As a very young lad living in the outskirts of Surrey, England at the end of Second World War I will always vividly remember my Grandmother Brown’s little home and her many colourful aprons, which always became a warm and comfortable place to seek comfort, to shed a few tears and giggles, and to feel lots of love and security during the most trying times.
When my mother and father and I moved to Canada in 1948 it was the last time I would see my grandparents, but that wonderful couple would kindly send us off on our long journey to the new land with many photos, recipes, good advice, and fond memories, as well as several of those splendid aprons for my mother to wear once we settled into our tiny first home in the Riverside district of Ponoka, Alberta.
I always looked forward to getting up in the morning and tip-toeing out into the kitchen, while trying to guess which frock, slippers, or apron that my mother would be wearing today. She always cherished them all, and when we could afford it she would go down to the local stores to search for more, always favouring the aprons that came in bright colours with special designs, figures, and photos of flowers and mountains. If we were doing something around the house like stirring pudding, squeezing oranges, putting icing on a cake, eating ice cream, or painting, my father and I had to wear one of her old aprons so that we wouldn’t make too much of a mess, but I always made sure not to ever let any of the neighbourhood girls see me. Our little family loved going out to lots of really neat and friendly community functions around town such as fairs, rodeos, parades, pie socials, church functions, ball or hockey games, bingos, and on and on. Both way back then and to this very day there have and always will be those countless energetic local volunteers, clubs, teams, and organizations out and about wearing all sorts of aprons and uniforms, happily preparing and serving food, and others reaching into big pockets to collect money and hand out tickets or give out surprise treats and pamphlets in keen support of so many special events and community causes.
The long history of aprons
Going way back into the 16th century aprons have always been a friendly symbol of generosity and hospitality throughout the world. Along the way many generations of mothers and daughters and grandmothers (and a few husbands and sons) have been happily tying on their favourite aprons to create culinary magic in their kitchens, to do their many chores around the house and yard, and for so many other delightful and occasionally challenging reasons in order to make each and every day perfect and ‘organized’ for their great little families.
Aprons will always be considered as practical decorative fashion that not only protects their good clothes, but are also extremely important in saving these very special ladies from the ever-present dangers of excessive and sudden spills and spatters, as well as those carefully aimed projectiles courtesy of tiny little infants in high-chairs. As well as being vital attire for countless hours of cooking for pleasure in the slow/fast food or new foodie movement, aprons have also served over the years as ritualistic and ceremonial garments for lodges and special ceremonies. As far back as the 16th century the very possession of extremely expensive hand-made embroidered sets of this poplar outer wear was once considered as a sign of extreme prosperity and prestige for countless well-to-do women. For ongoing decades skilled craftsmen and women have also been identified by the sturdy aprons that they wore, including blacksmiths, farriers, stone masons, carpenters, welders, shoemakers, and so many others.
The longstanding principle of Grandma’s apron
There is absolutely no doubt that aprons are still used extensively today for countless purposes around the house, the yard, or community, but just for the younger generation, here is a very old and original explanation of the early and age-old use of Grandma’s delightful aprons, yesterday, and likely even today:
• The earliest use of Grandma’s aprons was to protect the dress she wore underneath, because she only had a few and it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and they used less material.
• Along with all that they also served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven, were wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion were even used for cleaning dirty ears.
• From out at the chicken coop her apron was used for carrying eggs, calming fussy chicks, or even bringing in half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.
• When company came those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids, and when the weather was extremely cold she wrapped it around her arms. Those great big and bulky aprons would often be used to wipe many a perspiring brow while bent over a roaring hot stove, to bring chips and kindling wood into the kitchen, to carry all sorts of vegetables and shelled peas from the garden, and to pick up the fallen apples from the trees.
• When unexpected company drove up the road it was surprising just how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds. When dinner was ready Grandma would walk out onto the porch, wave her apron, and the men knew that it was time to come in from the fields for lots of great home-made grub.
• It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that ‘grand old apron’ that for decades has served so many purposes. Remember, Grandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool, and her granddaughters now set their pies on the window sill to thaw. They would go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron, but I don’t think that over the years we ever caught anything from those pretty aprons but love.