Monday, July 23, 2007
A 19th CENTURY FIRKIN from an OLD MAINE FARMHOUSE
When I was a child, summers in New Hampshire were not complete without a country auction or two. I remember an auction in Jaffrey Center where my mother bought a pair of forged iron fireplace tongs and a large serving plate. I could have cared less about antiques back then--and my parents weren't really into them either (that was my only "antiquing" memory from childhood, although I was surrounded by old things in my grandparents' homes). However, in those days I liked to pick up "old" blue willow plates for a dime or quarter at yard sales in the area. At home in Ohio during the rest of the year I collected all sorts of things: dolls, Breyers horses, Nancy Drew books, and my New England stash of blue willow plates (most of which could likely be found at any hardware store). Looking back, I realize I was as obsessive about collecting those things as I am about the many things I collect now. Need, want and covet--I could write the book about the differences, and the similarities, between those words.
On Saturday we went to an estate sale in an old house across the street from ours. The woman who had lived there, Helen Trook, was a collector, too, and apparently the world knew it as many people showed up at her door for the 10:30am opening. The house was tightly packed with things, people, small rooms and was, truly, a madhouse (and now I see why I prefer eBay or a good buy at an antique shop). We were able to get in on the initial stampede but when I returned later when the crowds had diminished, I was able to linger over her cookbook collection. I appreciate a person who collects cookbooks and then writes little notes in them, too, or stuffs them with other recipes. So I was able to add to my own collection and feel better knowing from whom these new additions came.
In the afternoon we headed over to Fitzwiliam, which like Hancock and Jaffrey Center, is an historic town in southwestern New Hampshire with a village green, well-preserved historic homes and a distinctive meetinghouse (in fact, the same builder worked on two of them). The Fitzwilliam Historical Society was hosting their annual antique show on the green, complete with restored fountain and picturesque summer day: not too hot, not too cool, puffy clouds wafting along.
We hadn't been to this show in several years and it was interesting to see how dealer offerings have changed--and to also watch the crowd (I often thought I was in Litchfield County, Connecticut). Last time we attended this show there was a prevalence of English Staffordshire and American yellowware. This year, it was as if a number of old New England farm pantries had been emptied: loads of firkins (in various states of condition and old original paint), early baskets, woodenware (bowls and other primitive utensils), and pantry boxes. Before plastic was invented, or even tinware, woodenware provided essential dry food storage in New England farmhouses. These relics--once tossed like so many old wooden things were--seem to be quite collectible now and eBay is also a good indicator (the green firkin from a Maine farmhouse, pictured above, will likely go for well over $300 on eBay tonight).
BLUEBERRIES for CATHERINE
I was delighted to find a small and affordable yellowware bowl in a pattern from a set my father had given me years ago (from his kitchen, via my grandparents, via his grandparents): early Robinson Ransbottom (probably 1920s) from Zanesville, Ohio with a hobnail design on the side and a blue salt-glazed rim. [Robinson Clay Products, formerly of Akron, Ohio, merged with Ransbottom in southern Ohio sometime during the early 1900s.] Their crown insignia is just recognizable on the base but only to someone who knew to look for it as it was barely evident. I did not know, but should have suspected as much, that the bowls came this small (5" across and 2.5" high: holds less than a pint). So now I have a complete set. The dealer did not know the origin of the bowl and that likely contributed to its reasonable price. I also got a sweet little tin berry pail with cover, perhaps for a child, for about $20, and a few other finds.
I was also glad to run into Susan Bates, the proprietor of The Cooperage, a lovely antiques and garden shop in Townsend Harbor, Massachusetts [www.TheCooperage.com]. She displays everything so artfully in her historic shop, which is owned by the Townsend Historical Society (their Reed Homestead is next door) and I was drawn to her booth by her distinctive plant arrangements and plant stands and then realized it was her. She wants me to come down and do a program on THE PANTRY book and I'd be delighted. I've found many great things in her shop over the years and need to get down there again.
After our antique afternoon, we ventured over to Jaffrey Center where I was the featured speaker at the Village Improvement Society's 101st annual meeting [www.JCVIS.org]. Melville Academy, where the meeting was held, is a well-appointed museum of Jaffrey-related history and Americana and is well-tended (one of the pantries featured in THE PANTRY is from Jaffrey Center, also). I grew up in Jaffrey and for a long time was part of the historic district commission there. In many ways it was like old home day, even though we only live thirty minutes to the north. I spoke about THE PANTRY, signed some books, and savored memories of childhood and the years before my marriage. [Jaffrey Center is home to the Amos Fortune Forum, an excellent series of lectures each summer, as well as where Willa Cather is buried behind the old meetinghouse. Mount Monadnock, a geographical fixture in the region, looms in the background.]
The day would have been perfect had we been able to have dinner at Aylmer's Grille [www.AylmersGrille.com] in downtown Jaffrey (which is having a much-deserved rebirth) but, alas, we did not have reservations. Aylmer's is run by chef Aylmer Given, a Jaffrey native who returned a few years ago to have a restaurant (and I went to high school with several of his siblings). Small and bistro-like, the food is delicious and the menu not overwhelming. It is the kind of place where you want to linger over a meal and chat, which I have often done for lunch with friends (but had never been for dinner). To see well-clad diners, none of whom I knew, in the former location of The Rusty Bucket (and a great breakfast/lunch place in its 1980s heyday) brought a wry smile, but I was delighted all the same.