To be a good cook,it helps to look like one

I'd never had one of my own. The time had come. So last Christmas season, I dropped hints here and there.

Sure enough: My sister gave me one.

And I love it.

Although it's not technically a garment - rather, a shield for other garments - I dare say my apron is every bit as stylish as some designer dresses I've met. The jaunty jib of my modern, chef-style bib is nothing new in itself. Kitchen aprons have long been decorative as well as functional. But like fashions, both their styles and sources have evolved.

The sans-bodice apron my grandmother wore was simply a gathered swath of fabric stitched to a band and then tied around the waist. Even Grandma's decorative "Sunday" apron, constructed of fine white cotton and trimmed with lace, was as homemade as her potato pancakes.

Perhaps it was precisely because she had sewn it herself that she cared for it as lovingly as the Sunday best it adorned. Once I even saw her tie a faded old apron over this decorative one when she was summoned into our kitchen to repair the frosting on her chocolate layer cake. (It had been dented accidentally by my sister and me, but that's another story.)

My own new apron, on the other hand, was doubtless ordered from an upscale culinary catalog, not whipped up on a treadle-powered home sewing machine. Still, it prompts memories of playing dress-up with my mother's apron when I was small.

I wore hers, sarong-style, over my clothes. The strings were cinched under my arms and then tied in a bow at the front. I thought my ersatz "evening gown" was elegant, indeed, despite its noisy black-and-white stripes overprinted with a tumble of huge, rosy apples. (It was as if a fruit basket had been spilled onto a piano keyboard and someone had reproduced the mishap on fabric.)

That apron later served as a cape during what my sister remembers as my "royalty phase." As a preteen queen, holding court over her, I waved and flapped my mother's apron strings like limp scepters to underscore my imperiously issued, if largely unheeded, commands.

But the primary reason I requested my own apron last December, after having cooked for nearly a quarter century without one, was not a yearning for yesteryear's costumery. The simple fact was that I'd finally bespotted one "good" garment too many.

The first time I wore my new apron, I twirled around for my husband, fishing for a compliment, asking if he didn't agree that it flattered me. (He was hungry. What could he say?)

Now, after nearly a year, I find myself wearing my new apron as much to court a cooking frame of mind as to protect my clothing.

As I don it, it enfolds me in a light embrace. Its Italian-style print of coppery pears and purplish berries on olive-green canvas enhances my attitude toward food preparation during even my humblest culinary efforts.

With its straight tunic style, adjustable neck strap, and simple sash, it's just my style, just my size.

Best of all, I can tuck a book or a letter in its large, flat, kangaroo-pouch pocket and skim a few pages while the pasta simmers its way to al dente. For in fact, I'm a distracted cook, one whose meals, like my grandmother's, run more to comfort food than haute cuisine.

Even so, I've discovered that a pinch of haute couture can make meal preparation a more festive occasion. What's more, between meals my apron hangs cheerfully on a wall hook, brightening our kitchen like a full-fledged item of decor.

For that reason, when I'm wearing it, I'm careful not to press my olive-oily palms against it. And I've grown studious about standing back from the stove or counter, lest it get splotched by bubbling chili or splattered by muffin batter.

Perhaps I've even grown a bit too fond of my apron. For I'm beginning to think that, like my grandmother decades ago, I need another, "everyday" apron to wear over this one.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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