Toria Gibbs learned everything she knows about baking from her grandmother, Audrey Clarke. With Grandma Clarke’s recipe box in hand, Toria will attempt to bake (and cook) every recipe in the box.
Audrey Clarke (née Bell) was born in Regina, Saskatchewan on July 14, 1929. She was the daughter of Bert and Augusta Bell and the youngest of three children: Grace was 9 years older than Audrey and Claire (a brother) was another 9 years older than that! In 1939, Audrey and her parents packed up everything they could fit into their car and drove to Stouffville (pronounced STOW-ville), Ontario.
Bert and Augusta opened up a shop on Main Street on top of the Stouffville Creek (for the Stouffvillites following along, today it would fall between the Baptist Church and the gazebo). Augusta ran a fish & chip shop in the front while Bert sold farming tools and equipment in the back. Audrey spent a large part of her childhood in the chip shop, although it was her Grandma Magee, not her mother, who taught Audrey to bake.
In 1950, an Irish immigrant named Les Clarke was recruited to play hockey for the Stouffville Clippers (now the Stouffville Spirit), but there was one small catch: the Ontario Hockey Association requires that players reside, at least part time, in the towns for which they play (a rule which still stands today). It was Bert Bell, Audrey’s father, who opened up his home to Les… and the rest, as they say, is history.
Les and Audrey were married on July 5, 1952. They had three children: Susan, Colleen, and Mike. They bought a house on Lloyd Street which remained in the family for over 50 years. The kids were always welcome in the kitchen on Lloyd Street. They learned how to measure, sift, mix, roll, dollop, and bake.
As a young child, I had no idea that you could buy cookies at the store. I’d never seen packaged cookies and never tasted one until I started school!
Colleen Clarke, daughter
Audrey is most well known for her apple pie and her chocolate chip cookies. Her family estimates that she has baked over 100,000 chocolate chip cookies in her lifetime. She also frequently baked oatmeal, peanut butter, and shortbread cookies. She liked to make peach and pineapple upside-down cakes. In addition to apple pie, she also made rhubarb (with rhubarb from the garden), raspberry, lemon meringue, and butterscotch pies. Chocolate fudge and butter tarts were more rare, but very much enjoyed.
Toria Gibbs had the pleasure of growing up with her grandparents at the house on Lloyd Street. She came home to the smell of freshly baked goods every day and she got to know her grandmother in a way that young people don’t, these days. Grandma told stories of childhood friends and growing up in the chip shop. She favoured Latin class at school and she adored her brother, Claire. Her nickname was Ding (as in, Ding Dong Bell).
Audrey passed on April 9, 2016 after fighting a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, a neurodegenerative illness that attacks the memory. Les also suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away in 2005. The Clarke family sold the house on Lloyd Street in 2008. As the family’s most promising apprentice to Grandma Clarke, Toria took ownership of her recipe box. In this blog, Toria will document her baking successes (and failures) and share recipes as she works her way through Audrey’s Recipe Box.