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Uncovering Some of the History Behind the Apron

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I have officially made it as a chef! Or at least that's how I feel since my handmade Blunt Roll apron arrived. Now I don't want to get too preachy about aprons, but it all started a few months ago on Twitter. Yes, I am blaming Twitter for my juvenile behavior. A few big name chefs that I follow, like Andrew Zimmerman, were talking about their Blunt Roll aprons. They were posting pictures of these kickass, hand-made leather aprons. How did I not know about this? Why were they using them and not me? This had to change! So I did what any mature chef in my position would do. I went online and dropped $140.00 on a new apron. I didn't need a new apron, but I wanted to be one of the cool kids too. Now just to clarify, I do not know the people at Blunt Roll, and while I am giving them some well-deserved praise, this posting isn't really about them. It's about the questions their apron had me asking.

Like many chefs, I don't wear my chef's coat on TV. Nor do I wear it when I'm testing recipes. Unless I'm in a restaurant kitchen doing major production work, my chef coats don't get much use. Now aprons on the other hand, I often wear. My favorite (sorry Blunt Roll, but I'm sure you will understand) is the apron that belonged to my grandfather. It has the name of the restaurant he owned -- "College Inn Café" -- embroidered in red on the front. I keep it tucked away in its own personal drawer in my kitchen. Now that my new apron has arrived, I'm involved in a ménage à troi. I work in the kitchen with my old love and my new love by my side. Since aprons are cool again, and thankfully much hipper than grandma's old frilly and floral versions, I have been putting my Blunt Roll to good use. That thing holds pens, knives, rulers, sharpening tools. This got me wondering... if this apron does more than keep me from getting dirty in the kitchen, what did my grandfather's apron do? I began thinking about images and TV shows from the 1950s, where chefs, grocers and housewives always seemed to be wearing aprons. So I decided to do a little apron history research.

As it turns out, aprons have been around since Biblical times. In the 1930s the apron became an everyday household item. Just like today's aprons, the principal purpose was to protect the clothes underneath. But aprons were also wonderful for drying children's tears, or on occasion, even for cleaning dirty faces. Aprons were used for carrying eggs, and even fussy chickens. Shy children used them as a place to cover their faces and hide when company came. They were used to wipe the perspiration from the brow when bent over a hot stove, and were perfect for carrying kindle wood from the yard. They made a perfect basket for shelling peas, or carrying fruits and vegetables. If company showed up unexpectedly, you could dust off most of the furniture with that old apron in a matter of seconds. If a hot dish needed to come out of the oven, there was no need to search for oven mitts or a kitchen towel, the apron made a perfect pot holder.

One apron historian perfectly described the old-time apron, versus the modern culinary perspective. "It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that old apron that served so many purposes," said Arlen Evensen. "Grandma used it to set her hot baked apple pies on the windowsill to cool. Her granddaughters set theirs on the window sill to thaw. They would go crazy today trying to figure out how many germs were on that old apron. But I don't think I ever caught anything from an apron."