When my Mom was busy in the kitchen there were times she’d call out to one of us to fetch her something from the cold storage room. This happened often on Sunday mornings if she was preparing after church brunch and realized the chili sauce had run out—she made this delicious homemade chili sauce full of peppers, and onions, and tomatoes. She usually call for the child who was offering the least help to breakfast at that moment: “Graham? Can you go and bring up a jar of chili sauce from the basement?”
The basement was a euphemism for the cold storage room. Strictly speaking, there were two cold storage rooms, rooms in the basement built without insulation or carpet. We knew them apart by what they stored: one was for food, the other one was for boxed-up Christmas decorations, ski boots, camping gear, and the like.
The cold storage room was a small rectangular room, the door at one end and the rest stretching away from there. On the left was the big storage shelf, on the right was just enough space to move along and search for what you wanted. Chili sauce was kept near the middle at eye-level, a clear signal of its importance. It came in tall mason jars and short mason jars. Either each of the jars came labeled with dates I never read or looked at, or my Mom didn’t both as she knew they would be eaten up long before they could go bad. Looking into a jar of chili sauce you saw thick, crushed tomatoes and the peppers and onions all poking out at random.
Stored to the right of the chili sauce were the pickles, and pickles only came in tall jars. Of all the canned foods, pickles were the most interesting because when any jar could be swirled up and observed like a snow globe. If the jar was packed just right there would be a bit of extra space and a bit of extra brine and given a shake the pickles would slowly swim through the jar like whales at an underwater aquarium. There were the big, long pickles and the short, bendy pickles; old dark green ones, and bright green young ones; pickles completely smooth and others with bumps like barnacles. There were the dill stems too, long and thin with their pods bursting open at one end like a solitary firework. At the bottom of the jar you might catch sight of a lurking garlic pod, small and greyish-white and always along the bottom edge. And then there were all the little bits and bobs floating throughout, like the little fish that dart in and out amongst the much bigger sharks and whales in nature documentaries.
Across on the other side of the chili sauce was the Saskatoon berries. Dark and purple small little spheres. If you spun the jar about each berry would begin its own tiny spin like a small suspended marbles so that you could tell that they were moving even though they always ended up looking the same. Knowing how good they tasted was reason enough to watch them spin and spin until you entered a kind of food-expectant trance. If it happened to be a special occasion (maybe visitors were over) and Mom was making pancakes or waffles as well, she would also ask one of us to bring up a jar of Saskatoons berries.
In later years, when Dad had begun his cottage wine industry, the cold storage room became the de facto wine cellar. There would be bottles of cabernet-sauvignon and shiraz and merlot all laid flat on top of a semi-sticky fishnet foam so that they wouldn’t roll about knocking into each other or off onto the floor. Dad made enough varieties for me to imagine myself the part of a snooty connoisseur whenever I was sent to fetch a bottle: “How now, shall we dine this evening with the warm and fruity bouquet of the shiraz, or the dark, smoky tannins of the merlot?”
If all of these foodstuffs were stored in the upstairs pantry, or in the other cold storage room in amongst the sleeping bags and tent pegs, I might not remember them with such adventurous descriptions. But, tucked away together in the darkest, coldest, recess of the house, I came to see these almost everyday items with having their own extraordinary characteristics.