Who Was She?
I know that she is, or was, French Canadian and that she liked to cook. I learned that much from the person who was running the estate sale. I don't know if she passed away, or simply moved away, but I assume the former since she left her favorite cooking utensils.
I'd have known she liked to cook without even being told - she had almost no books other than cookbooks on her shelves. I know some of these things were favorites because they are well used.
The gratin dish on the left is enameled over metal and just the right size for two people. It is a little battered by years of use - that is part of its charm. The twin pepper mills were made in France - she'd have liked that because of her heritage. They were used all the time - their tidy little basket was full of pepper dust and the mills themselves were almost sticky; I imagine her grabbing one or the other with messy fingers as she cooked. Both were loaded with peppercorns, ready to roll.
The linen tea towel is a map of Canada - even when she moved to California, she kept reminders her homeland. I wondered what brought her here - did she shiver in one too many Quebec winters? Was her husband sent here for a job? Did she come following her children, who migrated out to California looking for adventure? Was San Francisco the only sufficiently food-obsessed American city she could live in? I figure she bought the '50s barbecuing book once she got here. We share a love of Charles Kuralt - his book was one of the few non-cookbooks on her shelves.
The strainer is the finest I've ever owned, perfect for straining soups or sauces. And she had two copies of the Joy of Cooking, one older and one newer than my own, both liberally spattered. I bought both and noted with interest where she placed her many bookmarks in both copies. Maybe I will make some of those recipes in her honor.
There was also a wonderful nutmeg grater, several glass storage jars (the frugal French!) and a single miniature tart pan that she had never used - the price tag is still pristine on the bottom. I wondered if she bought that after her husband died, thinking that she'd treat herself to a little dessert from time to time, but never had the heart to when she was just cooking for herself.
All these questions about a neighbor I never met. She lived just three streets away; I happened by her house while out walking the dog and noticed the estate sale sign. I have imagined a whole story about her and her life - I have even given her a name. Janine. I'm going to enjoy using Janine's things in my kitchen. I'll think of her with a kind of wondering fondness when I do; I'm not sure how one becomes attached to an imagined woman, but I have. Bon appetit, Janine, et merci.