Chatting with Miriyummy: Irmgard Upmanis
Meet Irmgard Upmanis. I first “met” Irmgard in 2003 when she joined Recipezaar. She quickly became an active member with some yummy recipes. We chatted on site, we chatted off site, we became Facebook friends, and when I started up Miriyummy Irmgard was one of my very first readers. I can always depend on her for a good joke. After over 20 years of getting email jokes (I got the Mrs. Field’s cookie story/recipe just last week, for the 23,697th time!), Irmgard always manages to find a new one to send me.
Anyone who posts a recipe for Nutella Banana Bread is worth meeting, right?
Introduce yourself. Who are you, what are you, why are you?
My name is Irmgard Upmanis. I am 56 years old, a wife, mother, sister, cousin, niece, and school secretary. I am a first generation Canadian, the daughter of European immigrants. Both of my parents came to Canada in 1939, for very different reasons. My father’s family was from Gelsenkirchen in Germany and they left their home under cloak of darkness the night that Hitler got elected chancellor of Germany. It wasn’t just the Jews that Hitler had it in for. He also hated trade unionists and my grandfather, who was a coal miner, was very involved in his union. Had my dad’s family stayed in Germany, Opa would have ended up in a camp and the rest of the family would have suffered as well. They moved to the Sudentenland, where they lived for 5 years, then they moved on temporarily to Poland and from there, to England, always one step ahead of the Nazis. My dad’s family lost everything they owned 3 times. Once they got to England, they applied to immigrate to Canada. Upon docking in Halifax, N.S., they were put on a train for western Canada and worked on a farm in northern British Columbia for 3 years, after which time they could go wherever they wanted to. They wound up in northern Alberta in a town called Bruderheim, which was mostly populated by German immigrants like themselves.
Mom’s family arrived in Canada under very different circumstances. Mom was born in Kowal, which at the time of her birth was in Poland but after the war with the redrawing of boundaries, it wound up in Ukraine. She was a change of life baby, the youngest of 12 of whom only 4 survived to adulthood. Her parents were poor farmers who lived hand to mouth. Mom’s oldest sister, my aunt Naya, died at 30 years old from appendicitis because they couldn’t afford a doctor and they thought it was just a stomach ache. Her second oldest sister, my aunt Anna, immigrated to Canada with her husband in 1924, right after he finished his service in the Polish military. They settled in northern Alberta in the village of Plamondon, where they raised a family of 4 boys and 3 girls. In 1939, Baba and Gido decided to reunite their remaining family and applied to come to Canada. Since Aunt Anna was already here, it was easy for them to get papers to come over, so Mom, my grandparents, my aunt Aleksandra, her husband and their 3 children made the trek over the ocean. The lot of them lived in a one room cabin on Aunt Anna’s farm. Eventually Aunt Aleksandra and Uncle Bill got their own farm, which was a good thing because they had 5 more kids after they arrived in Canada! Mom left school at 16 and worked for a wealthy Irish-Canadian farmer who had 16 kids. With a family of that size, his wife needed help preparing meals and doing laundry, which is what my mom did and this job led to her meeting my dad. He was the manager of the local Co-Op store where Mom went to pick up the weekly grocery order. Dad took a shine to Mom right off the bat but because he was 18 years older and not Ukrainian, Baba, who was by now a widow, was reluctant to give her approval. However, Dad was well respected in the community and eventually, Baba said yes, Mom could marry him. Mom was only 20 and in Alberta at the time, you had to have parental permission to marry if you were under 21. They were married on June 4, 1949, and a year later, they decided to move to Toronto, Ontario, where all of us kids were born. Dad’s parents and his 2 brothers followed the next year and my uncles met their wives in Toronto, where there is a thriving German community to this day.
Where do you live, and why?
Right now, I live in Scarborough, which is the extreme east end of Toronto. I love my neighbourhood due to its proximity to Lake Ontario. We can drive to the beach in 2 minutes. We have beautiful parks nearby and it is more like a small town here than part of a big city.
What is your family like?
My husband is a good guy who works with special needs kids by day and indulges in his many hobbies by night, such as photography, computers, model trains and slot car racing. Our daughter spends time with us when she can but she has a very busy social life, as well as working long hours at her job, which is managing a tanning salon. I don’t see my siblings as often as I’d like. My sister lives in Athens, Greece, and my brother and his wife, although they live in the same city as I do, have 3 kids and they are busy with their school and extra-curricular activities. My sister-in-law also doesn’t like people dropping by unannounced so if we want to see them, we pretty much have to book a time that is convenient for her.
What is your relationship with food? Do you like to cook?
I have always liked food and food, unfortunately, likes me back. I really have to watch what I eat because I gain weight easily. I am quite proud that I recently went on a 7 day cruise and I didn’t gain any extra pounds because I was very careful about what I took at the buffet; lots of lean meat and veggies and I chose the desserts that looked the least fattening. We had breakfast delivered to our stateroom every day so I wasn’t tempted to overeat in the morning, just juice, yogurt, cereal, a croissant with jam and coffee with skim milk. I do like to cook, but I was a late bloomer in that regard. It was only after I had to cook for my husband that I started getting interested. I started baking, however, when I was 12 and found very early that I had a gift for it. Apart from one loaf of bread that I had to toss once because it came out as hard as a stone, nothing I bake goes to waste.
What is your first food-related memory?
I have memories from a very young age of my mom turning her kitchen every fall into a mini cannery. She and Dad would make one or two pilgrimages to the Niagara Escarpment area, where they would buy bushels of stone fruit and pears from the local farmers. For many days and sometimes nights afterwards, they would be busy blanching, peeling and slicing fruit to put up in jars for the winter. The kitchen floor would be sticky from sugar syrup that accidentally got spilled while filling jars. Mom also made pickles and pickled beets, sometimes stewed tomatoes. The house would be like a sauna from the constantly going stove but we sure ate well during the winter!
How would you describe yourself in the kitchen? As a host/hostess?
How I feel about cooking depends on my mood. Sometimes I look for something quick and easy to feed my hungry husband, while other times I will spend 3 or 4 hours on meal preparation, but this is usually for Sunday dinner or if guests are coming. Speaking of guests, I will spend days cooking before a party. No one ever leaves one of my functions hungry or thirsty!
What is your favorite comfort food and why?
I love ice cream and can eat it every day! Ice cream always makes me feel better.
Desert island picks, name three foods you could not live without:
Dark chocolate, Brie, and red wine! [Sounds like the perfect meal to me! — Miriyummy]
I don’t like oysters. Even when they’re cooked, they feel like slime in my mouth.
I love your stories about your parents. So much of what you say about your parents rings true about my parents as well!
Once I baked a huge batch of bran muffins to take to work and share with my colleagues. It is a tradition in elementary schools for each staff member to bring goodies for the rest of the staff on Fridays. Anyway, unbeknownst to me, the principal had brought in food for the staff and she told me to take my muffins back home. My freezer was full and I didn’t know what I was going to do with 4 dozen bran muffins. A lot of the students at that school came from poor homes and didn’t have enough to eat so I decided to pass out the majority and just keep back a few to take home. Well, those kids were swarming around me like flies around a manure pile! One of the teachers wasn’t very happy with me as I didn’t have enough for everyone but what could I do? Anyway, the following Monday, one of the kids, who had to come to the office for a late slip, said to me, “Mrs. Upmanis, you have the best buns!” I’m sure he meant muffins so that made my day.
Hopefully one day Irmgard and I will meet in person, and I hope she brings some of the Nutella Banana Bread with her, yum!