Thursday, 5 January 2012

Aprons and things

The newspaper the other day had a photo of Stephanie Alexander, one of our great cooks and writer of a most authoritative book, which tells you practically all you ever need to know about food, exercising her skills and instructing the universe. She was wearing a large blue and white apron. As cooks do. Or ought to do, in order to qualify as a serious cook.

This got me thinking about aprons. In particular, my own apron collection.

As my Huon pine chest, which houses my shawl and scarf collection, needed tidying and refolding of all its contents, I mounted the stairs to tackle this task. Right down underneath all the shawls were the aprons. Five of them. Then it occurred to me that there were some more in the linen cupboard. Yes, there are another five.

These are the spare aprons. They are being held in reserve for an apron shortage.  In case I never get another chance to buy some more. This collection does not include the several aprons which are in use.  You can't be too careful, and the aprons save a lot on dry-cleaning bills. They are good for drying the hands, as well as for catching all the splashes and splodges. They also came in handy when eating food such as curries and laksa, which use turmeric, or dishes such as bolognese sauce.

My earliest aprons were made by my maternal grandmother, who was a most practical and competent person. When I became engaged, she gave me some aprons. My other grandmother was not noted for her domestic skills, although she was an excellent pianist, and used to play me the Waltz of the Flowers, when, perforce I had to stay with her after my brother's birth. I was six at the time, and almost about to go back home when I contracted mumps. She made me stay in bed, and I was most horridly bored.

Spare or odd pieces of fabrics were made into aprons. In those days fabric was not wasted. These aprons did not cover the chest, only from the waist down. The scrap material was gathered and sewn unto a band, which was, naturally, tied at the back, and there would be a rick-rack decorative border. Or some cross stitch embroidery. I still have the blue and white gingham apron, extensively embroidered.
I remember my grandmother made one using the scraps left over from a skirt she made me. This was most decorative, as the apron part was made of sheer organza. I can't find that one, alas. If it is still in existence it would be over 50 years of age. Almost a genuine antique. It must have fallen victim to one of the five yearly cycles of tidying up the linen cupboard. There's nothing like moving house: it makes you get rid of things. "I'll never use this," you think, "It will have to go." Years later, one mourns this foolish and mistaken decision.

In the tea towel drawer in the kitchen there are another three or four aprons. Some are very worn by now. Good grief, there are actually five of them.  One of them, a fetching wildflower one, was a Christmas present.

My favourite aprons are those I bought in Italy. The earlier ones are made of robust cotton, and wear extremely well. Some have art works printed on them - one is an apron featuring the Uffizi, and another of Leonardo da Vinci. Then there are the pasta, the cheese, the oil and the wine aprons.

From 2010, I have an apron from Barcelona. It is in a fetching dark blue and features some Gaudì buildings.

It would be good to start using them, but their predecessors have not yet worn out. I have had to replace the tape in a couple of them, but that good sturdy cotton wears extremely well.  Some of the successor aprons use synthetic fabric. They are not as good. I do have a fear of running out of aprons. I must candidly admit that this fear is not at all well-founded.

In Italy, the further you get away from Rome the better the prices are. Not that they were ever very costly. However, the design choices are not as extensive.

I noticed that my sister is still using the apron from our trip in the mid 1990s. She really does need a new one. Aprons make good presents, they are practical, light, unbreakable, and often very attractive. They don't cause excess baggage charges to be incurred. And with them come precious memories. I have a much smaller collection of little Italian hand towels, which are quite beautiful. I love Italian textiles.

Long live the apron. Mine are already becoming quite venerable. It seems unlikely that I will ever be able to wear out all my aprons. Will my daughters want them, in due course, after I go to the Great Kitchen in the Sky? I am curious to know whether others have similar collections.

Perhaps some enterprising museum could put on an apron exhibition. They could do a roaring trade in apron souvenirs. It might solve all their funding difficulties.


Frogdancer said...

I only have one. I really should use it more often...

Pam said...

I have three and they all hang on a hook in the kitchen. They're not at all decorative or interesting, though they do get used. They all have tops, though - an actual apron, just covering the lap area, wouldn't be any good for me, since when cooking I get my top half messier. I would call mine pinafores and the waist-down only ones aprons.

If I had pretty ones I'd keep them for special occasions when I wanted to be covered up but elegant - which would never come.

I've probably reached the won't-use-them-before-I-die stage with notebooks.

Ali Honey said...

I think aprons are having a come back. 2 years ago my patchwork and quilting group decided to sell only aprons on our sales table at our annual exhibition. We had such a colourful array of beautiful aprons made by the ladies. We were sold out completely by half way through the 2nd day.
I use aprons. I like aprons.My only crouch is ones made with ties made of bias binding which tie themselves into a tangled knot in the washing machine that then takes about 10 minutes to un knot.

Meggie said...

My paternal grandmother used to make me aprons when I was very young. I currently have two very sorry excuses for aprons that I actually bought. I have a waist one, which is ugly beyond belief that was given to me by my mother in law... never known for her taste in clothes or such.

molly said...

Persi, I'm so glad you mentioned this post! It is hilarious....especially the part about storing them up in case of an apron shortage! Ali is right. Pattern books are currently full of retro apron patterns. See? You're right in vogue and you didn't even know it---which is the very best way to be cool!

Gina E. said...

Six months after you have posted this, so you may not see my comment. I have about 60 aprons. All hand embroidered, some very old. But I don't wear them. I do have another half dozen contemporary printed aprons which I wear when I am cooking or cleaning up in the kitchen. Because I'm a grub when I messing with food!