This is a story about a man who changed many lives.
My Father grew up in London. At fourteen he apprenticed to Hovis Bakery, learned the bakery trade then moved up to the big hotels. By the time World War One started he was a chef at the Savoy. He was one of the fortunate men who came returned from that war, and with a second employable skill – driving.
He became a chauffeur for a wealthy family in Bristol driving a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. My father was driver trained trained at the Rolls-Royce factory. This was the beginning of his love affair with cars.
Immigration to Canada, homesteading in Northern Saskatchewan in the summer he returned to cooking in his brother’s logging camp in the winter. Dad said that was a bigger challenge than any hotel restaurant. For the loggers food was so important (no alcohol allowed in camp) cooks who couldn’t deliver were run out of camp. One cook who refused to leave had his cook-shack door nailed shut and set on fire. Unfortunately the cook was still inside.
Dad sold his farm. His timing was good for the depression was soon to follow. He was fortunate to obtain work at the Prince Albert Penitentiary. A renaissance man, tall and darkly handsome he met my Mother and they fell in love. Mother was a beautiful redhead who believed in fairies and goblins, told wonderful stories, and couldn’t cook to save her soul.
Working in one of the most dangerous areas in the Penitentiary (the kitchen) my Father treated the convicts who worked under him with great respect. He addressed them as Mister (name), and never inquired “what they were in for”. In return these tough, hard men built miniature furniture as gifts for Dad’s children and would do anything for my Dad – including giving up their ration of sugar.
This is the beginning of cooking from the heart. It was the depression and the government gave correction institutes a pittance to feed the inmates. Using his experience as a homesteader he had them growing vegetables (which they canned), raising and slaughtering their own chickens, cows and pigs. In the years my father was Head Steward for the Prince Albert Penitentiary they never had a food riot. A first for any penitentiary in Canada.
Christmas was coming and my Dad wanted to bake shortbread cookies for ALL the inmates. He asked the inmates to donate a portion of their sugar allowance. At that time sugar was still rationed (from the war years). This was a huge request as sugar was like gold. Convicts used it to make illegal home-brew in stills hidden deep in the barns. Then he asked the men in the tailor shop to make Christmas stockings. One for every convict. By Christmas my Dad and his men had made enough cookies to fill the stockings. In the toe he put the most precious of commodities, an orange.
Then the greatest gift of all. My Father gave up his Christmas day with his family to cook Christmas dinner for the inmates and give his staff Christmas day off. For myself and my sisters Christmas Day became one of anticipation. All our friends had opened their gifts but we had our gifts to look forward to. We ate our traditional turkey dinner late and later still opened gifts. It was magic as children to stay up far into Christmas night.
We know our Father was appreciated for his work for as years passed there would be long distance phone calls from far far away cities like Montreal and Toronto, from men who’s lives had changed because of the care and respect of my father. In those long ago days long distance calls were extremely rare. These men were calling to tell my father about their jobs and their new lives. This is what happens when you cook from a very large heart.