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Potboilers collective kitchen specializes in friendship

The wrong cheese for manicotti. No raisins for the bran muffins­—and did anyone add the bran? (Photo by Melani Litwack)

The wrong cheese for manicotti. No raisins for the bran muffins­—and did anyone add the bran? (Photo by Melani Litwack)

It’s 9:30 on a Wednesday morning and I’m standing, somewhat bleary-eyed, outside a big kitchen as five women prepare for a very busy morning.

By noon there will be a huge pot of orange-carrot soup, pans of manicotti, containers of bran muffin batter and two huge apple crisps cooling on the counters, but at the moment things are looking a little chaotic. It’s a familiar chaos—for many years I was a fellow Potboiler.

In 1997, as a young mother and a new member of the Unitarian Church, I was looking for something to do and the chance to socialize while I pursued one of my favourite hobbies, cooking. I was the baby of our group—a good 20 years younger than everyone else—and I loved those mornings. We’d talk about anything and everything—news, books, gardening, travel … topics were never in short supply. Being back this morning is a treat for all that I’m on the wrong side of the counter.

The Potboilers is a collective kitchen, one of the two at the church.

Members have been meeting once a month for 16 years to cook large batches of food. Recipes are chosen with an eye toward meals that can be frozen, but my share never lasted long enough to make it to the freezer—usually it was eaten the same day. At the end of the day’s session, the food and bills are divided among the participants.

There are nine Potboilers but only five could be there this morning.

Patricia is the youngest at 69 and Joan the oldest at 90 and a half. Carol, Peg and Irene fall between.

Each of the five Potboilers bring home this amount of food.

Each of the five Potboilers bring home this amount of food.

Many hands make light work and the chance to cook with a community is one of the biggest draws for members. Not everyone keeps the food—Irene moved into a residence in 2012 and donates her share—usually to a sick friend or a member of the group who couldn’t attend.

Patricia brought muffins and distributes them before settling in to peel several pounds of apples. Joan has a pile of parsley to chop, Peg is shredding carrots in the food processor with help from Carol, and Irene is measuring the cheese for the manicotti filling. Everyone has a muffin and a cup of coffee but enjoying them is going to have to wait.

Little hiccups: the wrong cheese for the manicotti, not enough flour and no raisins for the bran muffins (and did anyone add the bran?). Substitutions are made. Irene saves the muffin batter when she realizes that what they thought was flour was really potato starch. A phone call is made to Carol’s husband, Frank, who picks up flour and raisins.

At noon, the last pans are in the oven (which has been misbehaving all morning) and everyone sits down for a bowl of soup, some of Frank’s delicious bread and a well-deserved break.

By 2 pm the pots, pans and bowls are scrubbed and put away, the accounts settled and next month’s recipes and shopping planned. Containers are loaded into bags and everyone goes on their way—until next time.

Potboilers Carol (from left), Irene, Patricia, Joan and Peg enjoy lunch together. (Photo by Melani Litwack)

Potboilers Carol (from left), Irene, Patricia, Joan and Peg enjoy lunch together. (Photo by Melani Litwack)

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