HOW I LEARNED TO “COOK FROM THE HEART” (A Father’s Day Remembrance)

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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27 thoughts on “HOW I LEARNED TO “COOK FROM THE HEART” (A Father’s Day Remembrance)

  1. Ms. Virginia,

    I was thinking this morning I am having a Bel Occhio Blog withdrawl!! Thank you, for sharing such a lovely story.

    Much love to you and all,
    Love Amy

  2. What a lovely story! Your father sounds like a wonderful man…and made a difference in so many lives. Helps remind us what small kindnesses can do:)

  3. How very generous of you to share such a deeply personal story. Your Father must have been a very caring and giving man. You’ve captured the details of a life well lived. It is obvious the affection with which you hold the memories of someone so very special. I’m sure you think of him often and miss him especially now with what should be a day to celebrate how much he means to you. Thank you so much for a lovely post : )
    Ginny

  4. Again, very touching. The same lessons I learned watching my Granny. Cooking is how I show my love to those I care for. I love your stories—they feel so familiar and sincere.

  5. What a beautiful story Virginia, and what an inspirational and amazing man; thank you for sharing – such a lovely start to my day to read this! Kate

  6. I always love how you illustrate your stories, Virginia. Where to start? I got all teary. YES. You tell your family stories so well. I could almost smell the Hovis bakery bread! Goosebumps, again. What a lovely tribute to your father. The top photograph is beautiful. Dashing, really. I also loved the sugar cookie story. What did the miniature furniture look like? T.

    • We had a table and four chairs – painted cream and trimmed with red. The cupboard was a delight. Doors and shelves underneath, a little counter, then overhead doors with glass inserts. We loved putting our tiny china dishes and cups inside and admiring them through the glass. Our Mom made us a tiny tablecloth and we filled a jam jar with wild flowers. So chic even then T. XX V.

  7. I, like Theadora, got all teary…..what a wonderful, marvelous, incredible story and such a beautiful tribute to your Father. He was an amazing man and the kindness and respect he showed the inmates was so very touching and so very missing in the way most people treat each other today, just on the streets or in the store. I so very, very loved this post. You give me hope for humanity. It is no wonder you are such a marvelous creature, to have been raised by such an incredible man. What a life he lived, what adventures he had and what a most incredible daughter he gave me as a friend!

    • You honour me with you thoughtful words Tin Man. I believe what one could say about my Dad was he truly loved mankind – in the complete context of those words. He was not a man who paid lip service to being good. He was a good person. For a brief time he worked at a soft drink bottling plant. He was working late one bitter cold evening when he heard a window breaking. Some one breaking in – a young, cold and when Dad confronted him – frightened man. The company owner was called. The two of them decided calling the police was not the answer. Instead my father took the hungry, out-of-work man home. Gave him a bed. Washed his clothes for he had been living rough. The next day he started working in the bottling plant. A few years later he showed up at the house wearing a suit and tie and introduced his wife. He had a good job and a good start on life because of my father. Lar shows this compassion and care. XXOO V.

      • I am sure that I had written a response to this prior; however, the magic of wordpress ate it AGAIN! I LOVE the story. Your Father was as we all should be. It is no wonder that you are who you are and that you found Lars. Now the wondrous existence you now experience shows its roots. May the glorious light of Buddha shine upon you both forever and may a sparkle of that light embrace us all…………….especially Theadora and Jo Nelll………….and the Tin Man…and my special pookie Augustine……..We love you!

      • I have this wonderful dream. All of us – Theadora and Jo Nell, Emil and Augustine – hanging out. Cooking … watching the sunset … a glass of Prosecco. What stories we could tell. What fun. What a simply delicious time. V.

  8. This is a wonderful Father’s Day tribute to your father! You have told the story of his life with simplicity and love. I can see a man confident enough in himself to respect others. How lucky you were to have had him for a father. You, too, cook (and love) from the heart. Thank you for sharing a personal story.

    • We girls grew up believing our father could do anything. Even to sewing a hood on my winter coat. It was the latest fashion but money was tight and my winter coat was perfectly good . Being a fashion maven even then I so wanted a hood. So my Dad designed one, cut it out of heavy plaid wool and using my Mom’s very old Singer, sewed my a new fashion look. Hope you are keeping well Joan. XX Virginia

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