THE WASHINGTON POST – I have owned the same apron for 15 years. That is as long as I have been cooking. It is my Velveteen Rabbit, my lucky charm, my suit of armor and my security blanket all rolled into one.
One of my colleagues asked me if I was superstitious, if maybe I worried whether my food wouldn’t turn out when I was not wearing the apron. No, I laughed. Surely not! Then I thought about it a little more. Maybe? I don’t ever cook without it at home, so how can I say?
The exact details are fuzzy at this point, but I do seem to recall picking it up at the Walmart in Winchester, Virginia, where I moved after college for my first job and into my first apartment. I paid maybe USD5 for it. It’s nothing fancy, as you can see at the top in the photo above. I can’t remember what the original colour might have been, but at this point, it’s pale blue and ultrasoft after so many trips through the wash. Yes, there are stains – echoes of chocolate here and turmeric there – but to me, just like an enameled Dutch oven that’s no longer a pristine creamy-white inside, that shows how well used it is.
I taught myself to cook in that apron. I’ve made everything in it, from sleepy-eyed pancake breakfasts and bakery-worthy bagels to my mom’s chicken with mushrooms and Indian dishes galore. Desserts? Please. It has seen more action than a lifetime’s worth of The Great British Baking Show.
The apron has moved with me, from first apartment to first apartment with my then-boyfriend/now-husband to the first house we owned. I’ve taken it to parents’ and grandparents’ houses and the beach. I tied it over my very pregnant belly and now my son reminds me (bossy!) to take it off before I sit down to eat.
There’s plenty to love about it other than the memories, of course. It’s practical and simple. No frills, literally – to me, the flounces are just more fabric that can stain and, in extreme circumstances, catch on a burner or other hot equipment. The apron covers a significant portion of my legs and torso. The tie is long enough to go all the way around my back for easy, secure knotting in front. It has two deep pockets, which, honestly, I don’t use as much as I should.
The fabric is sturdy, too. Not quite canvas, but not muslin either. I don’t have to worry about spills or splatters soaking through it, and I can wipe my hands on it without a second thought. It goes in the washer and dryer, no problem. Only one real feature that I recommend is missing, and that’s an adjustable neck strap. But in this case, it’s a perfect fit, so I haven’t dwelt too much on it.
The best aprons are the ones you feel comfortable using. That has a lot to do with fit and utility, of course, but I find there’s a psychological element as well. I don’t hesitate to use mine or get it messy because it’s already messy – ahem, well loved – and didn’t cost much. Would I feel more tentative wearing some of the more expensive ones I have admired from a distance? Probably, but that’s different for everyone. If you spend USD70 on an apron and put it through the wringer, great. If you think it will just end up hanging on a hook because you’re too scared to sully it, better reconsider.
I hesitate to ascribe supernatural powers to my apron. I do, however, think I have become a better, even safer, cook merely by wearing one. On the few times I have not put it on or cooked somewhere else without it, I haven’t felt fully relaxed in the kitchen. I’ve been too tentative, standing awkwardly away from the skillet or the counter, which can ironically lead to more messes or injuries. You need to move instinctively, confidently. Don’t let a bad apron, or no apron, hold you back.
Funnily enough, my mom just bought me a new apron (thanks, Mom, and hi!) from Frozen: The Broadway Musical, of all places. “Cooking never bothered me anyway,” it says, emblazoned with a snowflake formed out of forks. It, too, is blue, boasts deep pockets, an adjustable neck strap and stain-resistant technology.
How far I’ve come!
I’ve started mixing it into my regular cooking sessions. After all, my other apron does have to be cleaned at least once in a while. Then again, why not make a few memories in a new one?
Just check back with me in another 15 years.