For the first time in years, this morning I got out my “box” of recipes. This box is a cursive writing treasure chest of handwritten recipes from family and friends. Some are generations old. Each woman’s handwriting is unique and instantly brings back to life a memory of her. Looking through all those elegant handwriting samples of these long gone excellent cooks, I was reminded of something else they all had in common besides cooking and cursive….aprons.
Working women wore aprons. Women from the upper class of society would never have been caught wearing this symbol of the poor struggling work-a-day masses. The apron became a symbol for the female domestic worker…wife, mother, slave and servant.
I do not think I ever saw my grandmother, great-aunts, or one of the ladies at church ever go near a stove or oven without having first put on an apron. They had never forgotten the lessons of frugality learned during the great depression of the 1930’s or rationing years of World War II.
These women had known want and took great care to make things last. Clothes were no exception. Sunday dresses eventually became dresses for when company came to call, company dresses became every day work dresses, everyday dresses became play clothes for children, aprons, then quilt squares and any leftover fabric pieces were sewn together in strips, then wound into huge balls to be made into rag rugs that were the artwork that covered the floors of their homes.
Aprons were to those women what the grace of Jesus Christ is to the repentant sinner..a cover all. The grace of God, as taught to us as we sat on their laps or in their Sunday school class, is like an apron. Grace covers our sins acquired by living, just like an apron covers stains acquired from cooking. As grandma used to say as she’d hand me a clean apron to go over a dirty outfit, “Aprons, like grace, can cover a multitude of sins.”
While God sees all sins as equal, that was not the same for those ladies’ aprons. As I remember those gals followed an fairly strict apron protocol of sorts. There were work aprons, company aprons, church aprons and aprons for very special occasions.
Work aprons were plain and often made out of flour sack cotton or calico. They were only worn in the home. Their design was utilitarian and would cover the entire front of their mistress. If the apron did not have a pocket, they were usually cut a little lower in the neckline to allow for a perfectly white fine linen hankie, with lace edges and beautiful hand embroidery, to be stored between sweaty breasts.
The work apron had many uses in addition to its primary mission of keeping the front of a everyday dress clean. If a child was lucky, this item of apparel doubled as an hanker-chief used for wiping a youngster’s runny nose avoiding the trauma of using grandma’s “nice” hankie.
Then, too, when the apron’s ends were folded over to make a double thickness it became an ever ready pot holder used to remove hot kettles off of the stove or baked goods out of the oven. In a pinch an apron’s hem could be quickly drafted into use as a table rag or to wash a particularly offensive squished dead fly off of a window pane or a scrub child’s dirty face. Often a single apron could be used for all three of these tasks in short succession. Economy improved efficiency.
These aprons also had outside uses. When the ends of the hem were gathered together in one hand they became baskets for picking eggs, garden produce and rescuing small helpless baby animals.
After removing an apron it could be used to chase a cat out of the house, shoo aggressive roosters off the porch or herd errant hens out of a flower bed or garden patch. Aprons were also used as motivational tools. With enough expertise an everyday apron could be snapped like a bull whip offering the encouragement necessary to help an insolent youngster, “to get a move on.”
In the fashion forward hierarchy of apron protocol the next officially recognized style is that of the apron worn for company. Company aprons, while still mostly utilitarian, displayed the sewing, creativity and needlework skills of their owner. These aprons were pretty, and could be full or half-length and were designed to protect the hostesses “better than everyday, but not quite a church dress” attire. These aprons looked like happiness and changed with the seasons. They were designed to declare to guests and loved ones that whatever the occasion your hostess was competent and wanted you to have fun, relax and be welcome in her home.
The third step on the ladder of apron protocol are church aprons. Whenever there were “doings” at church. Whether a potluck, holiday feast, baby or bridal shower, funeral, wedding, and especially for lute fisk dinners, if you worked in the church kitchen you brought your own apron. A lady wanted folks to see the beauty of her Sunday best dress so most church aprons were half aprons that tied around the waist.
Now, it is important to note that God-fearing women of a Swedish Lutheran Church congregation would never bring a showy anything to church. This rule applied to cars, jewelry, hats, kids, husbands and aprons. The only exceptions to this rule was hotdishes and desserts.
Church aprons were cloth treasures that were usually made of checkered gingham and embroidered with white cross-stitch in traditional patterns of about 5-inches in width along the apron’s hem. Pastel gingham aprons seem to bloom each spring in the church’s kitchen. Just as red and white checkered ones reigned supreme during Christmas. I think most of the women in our church had a very plain half-apron to be used when they were called upon to serve the traditional meal after a funeral.
The very fanciest aprons were half-aprons that were completely sheer with a ruffled border. They were kept in the drawer with the other aprons, but I never saw anyone ever wear one. Although, I do remember how grandpa’s eyes sparkled when I asked grandma its purpose and she very primly told me those aprons were only used for very special occasions.
Grandpa’s birthday was in the summer right around the time that fireflies light up the night. For his birthday celebration Grandma Esther, wearing an working apron, would cook up a storm. There were cold salads, home-canned sweet, bread and butter and dill pickles, green olives, sliced ham, homemade white bread buns, Swedish rice pudding topped with sprinkled cinnamon and wild blackberries, angel food cake with a lemon-flavored icing, vanilla ice cream, ice cold green Kool-Aide served from the big green depression glass pitcher, root-beer for floats, assorted cookies and pineapple bars.
These pineapple bars have always been one of my favorites for two reasons. First, they bring back those precious special memories I have of being with my grandmother in her tiny kitchen watching as she prepared for grandpa’s birthday party. But mostly they are special for their general deliciousness.
Grandmother Esther’s Pineapple Bars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease the bottom of a 9 X 13 cake pan
Crust and Topping:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 Tablespoons corn starch
1 can of crushed pineapple, completely drained
In a a medium-sized mixing bowl combine butter, sugar and flour. Mix together with an electric mixer until crumbly. Press one half of the mixture into the bottom of the 9 X 13 pan. Reserve remain crumb mixture for bar topping. Bake for 15 minutes in oven. Remove and set aside.
Into a medium-sized sauce pan add sugar, eggs, corn starch and pineapple. Stir to combine. Heat on medium heat until mixture comes to a slow boil and thickens. Stirring frequently to avoid any scorching. It will resemble pie filling.
Spread hot pineapple filling evenly over partially baked crust. Sprinkling remaining crumb mixture over the top of filling. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. The bars should be barely browned when done.