The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

February 21, 2014

Aprons are a reminder of a kinder, gentler time

Aprons and potholders and cookbooks are not at the top of the gift-giving list when it comes to romantic offerings, but they are not entirely lost in the 21st century homestead.

Potholders dangle from the metal hooks above the kitchen stove. A library of cookbooks, collected over the years, line the top of an oak kitchen cabinet.

My wife is a collector of cookbooks, aprons and other kitchen paraphernalia. So I bought her an apron recently to celebrate a special holiday dinner and for cooking such splendid meals for our family for so many years.

The interesting thing about aprons is it kind of fits with what’s happening with the fascination of cooking on TV. There’s even a cooking channel devoted to rare and exotic cuisine.

Not to mention the nostalgic value of the once-popular kitchen apparel. My aunt Bessie’s apron acted as a comfort blanket for us kids. When we entered the kitchen for Sunday supper, she would wipe our perspiring faces as she bent over in front of the hot wood-burning stove and copper boiler.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used to carry eggs. From the garden it held all sorts of vegetables and fruit.

When unexpected company drove up the street in front of the house, it was surprising how much furniture that apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, it was either Aunt Bessie or Grandma who walked out on the front porch waving their aprons to signal the children, playing in the summer sun, to come in for a hearty meal.

That old-time apron served so many purposes. I think that’s why women still cling to their favorite cotton fabrics which they hang near the kitchen doorway.

Back in the day, some of the kitchen attire even sported slogans from community businesses. I remember one that featured an advertisement for barbecue sauce. Another displayed an ad for liniment.

While aprons and potholders and cookbooks may appear to be from a bygone era, they represent fond memories of our past, and will always be part of our households in Southern West Virginia.

Years ago there were dry goods stores dedicated solely for catering to women who performed domestic chores around the house, such as cooking, washing, sewing and laying out the husband’s clothes for work.

But all that seemed to go out the window after the late 1960s and early 70s, as women decided chores around the house should be divided equally between the wife and the husband.

For a time, it was difficult to find a good cotton apron, but pinafores of all kinds and colors are suddenly making a comeback. Vintage-looking aprons, part of a larger trend of retro-styled clothing, can be found in boutiques, kitchen stores, food festivals and farmers markets throughout the country.  

Old-fashioned aprons have surged in popularity as the nation becomes more interested in food, cooking and quality time with the family amid the recent economic uncertainty.

In a time when our lives are bombarded with media messages, cell phones, a seemingly floundering political administration and the feel that things are transient, there’s a desire to go back to effects that have roots. It’s the search for authenticity, what’s real and genuine in the face of fabricated beliefs and dogmas.

And though they protect our clothes from sizzling projectiles of bacon fat and the threat of pork chop or chicken grease, their deeper appeal belongs more to sentiment than pragmatism: they offer nostalgia as inviting as the buttery, sweet smell of cooling apple pie.

Cinch an apron around your waist and you instantly take on a confidence of a kitchen virtuoso.

My mother-in-law, Ellen Lilly of Daniels, told me recently that she remembers her mother sewing together flour and feed cloth sacks into aprons.

Crediting her love of aprons to heritage, Aunt Ellen said she has a keen appreciation for them. “Every time I put one on, it reminds me of happy times in my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchen, she said. “One of my favorites is a bright red one that was a gift when I was learning to cook. It’s one of my treasures, and it hangs in my kitchen.”

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald.

E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net

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