Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Fruit Cellar of Miss H...

Today, more photographs of my installation, The Fruit Cellar of Miss H...  in the Project Window at Harbourfront Centre. The exhibition continues until Sunday November 7, 2010.

I was an artist-in-residence in the textile studio at Harbourfront Centre from 2006-2009.  I always enjoy installing pieces at Harbourfront because their wonderful installation crew is immensely talented, and because the Visual Arts and Crafts curators, Patrick Macauley and Melanie Egan are a such pleasure to work with.  You just want to please them.

Below, I have included my artist statement from the didactic panel at Harbourfront Centre. Not included in the panel information was the materials I work with - a lot of cotton organdie (I love the pliant nature of it, how it responds to being shaped so obediently) and all sorts of wools, some silk, some linen.  Much of the fabric I dyed using natural dyes - Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod, Lady's Bedstraw, madder, logwood, black walnut, pomegranate, cochineal - and some of it I screen-printed using discharge paste, earth pigments and gold leaf.  All of the screen printed imagery is taken from old recipes, photographs and ladies' magazines from the 1930s. All the fruits and vegetables are hand-stitched sculptures. The majority of mason jars (the Crown jars) were my grandmother's, the rest have been acquired at flea markets and antique markets, especially Aberfoyle.

The work is difficult to photograph as it is behind glass, and directly across from a brightly lit window.

Artist Statement
Preserving. Formerly, this household task occupied much of summer and autumn, in order to conserve fresh food for consumption during winter, when it was a scarce. The filled shelves of a cold cellar afforded a sense of accomplishment, virtue and security. This pursuit, so representative of ‘old fashioned values’, is lately experiencing resurgence as we place more importance on the provenance of our food.
Each year, I can fruits, pickles and jellies. This is an inherited habit. A few jars put down by my grandmother still remain after a quarter century.  In particular, one treasured jar of her pickles has become like a votive from her to me. This seemingly mundane object acts as a time capsule of seasons and places past, preserving her memory.
This body of work imagines the fruit cellar as a storehouse of memories. From season to season, the contents of each jar are imbued with vestiges of the past, triumphs and regrets, joys and sorrows. The vessels are an investment in the future as much as they are reliquaries of the past.  The fruit cellar acts as a hope chest of both realised and unrequited aspiration.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Home Economics (2009)

Home Economics  is an installation piece that I showed at Harbourfront Centre in summer of 2009 as part of the Building for the Economy exhibition in the Architecture Space.  Home Economics considers the earliest origins of the term which suggests the importance of the home as the centre of human life. It offers a cautionary tale that recalls eras such as during the Great Depression where recycling was second nature and maintaining the essentials of life was the cornerstone of every home.

installation view

For several years, I have been collecting monogrammed household linens.  I have always been obsessed with language and etymology and the preoccupation we have with labeling our possessions. When the wealthy did not always have their linens laundered at home, monograms served a practical purpose of proclaiming to whom the article of cloth belonged.  It also, of course, denoted status.  I have used the individual letters here on these hand towels to  spell out commands associated with good management of household resources.  I used what letters I had, and where they were missing I embroidered the monograms on blank towels to spell out 'scrimp' and 'save', etc. I plan on rearranging the pieces various other compositions exploring household language.

I love the dictionary, and consult it first when researching new ideas in the studio. You can read the 6 individual words below; each is a colloquialism of the word 'economize'. Read below for an excerpt from my artist statement on the piece.

home economics, plural noun [often treated as sing. ] cooking and other aspects of household management, esp. as taught at school.
The word ‘economy’ alludes to thrift, prudence, restraint, and frugality. Its origin is French (économie), via Latin from Greek (oikonomia), meaning ‘household management.[1]
Home Economics recalls a time when housekeeping, which included preserving and canning, laundry, sewing and mending, was achieved without the conveniences of modern appliances and supermarkets. The homemaker was tasked with creating a comfortable and attractive home while living within one’s means, making do with resources at hand, and planning for the future. This was often accomplished with do-it-yourself spirit, and personalized embellishments were done by hand, reusing and repurposing old goods. This installation suggests imperatives that urge us all to consider the necessities and excesses in our own lives.  


[1] economy |iˈkänəmē|
noun ( pl. -mies)
1 the wealth and resources of a country or region, esp. in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.
a particular system or stage of an economy : a free-market economy | the less-developed economies.
2 careful management of available resources : even heat distribution and fuel economy.
sparing or careful use of something : economy of words.
(usu. economies) a financial saving : there were many economies to be made by giving up our offices in Manhattan.
(also economy class) the cheapest class of air or rail travel : we flew economy.
adjective [ attrib. ]
(of a product) offering the best value for the money : [in comb. ] an economy pack.
designed to be economical to use : an economy car.
economy of scale a proportionate saving in costs gained by an increased level of production.
economy of scope a proportionate saving gained by producing two or more distinct goods, when the cost of doing so is less than that of producing each separately.
ORIGIN late 15th cent.(in the sense [management of material resources] ): from French économie, or via Latin from Greek oikonomia ‘household management,’ based on oikos ‘house’ + nemein ‘manage.’ Current senses date from the 17th cent.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Fruit Cellar of Miss H...

 Sweet Pickled Onions. Fruit Cellar detail, 2010, Cotton organdie, linen, Queen Anne's Lace dye, discharge and earth pigment screen print, stitch, vintage Crown Imperial Pint jars.

Our Domestic Scientist has been on hiatus the last few weeks.  The beginning of the school year is always a whirlwind, and this year is no exception.  I've been at work sewing and dyeing.  For the past six months I've been working on a large scale installation piece for the project window at  Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.  I just installed the piece, The Fruit Cellar of Miss H... on Friday.  Here are a few detail shots of the pieces.  Photos of the installation to follow soon.

Gherkins. Fruit Cellar detail, 2010, Cotton organdie, pomegranate dye, discharge screen print, stitch, vintage Crown Imperial Pint jar.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Good Books: The Joy of Cooking, 1953

I have a large collection of both new and old cook books, amongst them, two different editions of The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer.  One (1936) belonged to my great-grandmother May, and the other (1953) to grandmother, Blanche.  I have two copies of the 1953 edition. Grandma's was falling apart, so when I saw a more pristine copy for $10 at an antique store, I scooped it up.

It  is a bit of an old chestnut, but this truly is a good cook book. It is a faithful, basic guide to all kinds of cooking, and I refer to it often.  The 1953 edition was a complete kitchen manual, advising the homemaker in all aspects of meal-preparation, menu-planning, nutrition, food-preservation, nutrition and the latest kitchen technology.  The Joy of Cooking gives precise and concise instructions on everything one could reasonably expect to want to know how to cook in 1953, and offered hints about how to run a kitchen, especially helpful to the uninitiated 1950's bride. It even tells you how to clean up!
The newest household appliances: the electric mixer,  the blender and the pressure cooker.
Mrs. Rombauer serves up all manner of charming (and timely) advice:
'Serve hot food hot from hot dishes. Serve cold food chilled from chilled dishes.  Keep calm even if your hair striggles and you drip unattractively. Brush up before serving. Your appearance and the appearance of the food are important, but eating in a quiet atmosphere is even more important to the family's morale and digestion.
A meal represents effort and money.  It is worthy of a dignified hour.'

This book emphasizes the true importance of the kitchen as the centre of the home. Some of the instructions, such as those for canning, are now outdated compared to today's standards, but this book also contains information not found anywhere else.
Canning instructions illustrate how to use different types of canning jars and lids.
I love the illustrations in this edition.
How to prepare artichokes and steam asparagus.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Almond Shortbread Raspberry Jam Sandwiches

When I was in university, I worked in an English tea room, and I had to make hundreds of tarts, cookies, and scones every week.  It was then that I became truly at ease with baking and making pastry.  We used to make several pounds of butter pastry at once (by hand, without an electric mixer!).  I learned lots of tricks and was introduced to many handy tools working in the tea room kitchen.

These cookies are a hybrid between Empire (or Belgian) cookies and shortbread. At the tea room, we always iced the Empire cookies with almond icing, and they had raspberry jam in the middle. When I make these at Christmastime, I cut them into star shapes or trees, or hearts for Valentine's day.  You can use any kind of jam, but I like raspberry best.

Shortbread is one of the simplest types of cookies to make.  The basic recipe of butter, sugar, salt and flour can be adapted with any flavour simply by adding various extracts, fruit, nuts, sugar or chocolate.

1/2 lb of soft butter (1 cup)
1/2 cup of white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp + almond extract (I add extra sometimes)
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
2 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar together.  Add the remaining ingredients in order listed.  Mix together until dough is smooth.  This time, I used an electric mixer, but it is easy to do by hand. In fact,  the dough is easier to handle if you mix it by hand. Form dough into a ball, flatten it into a disc, and wrap in wax paper. Chill 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Use flour as needed to prevent dough sticking.  I like to roll my pastry and dough directly on the counter.  This gives you lots of space to manoeuver.  My rolling pin belonged to my great-grandmother.  It is a great pin; it's heavy hardwood, and moves really smoothly. My favourite part of it is the scorch mark on one end where it was left too close to the woodstove.

Cut into desired shapes, and place on cookie sheet.  Chill in the freezer until cookies are stiff.  This will help them keep their shape while baking.  Bake cookies 15-20 minutes, or until edges are just golden. Cool on rack.

When cool, spread a generous layer of raspberry jam on the bottom of one cookie and top with a second cookie.  Gently press together. If you let them sit for a bit, the jam will set a little, and they will be less messy.

Enjoy with tea.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Peachy Day and a Spicy Evening

Canned Peaches:  Halves and Slices

 4  3-quart baskets of Red Haven Peaches
 4 hours of peeling, pitting, slicing, cooking, jarring and processing
 7 jars of peach halves and 4 jars of peach slices


I used a combination of the open kettle method and the 'recommended' method.

The Open Kettle Method is an old fashioned way of canning, and the method my grandmother would have used.  You cook the fruit until it is entirely cooked, and then put it into sterile jars and seal with sterile lids and bands, with no further processing.  
Safe food handling guidelines no longer consider this method safe.  For peaches, it is recommended that the peaches be canned either raw pack (putting uncooked fruit in jars) or hot pack (partially cooked fruit), and then processed for 20 to 30 minutes to complete cooking the fruit and sealing the jars.  I find this method troublesome because I find the fruit always floats (which results in air discoloring the fruit). Always searching for perfection, I have tried cooking the fruit through, and then processing for ten minutes to ensure proper sealing and safety. This still needs some experimentation, but the results this time were pretty good.  And delicious.

I cooked the peach halves and slices separately in the honey syrup left over from canning the apricots, cooking the fruit in boiling syrup until it is quite soft.

Then I packed the jars very full with the peaches, trying to fit as much fruit in a possible.  This is much easier with the slices than the halves. Cover the fruit with boiling syrup.  Use a kitchen knife to release bubbles trapped under the fruit, and top up the jars with more syrup if necessary. Seal jars. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Enjoy these peaches in wintertime in yogurt or over ice cream, or all by themselves.

Start by scalding peaches to remove skins.
Peaches awaiting peeling.

 To  prevent discoloration,
cover peaches in water with a bit of lemon juice.

Cooking the peaches in syrup, one jar full at a time.
Filling the packed jars with syrup, and sealing.

Peach halves in the canner, after processing.
Et voila!

Peppers galore.

Pickled Peppers

The hot peppers at the farm are just starting, and already there are nearly too many to eat fresh or sell.  So I decided to pickle some.  I used a recipe by David Lebovitz. You can pickle any kind of fresh, thick-fleshed pepper, or mix several varieties.  I used jalapenos. 

If you are brave, you can eat the pickled peppers whole, or use them in cooking like you would fresh hot peppers. 

Fait accompli!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Canned Apricots

Lovely apricots from Hamilton Farmer's Market

I have spent time each summer since childhood canning fruit, and making pickles and jam.  When I was young I was my mother's assistant in this task, and later we worked together.  Now I do much on my own, but Mum and I still work together on labour intensive tasks which involve lots of peeling and slicing, like canning peaches.

When I canned apricots in the past,  I removed the skins, and they were cooked, the delicate fruit turned to mush.  This time I left the skins on, which is not only easier, but appealing, since the skin is the most beautiful part of the apricot.

This time I decided to use a medium honey syrup, using half honey and half sugar. Medium syrup is about 2 parts water to 1 part sugar, so 4 cups water, 1 cup honey, and 1 cup white granulated sugar.  The syrup smells and tastes wonderful.

Note: many of the methods I use are the same as those my grandmother used.  Many of them follow the open kettle method, which is now not recommended to use by safe food handling guides.  I use these methods because they have never failed me, and I like the results from them.  It is, however, extremely important to be scrupulously clean when preserving food.  All tools and utensils should be clean and jars and lids should be sterilized carefully. 

Wash apricots. Cut fruit in half lengthwise and remove pits.  Measure fruit to determine how much syrup to make. Pint jars will require 1/2 cup to 1 cup of syrup.
Make syrup: in a large saucepan, bring honey, sugar and water to a rolling boil. Stir to dissolve sugar
Add apricots.  Return syrup to a boil. Stir very gently, as to not damage the fruit. Simmer until apricots are soft, but not falling apart.
Gently ladle apricots into hot, sterilized jars, and cover with boiling syrup.  Seal jars with snap lids and rings.  Let cool.

Apricots cooking in the syrup.

The finished product, with lots of left-over syrup.  I will use this up when I can peaches this week.