Many, many years ago (longer ago than I’m willing to admit) I was born on the kitchen table of a farmhouse in rural England. My parents lived at the time out in the countryside in a rambling, crumbling house with an enormous, toasty warm kitchen. My birth (which came as a surprise to my mother, whose water broke as she was baking a cake) ended with my tiny body being wrapped in a flour sack dish towel.
Bizarrely, my mother still has the dish towel as a memento of my birth – don’t worry, she no longer uses it for its intended purpose – and whenever I visit home she never fails to remind me that I came into this world by way of a dish towel.
That may be the reason, then, that there’s nothing that more strongly evokes the memory of times past than the flour sack dish towels that today litter my mother’s kitchen, and my own. Whenever I see one of those old, classic towels I think of my mother’s rustic farmhouse kitchen. I think of the range oven that stretched the whole length of one wall – an enormous black wrought iron thing that would have needed a crane to move. I think of the kitchen table, a solid hardwood so heavy that it took four strong men to lift. I think of the tile floor, the herbs growing in a window box and the rows upon rows of strange and arcane cooking implements that hung from innumerable hooks around the room.
Flour sack dish towels evoke all of these memories in me, and for that reason I find them comforting. These towels, for me, are the antithesis of the modern kitchen – the brushed steel blenders with 82 settings (only 2 of which you use or understand). The microwaves, ice makers and George Foreman grills that little the modern kitchen and bring to mind the deck of the Starship Enterprise with their flashing lights and annoying beeps and buzzers.
Flour sack dish towels harken to a time long past… a time when cooking was a pleasure and a joy, an all day event that made the kitchen the heart of the home. Cooking today has been reduced to a mechanical process designed to be completed as soon as possible. Our kitchens have become soulless – places to spend a brief moment before returning to the ew center of the home: the TV.
For my money there’s nothing better than a warm kitchen. There’s nothing better than the rich aroma of bread rising in the oven; the warmth of a fresh loaf; the experience of sitting around the dinner table as a family and enjoying a home cooked meal. In my heart and mind these experiences are indelibly linked with my beloved flour sack dish towels, and that’s why, if you come looking for me, you’ll find me in the kitchen with a towel thrown over my shoulder. Come join me.