My trip to Chicago for Thanksgiving featured any number of family heirlooms — my grandmother and I went through a boatload of old family photos from the turn of the century, including piles of heartbreaking condolence letters received when her grandparents went down on the Lusitania, and a whole album of her own baby pictures (naked baby granny playing on the farm was pretty adorable). And then my mother gave me not only my great-grandmother’s silver flatware (more about that later) but this aluminum roaster.
I love this roaster. The very first thing I remember learning to cook for myself was pot roast in this very pot. I was in seventh grade, and Mom had gone to work as a travel agent. I remember coming home from school and calling Mom so she could talk me through how to make a pot roast. I was so proud of myself as I chopped up carrots and onions, then put them in this big pot with the meat (we always liked the 7-blade chuck roasts with the bones but we were always broke those years, so we bought whatever was big and was cheap). Then a packet of Lipton Instant Onion Soup Mix, a can of tomatoes, and a can of beef broth. In the oven at 350 until Mom came home from work and we had dinner.
I’ve written before about the restorative power of pot roast, it was pot roast that saw me through bereavement. And it was pot roast that my dear friend Nina cooked that first night while we waited for everyone to show up at my house. “We need meat,” she said after I’d managed to get through to my father in Europe. ‘What?” I asked. Meat? Wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, frankly. “There will be people coming over,” Nina said shooing me down my front steps. “You’re be sitting shivva — I mean, you’re not Jewish but it’s the same thing. We need meat.” So we went to the Albertsons, where I stood somewhat stunned in the florescent glare and Nina, who is married to a very large man, bought enough meat and vegetables for two pot roasts (and a pack of cigarettes — the emergency clause covered cigarettes). We picked at those pot roasts the whole week, and it’s still the first thing I cook when I’m feeling blue, or winter descends, or I just want to feed my loved ones something warm and beefy that I know will make it all better. I don’t make it with Lipton onion soup mix any more, but I’m just so thrilled to have the big pot roast pot that feels like home.