. The apron didn’t come off until the last dish was washed, the last cupcake frosted, the last wipe of the counter. And any task left undone would have to wait until the next apron adornment.
Cooking was a close second to baking, but cooking happened every day, so it didn’t feel as special Momma prepared at least one full meal day for our family, usually two – breakfast and supper. Supper was the big event. Momma put on her apron and the preparations began. Sometimes the meal was simple, a meat, a starch, a vegetable, and always bread. As a child, cutting out biscuits was my favorite and most often requested task. Sometimes, I was charged with procuring ingredients – maybe from our freezer in the basement, or the cannery, or even out to the garden. At the very least, I got to stir things. As I got older, I learned to peel vegetables, grate cheese and cabbage, operate the mixer and the blender. Eventually I learned all the tasks of cooking and baking. From measuring and stirring to sauteing and blanching. I even mastered thickening sauces and gravies and cutting up a whole chicken.
As I got older, working in the kitchen, even cooking and baking, became more of a burden than a special privilege. As a teenager, we had a dishwasher and washing dishes didn’t require a sink full of soapy water and several time consuming steps to complete. No apron was needed to load the dishwasher and unload it. Cooking became an occasional chore that one of us girls had to attend to if Mom was otherwise occupied – which was very rarely. We often helped in the kitchen doing tasks like cutting vegetables or making biscuits. But the jobs were done quickly and with some annoyance that our much more important business of being a teenager were interrupted. Still, for Holidays and special occasions, we each put on an apron and worked diligently and enthusiastically to insure the meal was a delicious success. For a time, I may have been irritated at the responsibility of helping in the kitchen, but even then, putting on an apron sharpened my focus and helped to ease the irritation of the chore.
By the time I was 17, I could cook a complete meal from bread to dessert, which turned out to be a very good thing, because I got married at 18 and started my family at 19. I carried all of the emotional attributes of wearing an apron into my marriage and my career as a housewife and mother. I’m sure I passed some of them on to my children. I made small aprons for my children when they were little so they could be like Mommy. I would instruct, “put on your apron”, before we began any project, no doubt a repeated reminder from my own mother. Roles had been reversed, in a way – I was the mother teaching and bonding with my children. But, I never stopped being the daughter, mindfully following my own mother’s role modeling.
Cooking, baking and cleaning up the kitchen are intrinsically attached to love, family, warmth, comfort and joy. Wearing an apron was an essential aspect of those practices, so by association, every time I put on apron, it cheers me up. I feel useful, productive, creative, worthy. These responses are natural and woven into my very being. I am always surprised when others do not have the same emotional attachment and reactions to wearing an apron. It’s my hope to share this simple joy. To instill pride, purpose, practicality and joy in the sometimes mundane chores. To share that feeling of excitement, creativity, and wonder as you begin a new project. Ready yourself for a new endeavor, prepare to conquer and create – put on that apron!