A Chicago Kitchen in the 1950s

A Chicago Kitchen in the 1950s

Mom was there. That’s the biggest likeness to this picture.

It didn’t work out.  I made my children liver sausage sandwiches with mayonnaise, garnished the top with circles of dill pickle, and they squished up their faces and asked that I NEVER serve that again. They did eat these:

Mom’s Raisin Cookies

Raisin Cookies: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat together the flour, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon. Add the brown sugar, softened butter, egg, milk, and vanilla extract and beat for one minute. Add the raisins and beat until incorporated.

Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing the cookies a couple of inches apart. Bake the cookies for about 8 – 10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are just barely touched with color yet the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Raisin Cookies:

2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup (210 grams) light brown sugar

12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsaltedbutter, softened

1 large egg

1/4 cup (60 ml) milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup (125 grams) dark raisins

Well, okay.  I was in a nostalgic mood.  I was just remembering the lunches my mother prepared for us in our old kitchen.  Then kids came home for lunch.  My brothers and I ate grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup (and, Mom, please make it with milk!!).  We nibbled warm chocolate chip cookies while my mother read to us right in the middle of the day—JANE EYRE, THE RED PONY.  We’d close our eyes and picture other worlds, strain for the sound of carriages and horses’ hooves or the smells of hot sand and desert flowers.  And then the stomach churning sound—my mother slapping the covers of the book together.  We’d trudge back to school.

I can still vividly see my mother’s kitchen table, a scarred mahogany library table which she had covered with red gingham oilcloth.  It was perfect for rolling out dough, playing with finger paints, doing homework, or just sitting mesmerized by the red, blue, and yellow roosters strutting the wallpaper above the green plaster dado.  There were way too many moments in my life when I escaped the memory of my math teacher’s face or avoided my mother’s admonishment to read the newspaper, and just sat, lost in the festive feathers of those bantams.  Ah, moments in the old kitchen.

For that’s where we gathered.  It was the kitchen we stumbled into as toddlers clutching a baby bottle; the kitchen we ran into as children eager for Sugar Pops or the face of the hero on the Wheatie’s box.  We ambled there as teenagers bringing our friends and perusing the contents of the refrigerator.  It was the rule to complain about what was found, the rule to combine foods in taboo ways—peanut butter and egg salad—and then shriek with laugher.

There were many moments when my mother stood at the enamel kitchen sink, her back to us, struggling for a stern posture, stifling a laugh.  We knew what would come next—a penalty of sorts, a dictum from on high.  She’d point to the blackboard she had nailed up over the sink where chores were marked off for each of us, the penetrating words—wash, dry, put away.   She’d add something punishing for the child of the moment—clean the hated greasy meat grinder used for making hash or the wooden rolling pin sticky with dough.

But truly, the kitchen was my mother’s room.  She filled the small space with her warm gestures and words, conducted those important talks around the dinner table, and was always there to kiss us goodbye or hug us hello.

But any kitchen worth its salt could also become the center of the storm.

My older brother had fallen asleep over his Greek or Latin translation and now blamed my mother for sending him to a school that worked him to death.

I burned the toast.  Three times.

My younger brother appeared crying—the newly assigned patrol boy was the neighborhood bully.

On those forever mornings chaos blocked out kind words, if any words at all.  We forgot to help one another as we raced around the kitchen, bumping into things with that “mother threat” hanging over us—things would not go well for us if we dropped the half-gallon glass milk bottle on the floor.  Of course one day we did.  Milk, laced with shards of glass, spread its long, white fingers everywhere while we scrambled for dish towels and cloths.  To our collective surprise, my mother kept us; she did not send us to the dogs that fateful day—instead she frantically looked over our hands for cuts from the glass.

Often my mother turned on the static-laden radio to let in the real world.  But we children didn’t hear a thing.  To us sitting sleepily at the kitchen table, life was idyllic.  We heard only the rasp of the milkman’s brakes, the jangle of bottles inside his metal basket as he came up the walk, the eggs chirping in the pan, and the bacon snapping and sizzling—breakfast sounds that broke through the constant braiding of bird song.

My mother was a widow and earned our keep by typing insurance policies in the dining room.  We took for granted her gift of security, as if in a fairy tale an enchanted rose thicket kept us safe.  Magic wasn’t my mother cracking open an egg and finding a double yolk.  Magic was being there in that sheltering kitchen.

I load the dishwasher.  Despite the fact that my family often eats exotic takeout foods with nomenclature that didn’t exist in my childhood, or we prepare meals with blenders and food processors in our gadget heaven—the kitchen is still where we gather.  And it’s there, like in my mother’s time, where I try to make my children’s empty full again, providing encouraging words before a test, comforting advice about a friendship, and those same hugs and kisses—all food for the journey.

I think of the wonderful kitchen afternoons my children and I have had, afternoons when there were no lessons or errands to run, no games—absolutely nothing on the calendar.  The kids would sit around the counter on the stools, attempting homework, tapping pencils, moving papers, producing occasional squeals and arguments as the phone rang, the microwave beeped, and a Game Boy hummed intermittently.  Oh, they weren’t playing jacks or pick-up sticks, they weren’t creating a new world out of Lincoln Logs, but it was wonderful, a wisp of the old kitchen.

The back door bangs.  The kids are back.  They each choose a stool and rattle around, giggling and smiling at me.  The sky is still full of sunlit clouds and we can all hear a basketball thumping in the distance.  I wipe the stove thinking any minute they’ll shriek and run off.  But instead, they stay, asking me questions, laughing, joshing me about my memories.  Yet as I begin to talk, I know they are eager to take in every word.  I smile at each of them and then turn away suddenly, blinking.  I see the bookshelf in the corner of this kitchen, full of cookbooks.  I focus on it—I’m sure there’s space for a copy of the RED PONY, maybe even JANE EYRE.  They’d go well with foods of great comfort—steaming tomato soup made with milk and runny grilled cheese sandwiches.

A Chicago Kitchen in the 1950s

Thanks to Google Images

2 thoughts on “A Chicago Kitchen in the 1950s

  1. Hi Cheryl, Thanks so much for your comment. Were you also raised in Chicago or somewhere similar? My brother was just commenting that my mother gave us two amazing things: security and independence. The latter many children do not have today because of our culture. We were lucky. Beth

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