Canisters are cousins
Across the many kitchen countertops of America still reside, like cousins at a reunion, sets of kitchen canisters. They have witnessed the joys and stresses of the home kitchens. The wonderful homemade angel food cake, the rich brown gravies, and a perfectly perked cup of coffee – and let us not forget tea. They have also had their ears in tune when Mary came home and said she simply didn’t like her prom dress and that her mother should really consider updating her eyeglass frames. They also had the joy of seeing father nibble on a perfect piece of flatbread, and in the excitement, he turns and gives his busy wife a kiss.
Now through all the churning of a household, our kitchen canisters stand steady. They keep our flour, sugar, coffee and tea in perfect condition. Canisters, like cars, come in many shapes, sizes and colors. In the compact Repnow kitchen for years resided a four-piece chrome set made by Garnerware. The lids were indented, and resting in the valley was a large black knob. The flour and sugar stood like tall elevators, and the coffee and tea rested, one upon the other, like a main street shop with a cozy apartment above.
The Garnerware had resided so long in our home that we greeted them in the morning just as we did our parents. They were, for sure, cared for by my mother as if they were her children. She made sure no water was ever near them, she often polished them, and when her sons started to wash dishes, she gave all of them a new bottom – which was recycled plastic coffee can lids which fit perfectly and kept them dry from the splashing hands of active redheads!
In time, Mom realized that these trusted family friends should perhaps take a break from their daily duty. She moved them to a very dry cupboard in the utility room and replaced them with the next generation of canister. They were clear glass – like the jars we would see at a candy store with a slanted front – with a chrome lid and large red Bakelite knob. She knew that out of her kitchen at times could be created an ocean – all in the name of washing dishes. She witnessed Neal making waves that tumbled about in riotous tumult – thus getting the canister set wet. Tom now preferred to tame his young siblings by spraying them from time to time with the kitchen sink sprayer. That is until Dad caught him and unhooked it immediately! Once again, the canisters were experiencing ocean life in the middle of the prairie. Once the new glass vessels were in place, no longer did Mom worry about her metal wedding canisters set.
As I delivered the Grit paper about Underwood, I had the privilege of seeing many sets of kitchens canisters on display. We did not have a fine art museum in Underwood. However, by the care and display style that local ladies took of their kitchen canisters, they made the utilitarian gems feel as important as a Degas painting. Mille Hoff, fondly known as “the egg lady” in Underwood, had a set of rooster canisters, sculpted in 3D and colorful. Hanna Schuh enjoyed red apples in her kitchen – so this was her style. My sixth-grade teacher, Margaret Bush, had a set made out of wood and decorated in a floral pattern complete with mitered corners. At the Evander’s Drug dwelled an exact glass set like ours – complete with the silver metal lids and red easy-to-use knobs. Each week these would be filled with delicious cookies baked by the late Larry Evander. They were enjoyed not only by Underwood inhabitants but by bus travelers who took a coffee stop here daily. Happy was the bride who received the four kitchen canisters – plus the grease container – for her home was now able to fry potatoes in a touch of bacon grease. Don’t forget these were available in brushed chrome and copper.
When recently visiting with Beth Kjelson and Tammy Forman at Artmain in downtown Minot, they too realized that your sense of nostalgia is well placed when you can easily recall your very first set of kitchen canisters. Now for Tammy, hers was a bright lemon yellow set – square containers with white tops just like meringue. White letters were sported down the front. I could easily relate to this set because my Grandma Repnow had this set. They were made by Lustroware in the 1950s, and her set not only had the canisters, but also came with a matching creamer and sugar on a tray, and a salt and pepper shaker set. Now Beth, she went for the hip style of canister in the early ’70s. They were round with a deep bronze/brown color to augment their vintage character and distinctive illustration to accompany the newsprint type text. One might consider these to be the cool hippie style of kitchen canisters.
Out of the many travelers that stayed in my parents’ trailer park, a common canister set for them were the decorative coffee cans that could be recycled as canisters. Can you recall these attractive gems that now bring a good price at antique shops? Some were of a patchwork design, while others sported rows of coffee pots and coffee cups.
As you do your holiday baking, take a moment to reflect on your first set of kitchen canisters – or perhaps your mother’s or even your grandmother’s. Realize they are so much more than containers – they are our kitchen cousins when it comes to baking.
Above is a recipe that you can easily create by opening your kitchen canisters.