I wrote a blog for “Cooking the Past”, the marvellous Montreal-based public history project run by Stacey Zembrzycki, Cassandra Marsillo, and others. Asking people to reflect on food, and more particularly cooking, during the pandemic, the organizers seek ways to understand home, the kitchen, and our historic selves during moments of crisis. In social isolation but not alone, the kitchen (a place) and cooking (a practice) allow us a context for examining how the experience of food and food-making enables resilience, cut with sadness and cheer. Such reflection takes us beyond nostalgia, exploring the ways historic practices enrich our capacities to dream of what might be. Here, my mother’s story and particularly her relationship to baking prompted some reflection on my own world.
Food has always been important in my family. My father was an only child. His father left L’Ardoise during the First World War. Like many poor Maritimers, most of his family left Nova Scotia and lived far away – Boston, Montreal, and a residue in L’Ardoise. Relatives, Samsons and the broader family of Martels, Mombourquettes and Landrys, would often visit our home outside Halifax. This fully anglicised, frozen-pizza-eating boy joined them at the table but was unable to speak their language, and unwilling to share their feasts of lobster, eels, and various bivalves. My mother’s family were closer. Descendants of Highland Scots from Glenfinnan, their Jacobitism long forgotten but still evident in certain habits of dissent, the MacInnises were more clannish, much more seeking of each other’s company. My mother’s family was my family. My childhood revolved around western Cape Breton in general and Inverness in particular: summer picnics at the beach, Easter and Thanksgiving dinners, odd weekends, all spent somehow connected to family, and food.
The full piece can be found here.