Turning Point by Beth Irvine: Special meals warm the heart

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It wasn’t her warm, welcoming hug that gave it away. We could sense it as soon as we opened the back door. Steam, scented with nutmeg, beckoned us inside to find doughnuts, rich brown on the outside and creamy white where we bit into them, still warm from the hot fat.

Even though after that first hug all she did was shoo us outside to play – and we needed some room to move after spending two and a half hours crammed into the back seat of the car – the doughnuts were her way of saying how glad she was to see us. Sometimes, to our special delight, she would even fry the holes and shake them in a bag of sugar! Then we really knew how long-awaited we were.

We were not thrilled with the boiled dinner she usually cooked to welcome the parents (their unique welcome, I suppose), but her distinctive, mustard-vinegar dressing made it edible. After all, they needed an appreciative reception as well. 

Good, plain cooking was what Gram knew to do: serving her pies in a café in Kentville was how she met Grampy. For most of her married life, she opened their home as a boarding house and, through the war years, kept the table overflowing by requiring payment, not just with dollars, but with ration coupons as well.

Of course, it’s easier at Christmas to make family welcome. Tradition dictates the menu and all a mother has to do is make sure all the ingredients are on hand so each celebrant can put together his own special dish. The thing is, while doughnuts and pies always speak volumes of care and preparation, and seasonal treats like mincemeat cry out celebration, there ought to be something that says, “I’m so glad you’ve come!” the way Gram’s doughnuts did to us. . . on just an ordinary weekend.

It’s not Christmas; Apple Blossom Festival is past (I know what makes that out of the ordinary, too). My grandchildren live so far out west, I hardly ever see them . . .  along with their mum and dad.  Our other sons haven’t started families yet, but do come to visit. Actually, one is flying in today. The fact that he’s flying means, to me, that this is not just an ordinary weekend. I want to give him a welcome that expresses the joy we have in seeing him again.

With all our food sensitivities and special diets, it’s a puzzle to come up with some hospitality that speaks of how he is most welcome. Somehow, a free-range chicken and a just-gathered mesclun salad don’t seem to convey the same warmth as a fresh-fried doughnut ­delicious and bursting with life-giving nutrients, they may be. It’s just that there is something about baked fat and sugar that speak deeply to the soul of satisfaction. And that is the kind of welcome I want my son to feel. But how to express it?

Maybe through apple crisp.

Geographic location: Kentville

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