My father’s oldest sibling, Catherine, did a home science degree at Otago University before World War II, then after the war she went to the University of Chicago and did an MSc. That was a reasonably unusual thing for a Kiwi woman to do back then. When she came back, some time before 1950, she brought interesting gadgets and gizmos that had never been thought of, let alone seen in this part of the world. Well, they were foreign to our family, and I’m sure they’d have seemed strange and wonderful to most Kiwis. She was a cool aunty. (Actually NZ hadn’t quite imported that American expression yet, but it’s the gist of what we thought.)
She and her husband Joe went back to America a couple of times in the early ’50s, and she brought back more gadgets and entertained us with free luxuries she’d collected from Pan Am Stratocruiser ‘Clipper’ airliners.
It was Catherine and her trips to America that sparked my own fascination with the United States. From an early age I wanted that country to be my first overseas destination. And so it was – though only the transit lounge at LA Airport, en route to Canada. But I spent a bit of time in the US during that trip and loved the place. Most of my fellow Kiwis looked first to Britain – aka ‘Home’ or ‘The Auld Country’.
The other thing that sold America to me was its music: jazz and rock ‘n roll.
At one time the Americans had a welcoming embassy in The Terrace, just up the road from my office. I was a frequent visitor to the embassy library, where I could borrow jazz records that weren’t available elsewhere in New Zealand. Now the embassy is an aloof concrete fortress in Thorndon.
But to return to my Aunt Catherine: the most fabulous of her American gadgets was an electric waffle iron she’d bring out when her nieces and nephews visited. We loved her dearly for it.
When Catherine died in 1996, I was lucky enough to inherit the waffle iron and Liz makes great waffles with it. The appliance is more than 60 years old and still works well.
We also have Catherine’s small care-and- feeding-of-your-waffle-iron booklet, published by the New York Edison Company’s Bureau of Home Economics.
Other recipes in the booklet include Maryland Cream Waffles, Orange Butter, Breakfast Bacon Waffles, Ginger Snap Waffles, Devil’s Food Waffles, Spice Waffles, Rich Spiced Waffles, Corn and Fruit Waffles, Strawberry Waffles, Gingerbread Waffles, Surprise Waffles, Southern Waffles, Coconut Waffles, Buttermilk Waffles, Sour Cream Waffles, Raised Waffles, Raised Potato Waffles, Orange Sauce, Sweet Corn Waffles, Waffles Southern Style, Rice Waffles, Pineapple Waffles, Pineapple Sauce, Mock Maple Syrup, Bran Waffles, Whipped Cream Sauce, Butterscotch Sauce.
Liz doesn’t use any particular recipe, but throws typical pancake ingredients at a bowl and hopes for the best. It always works.
Recently I discovered that Catherine had written a military manual during the war, while she was a lecturer in Foods and Institutional Management at the School of Home Science. Cooking for Canteens: Including Recipes for Fifty Servings. It was on the Renaissance Books website and my sister bought it.
Catherine was later a long-serving member of the Consumer Council. My mother was always in nervous awe of Catherine’s culinary pedigree, but took great delight in knowing that she (Mum) could make much better scones.