An appreciation of aprons with all their emotional ties

January 17, 2007|By ROB KASPER

Bonny Wolf is an inveterate apron wearer.

She wore one during the 1970s when it was deemed politically incorrect. "When women began to spend less time at home and more time at the office, the kitchen apron became an emotionally charged symbol, a reminder of female drudgery," she says.

She tied an apron around her waist anyway. She couldn't stop.

"Putting on an apron," she says, gets her "into my cooking zone" and Wolf likes to cook. "For me, putting on an apron has always been empowering," she says.

Wolf, a commentator on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, offered her thoughts on aprons and other kitchen topics to me in a telephone interview, elaborating on subjects covered in her recently published collection of essays, Talking With My Mouth Full: Crabcakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories, published by St. Martin's Press.

Nowadays, Wolf says, aprons are back in fashion. The long, chef's style aprons are selling well at $20 and up at fancy shops and online. Apron-wearing also has jumped the gender line. Macho grillers can be spotted clad in aprons emblazed with NFL team colors as they flip huge hunks of meat outside football stadiums.

Wolf, 56, hails from a long line of apron wearers. Her mother donned one while cooking chicken a la king in the family's Minneapolis home. Her grandmother sewed and sold aprons at Army bases during World War II. Emblazoned with a message reading "to my love from Camp Landing, Florida" (or other military bases) the aprons were a hit with GIs who shipped them to wives and girlfriends.

Designed as a protective covering for clothes, aprons can take on added meaning, Wolf says. When you see a cook wearing an apron, she says, it is a sign that you are in the presence of someone who knows kitchen work can be messy, someone not afraid to get her hands dirty, then wipe them on the apron.

Wolf went to college (Goucher) in Baltimore, where she met her husband, Michael Levy. The couple, who have a grown son, have resided in a Capitol Hill rowhouse in Washington for two decades.

In her book, Wolf chronicles Baltimore's eating habits and during our telephone conversation, she - at my urging - compared the culinary climates of Baltimore and Washington.

"Baltimore has a distinct food culture," she says. "When you sit in the backyard and eat steamed crabs and then go get snowballs, you feel you are part of a long tradition."

Washington, she says, is "more of a dining town than an eating town. It does not have the same sense of regional pride in its food that is common in Baltimore."

In Baltimore, ethnic food is found in homes and eateries, while in Washington it is served at embassy dinners, she says.

Both cities have appealing food markets, she says. Several times a week, Wolf walks to Eastern Market, which she says is filled with the "spirit and soul of Lexington Market." There, she buys fresh produce and meat. She buys fresh fish from an open-air market on Maine Avenue.

While Washington does have condos filled with hard chargers who, as Wolf put it, "have cut themselves off from the domestic arts," the town also has a cadre of home cooks.

"Most people I know cook. They find it comforting to sit around the table eating food you prepared, talking with people you know. Cooking does slow you down, and it can relax you," she says.

As a messy cook, I was heartened by Wolf's ode to aprons. After talking with her, I went shopping for an apron. I found one online; it was just what I wanted. It is dark purple with plenty of pockets, and it sports a Ravens logo. It is, it seems to me, the perfect apron for a Baltimore guy.

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