Estate Cooking [General]

2009 Jan 25
Last Saturday I got a call from my brother really early in the morning - and life has been a whirlwind ever since. My mom had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, at the young-for-our-family age of 77. My wife and I scrambled to get things together so we could drive out to Nova Scotia with the family to help my dad through these tough times. At one point early on my wife looked at me and read my mind - "we should take your pressure canner with us to put down some food for Pop". Darned if we had only remembered the vacuum sealer as well! But I did at least remember my huge 15 litre stock pot as well. And we brought a whole bunch of ingredients and other bits and pieces we'd need.

In the summer we make the trip in one day, but this time we stopped overnight both on the way there, and back. The shorter days and crappier road conditions made it a necessity.

On Wednesday the funeral and reception were over, and my wife and I went right out to the Superstore to buy dozens of plastic freezer containers - gladware or whatever brand we bought. The food was already piling up from friends and neighbours - casseroles, lasagnas and the likes - and while we'd all been enjoying it a great deal, it was just far too much for us to even come close to eating. So I got the idea to portion it all up and put it into the deep freeze for my pop. Working together my wife and I and a few others managed to fill my father's deep freeze with dozens of meals in no time at all. But then later in the evening it struck me that underneath all that was quite a lot of unknown stuff that my father would almost certainly not know how to cook. So I pulled out all the meals we'd put in, and went digging.

Out of the deep freeze I pulled a huge ham, a good 3 or 4 kg of chicken pieces, 3 or 4 lbs of ground beef, what turned out to be 20 bags of frozen-fresh cranberries, and as much frozen rhubarb. Into the porch it all went to thaw - the porch was not heated and was about fridge temp. I'd also gotten a good sized ham bone that my mom must have frozen to make soup from - and so I put it into the pressure canner for 20 minutes at 15 psi, let it cool, then picked it and saved the broth from it.

The next morning I went out to be ingredients for pea soup. That day my wife and I went crazy making food and canning / freezing it. I boiled up the rhubarb with some sugar and canned it all. I prepared the ingredients for pea-soup-in-the-jar (search this site for recipe) and used my mom's ham from the freezer for the ham portion of it. My wife made a huge batch of cabbage roll casserole from the ground beef.

The next day my wife made cranberry sauce and I canned it up. I'd also found a lot more beef - ground and stewing - in another freezer, along with more chicken. Meanwhile my brother had emptied the cupboards and discarded anything out of date or that my dad would not use. I scammed a whole bunch of ingredients for chili, and bought the rest of what I needed and made my father a massive batch of chili from that plus the beef, and I canned it all up. Meanwhile my wife made a huge scoff of Indian food to serve for supper and freeze the rest in huge meals (see photo).

In just shy of 3 days my wife and I put down (in addition to all the food cooked by others which we did not count) :

In mason jars :
- 14 x 500ml jars of whole grain brown rice
- 23 x 500ml jars of pea soup
- 3 x 1000 ml rhubarb
- 6 x 500 ml rhubarb
- 11 x 250 ml rhubarb
- 24 x 250 ml beef hash
- 20 x 500ml cranberries
- 4 x 250ml cranberries
- 22 x 500ml chili

In the freezer :
- 8 x massive portions of cabbage roll casserole, each good for 2 big meals
- Indian food pictured in addition to a huge scoff that night

It was a sad week but it did have it's upsides. All of the family was together for the first time in a long time, and we all connected really well - better than ever before. And many of the kids really became good friends - in particular my oldest son and my niece's youngest daughter - both just shy of 7. We're hoping to keep these connections alive with webcams - we all chipped in and bought my dad a new computer which I got all set up for him with a webcam so we can all have video calls with him.

It was also really fun doing all the cooking for him. Before we left Ottawa I had told my brother I was going to bring my canner and a crapload of mason jars. I know that at the time he thought it was a hairbrained idea that would just be a bunch of commotion. But my wife and I wowed him and all the rest of our relatives with how we ruled that kitchen for 3 days. It did look chaotic at times, but we knew what we were doing and it was obvious to all of them. And my brother told me many times over those days how we'd managed to change his tune, and what a good thing it was in the end, that we'd done. My dad now has a considerable amount of food on-hand, and so it will be some time before he is wanting for a home cooked meal. And every time he opens a jar or pulls a meal from the freezer, he will know how my my wife and I love him. In the short term it will make his life just a bit easier. And most of it was made with bits and pieces of food that my mom had around - so it's all meals that are a bit of me and my wife, and a bit of her as well.

The irony that my brother and I both noted was that if my mom were still around she'd be in a panic with the way the kitchen looked while we were in the process of cooking. My mom had panic attacks about messes, and she could not bear them even when it was a temporary mess that was required to get something important done. Bless her heart and God rest her soul.

It really made me feel good to hear the compliments from my relatives. My wife and I really amazed them. It was unanimous that we'd managed to put down a pretty incredible amount of food for my father - that would have taken most of them a couple of weeks to do. They kept commenting on how we obvious had done a lot of this sort of thing - which I suppose we have. Another great part of it all was how well my wife and I worked together in the kitchen for the first time. While we both enjoy very much working in the kitchen, we normally cannot tolerate the other in our kitchen when either of us is working. But somehow we managed to learn to do just that!

I'm still very sad, of course. But at least there were some positive things to come out of this last week - many of them centered on food.

2009 Jan 25
Some of the canned goods I'd made for my pop

2009 Jan 25
There is still some bare shelf space here but we filled it all up in the end!

2009 Jan 25
My wife ( refashionista ) with pop's scoff of Indian food plated and ready to serve.

2009 Jan 25
My deepest sympathy to you and your family. What a woderful son you are to think of making all the food for your Dad. I am sure he will be very grateful in the weeks to come of not having to think about dinners.
Out of this came the realization that 2 cooks can be better than one!!

2009 Jan 25
I'm sorry to hear about your loss. When it rains, it really does pour.

Your dad is very lucky to have such caring kids (and ones that can cook well too!).

2009 Jan 26
I'm so sorry for your loss, Alan. The food you guys put together is simply amazing, however!

2009 Jan 26
Condolences Zym.

Not only did the two of you do your dad well, but it would seem like your own kids, young as they are, may have witnessed a very positive way to deal w/ grief and loss (along with a couple other life lessons).

2009 Jan 26
Oh, and in my list above I forgot the ham and the chicken pieces.

I decided to brine them - so my 15L pot came in very handy since my father otherwise didn't have anything big enough. I brined them 24 hours in a solution of water, salt, honey, pepper, cloves and lots of dried rosemary (could not find fresh). Turned out extremely well!

I put 8 ziplock bags of chicken into the freezer, and 8 of ham. Each one being a serving-sized portion. And with the ham and chicken drippings from cooking them, I made 4 jars of gravy which is also not on my list above.

2009 Jan 26
My condolences. Great job getting all of that food prepared and preserved on such short notice. A great example for us all!

2009 Jan 26
Its funny - during the time when my dad was sick before he passed away,and afterwards, I spent nearly all my time cooking for the family- I think its one of my defence mechanisms to keep busy, nurture others, and feel useful in times of trial; I'm wondering if this if a common foodie trait. I'm very sorry for your loss.

2009 Jan 26
So sorry for your loss, Zym.

Commendable, everything you've done while having to grieve as well. Much strength to you and your wife.

2009 Jan 26
Hey Zym,

So sorry to hear about your mom. You did a tremendous job bringing love and help to your Dad through your food.


2009 Jan 27
Zym - So sorry to hear of your mother's passing... "The Man" and I send our sympathies to you and your family.

As others have said it is amazing how we all handle grief differently... it was great that you and your wife were able to do something to keep yourselves (and everyone else I'm assuming) busy and do something useful (and loved) for your Dad in his time of need.

Thanks for sharing this great story.

--- --- ---

Food & Funerals is a quirky thing... my family is half Scottish & Protestant, while the other side is Irish & Catholic. Funerals at home are a bit wacky. The Scots bring an absolute ton of Food and the "everything must be just so", while the Irish bring the Booze and the Spontaneity (usually involves much music, dancing & revelry). Somehow both groups make it work. Can't say I haven't been to a Funeral I don't remember (usually more so than the Weddings).

Nov 19
Sniff ...