Aprons date back to the beginning of time. The King James Version of Genesis 3:7 reads “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons”. Even today there are many who would feel naked without their apron on!
Wearing an apron has not always been a woman thing. Up until around the sixteenth century, men were the only ones to wear aprons. Blacksmiths, carvers, leather smiths, cobblers, metal forgers, fish mongers, and clock makers all found a sturdy apron was very useful for both protection and cleanliness. These aprons were typically made from leather or heavy fabrics. The color of the apron many times denoted the trade of its wearer: English barbers wore a checked pattern; butchers and porters, green; and masons, white.
Women of this time created aprons out of necessity. If you were not the few of the ruling classes, you were relegated to hard work for very little money. Clothing was hard to come by and needed to be protected. This led to the use of aprons. Aprons were cheaper to make and easier to launder than full dresses. They provided the much needed protection for valued clothing. Flipping the apron from the soiled side to the clean side also extended the time between washings for the apron.
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw waves of immigrants flooding to America and they brought their sturdy aprons with them. For any pioneer woman, homemaker, or farmer’s wife, an apron was a part of one’s dress, not just an accessory. They were something which made life easier. Women tucked their dresses into the waistband of their apron to help clear and plow the fields and then unfurled them to carry grain to feed the chickens and gather eggs. The apron served as a potholder to remove hot pans from the oven and a means for shooing flies from the table. It could also be waved from the porch as a signal that dinner was on the table—come and get it!
For women who stayed in the cities, the all-purpose apron became the uniform for the domestic, the nurse, the seamstress, or the factory worker. Women of the upper class owned aprons only as a stylish accessory upon which they leisurely practiced their skills in stitchery.
During the Depression, aprons were made from whatever cloth was available, usually from a feed or flour sack or other recycled fabric. Through WWII and the 1940”s, women would just update the aprons they already had with embroidery or a little rick-rack because providing for the war effort was more important than having a new apron.
The postwar era saw the apron flourish. Homemakers sewed their aprons from patterns created by Simplicity or McCall’s or from patterns offered by newspaper syndicates. Household appliances were giving women something they never had—free time. Many women spent this free time sewing for their homes, making their aprons a form of creative expression.
The postwar era also gave us the “hostess with the mostest” image. You know the type—Harriet Nelson who always looked perfect while keeping house, June Cleaver who vacuumed in her pearls, and the comic strip character “Blondie” who looked perfect in her little half apron and upswept hair. There were themed aprons for every holiday, fancy lace aprons for when company came, mother-daughter aprons, and daughter-dolly aprons. It was the heyday of aprons.
The liberation movements of the sixties and seventies saw women throw off their aprons and join the workforce. It was as if we were cutting the apron strings that attached us to preceding generations. The only aprons I came in contact with were the ones we made for our first year 4-H projects (which I still have!). Mom wore an apron every day, but I was a modern girl and wearing aprons was just not cool.
I am glad to say that this anti-apron movement was just temporary. Aprons are popular again. There are aprons for every occasion and aprons with witty, even sometimes crude sayings on them. Many of the most popular aprons are styled after the ones our mothers and grandmothers wore. I guess you can truly say “what goes around, comes around.”
One of my treasured pictures is of my Mamma Sims and the ladies of her Homemakers club in Cuba, KY. They are all in their aprons, gathered around a table in the cafeteria of the old Cuba school making coleslaw for the Graves County Homemakers picnic. I can imagine the conversations going on as they work. I see the pride they have in their work. It truly reflects my grandmother’s life as a farm wife and mother.
The next time you don an apron, I hope it brings back many fond memories for you.
The recipes featured this week are from Trigg County Homemakers Cook Books. Enjoy, and don’t forget to put on your apron!
For more information contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269. Information for the article was obtained from various internet sources and The Apron Book, by EllynAnne Geisel.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.
Skillet Meat Loaf
Submitted by Gay Ledford, Roaring Springs Homemakers
Sharing Recipes, 1989
1 can of condensed tomato soup
1 1⁄2 pounds ground beef
1⁄2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 egg slightly beaten
1⁄4 cup onion
1 teaspoon salt
2 slices cheese
Dash of pepper
1 tablespoon shortening
1⁄4 cup water
1⁄2 teaspoon mustard
Combine 1⁄4 cup of the soup with meat, bread crumbs, egg, onion, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Shape into two firm loaves.
In a skillet, brown loaves in shortening. Cover and simmer 25 minutes. Spoon off fat. Stir in remaining soup with mustard. Top the loaves with cheese slices. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Makes 6 servings.
Black-Eyed Pea Dip
Submitted by Margaret Crump, Ebony Twilight Homemakers
The Good Cook’s Cookbook, 1991
1 (16-oz) can black-eyed peas, drained and divided
3 green onions, chopped with tops included
1⁄2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1⁄2 cup chunky style salsa
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Reserving 1/3 cup, place peas in a blender with a steel blade. Process until smooth. Blend in onions, sour cream, and garlic salt. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in the salsa and reserved peas. Garnish with the bacon. Serve with chips or raw vegetables. Makes 2 1⁄2 cups.
Sour Cream Peach Cake
Submitted by Sharon Allison, Cumberland Shores Homemakers
From Our Kitchen to Yours, 2002
1 package orange cake mix
1 (21-oz.) can peach pie filling
1⁄2 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 ̊F. Mix all ingredients in an ungreased 9 x 13 x 2-inch pan with fork, scraping corners frequently, until moistened. Stir batter vigorously for 1 minute with fork; scrape sides down with rubber spatula. Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until top springs back when touched lightly in center. Cool. Loosen cake from sides; cut and serve directly from the pan. Makes 15-20 pieces.