I sometime wonder if any action can be seen or experienced without framework. Newborns, it seems, learn everything new, but it would not surprise me if indeed single-cell memory resides in each and every cell of every human. A memory that is largely untouched, but influencing present perception. The now is always, if not a reflection of the past, an extension of the past. For most of us, the now is not in isolation from yesterday.

I sent my primary cooking pans and knives off to be refurbished. They are almost 50 years old and in need of a facelift. I received a call Friday saying that a UPS package I sent has gone astray. That package contained my past and reference to a past beyond mine. My mother knew her way around the kitchen and shared her know-how, a know-how that had been developed by generations of women and men with diverse and sophisticated taste. My great grandmother cooked wonderful meals in which everything was home made. From fresh milk, she made butter, cheese, and sour cream…. She made and canned jams, jellies, fruit, pickles, and catsup. Her husband butchered the meat, preserved the meat, made sausages, vinegars, ciders, wines and beer. He cultivated and developed fruit hybrids, built smoke houses, bread ovens, a sugar maple reduction-house, a fish storage tank and a ‘summer kitchen.’ Mother carried on much of the from-scratch tradition of her forbearers. The one thing I regret about not having a child is that much of what I learned of cooking and the knowledge that surrounds food preparation will not be passed on. The lost UPS package contains some of my cooking pans, stainless steel-coated cast iron pans. They are high-quality pans, pans manufactured in the US and which cost well over $1,000 in 1965. Those pans cannot be replaced.

For almost 46 years I have been cooking with the pans given to me by my mother. She gave my older sister silver and china, but gave me something utilitarian, something I’d use virtually every day of my life. I’ve tried many other pans, high-end European and Japanese, but find nothing as versatile or at good at general cooking as the pans from my mother. I’ve cooked untold meals in those pans. Each and every day they remind me of my mother’s excellence as a cook, of the flavors and smells of her food and of her history, of my history and the family’s cooking history. As I cook, the memory of her food sensibility guides what I make and I tweak dish after dish with taste remembered. She believed fresh, in “organic” before there was such a label, in allowing the food to taste of itself, in concentrating flavors, in enhancing with sweet and sour, herbs and spices and more. The pans (and knives) given to me by mother reinforce my memory of her and my memory of my life since I left her home. If those pans are gone for good, although memories I made using them will remain, the tools I used in that process will be gone and perhaps gone with them, some of the skills I developed as a cook. A pan has a subtle personality, a personality that takes time to learn. In the case of my pans, after a lifetime of use I understood how they reacted to heat and adjusted my cooking accordingly. Perhaps my understanding of them made cooking with other pans difficult. If they are not found and returned, I may be forced to learn the way of other, less desirable pans. I loved those pans. Others may not see their beauty, but they made beautiful meals and reflected my past in doing so.