Stirring the Pot

I have become the inheritor of spoons. It’s indicative of my character that fate has bent the silver divining rod and chosen me as the benefactor of the residue of the familial cutlery drawer. Other people get the Lladro and the Wedgewood dining sets. The spoons choose me. There’s the gaggle of wooden heads set at angles sitting in a pot. Holders of vast familial history, they have stirred oceans of viscous orange marmalade and whacked not a few fast moving bums when that was still ok. They keep good company when I go to the old-school psycho-analyst’s couch: the kitchen. There is nothing that can’t be worked out while meditatively beating butter or knocking some sense into a good bit of dough. Mostly I like them because they don’t answer back. Some of these spoons have waded through Christmas puddings and coddled lemon butter into being while listening to radio reports of Hitler’s advancing troops. Were these the spoons my grandmother used to set eggs in tins of fat to send to the boys on the front? They belong to a lost world of female lore where the needlework on your apron could start a nasty rumour about your character and thrifty women made fake whitebait fritters out of grated potato and pepper. They remind me that there was a time when it was ok to boil mutton chops in fat with a newspaper on top to catch the malignant spitting underneath. Luck was living long enough to develop heart disease. Some of them belonged to the island dwelling Nana. The owner of the beloved and sadly, now lost recipe book which started with the glorious line; Pigeon Pie. Killem dead blong you one big pigeon.” There is the tiny silver teaspoon marked with the name of the ship that carried boxes of biscuits, bolts of cloth and trunks of crystal and china up to the islands and came back loaded with phosphate; a legacy of hacked up moonscapes on fragile atolls left to fuel the new agricultural colonial boys back in New Zealand and Australia. One of the pieces of cargo on those ships was my Dad. An eight year old kid chucked on a coal tramp steamer to go to boarding school on the cold side of the Pacific Ocean. I’m too scared to put my girl on a bus to Auckland. It’d be a year before he saw flying fish or his parents again. The freighters came from the shipyards with an entire set of monographed crockery and cutlery - the teaspoon the orphaned remnant of another life. I doubt a plastic fork from the inter-islander will be worth a column in 50 years. The queen of my kitchen stirring hoard is the giant silver serving spoon engraved with an owl – the old family crest on the handle. The spoon itself is ground down like a cigar chewers smile worn lopsided by well over 100 years of dishing up the best the back yards and the farms had grown. That spoon – the last surviving relic of an entire set of engraved status symbols shouldn’t be with me at all. Instead it should have passed to the legitimate inheritors of that family emblem of wisdom and loyalty and not to the offspring of my wild great grandmother who took off and got pregnant to the farm-hand before getting married long before it was fashionable. That particular adventure got her disinherited from the family farm and the silverware and status that went with it but somehow the spoon always finds its way back to the cook. Without the staff – and with a happy and fruitful marriage she became an excellent cook as did her daughter and grand-daughter who not long ago – passed the spoon to me.

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