Do you remember when you first learned to cook?
If you are like me, the learning took place over quite a few years, beginning as a child of about nine when my sister Judy and I began experimenting with making desserts. We had helped our mother make Christmas cookies and fruitcake but that summer we wanted to try cooking all by ourselves. We made Floating Islands first as I recall, a thin, pale yellow custard with a dob of meringue floating on top and sprinkled with nutmeg. We then learned to make meringues, whipping eggs whites and sugar to stiff peaks, adding vanilla and food coloring and baking them to a golden brown. We went on to make cakes, scones and cookies before we became teenagers and our training took a new turn: cooking meals for our very large family of 13 children.
Today such absence from school would not be tolerated but back then in the 1960's no one objected much. We kept our grades up, making the honor roll so I suppose there was no reason for concern. I remember that I missed over 40 days of school that year as I learned instead some complicated home management.
When I married at 17, I thought I knew how to cook but I soon discovered that cooking for 15 and cooking for two are vastly different. My recipes were mostly inexpensive, hearty, and used very little meat because meat was expensive and Mom had taught us to make the most of any meat we used. My first husband, on the other hand, was Texas-raised and thought a meal meant meat, potatoes and an optional vegetable. I learned to broil steaks, fry chicken and bake potatoes. I tried making my first pies, using a piecrust mix and instant pudding, and found a recipe for something called Bavarian that used Cool Whip and Jello. I puttered around my tiny pre-World War II apartment in Fairlington, Virginia and loved the view from its window, overlooking huge oaks and the winding road up which my husband would travel on his way home.
Fine Old Old New England Recipes, and found a recipe for bean soup. Believe it or not, I do not remember ever having eaten any kind of bean soup except split pea. I followed the recipe and made the soup. The heavenly aroma filled the kitchen and spilled out the door into the soft spring air. That same day, I attempted my first fruit pie--apple. This time I did not use packaged pie crust mix--my cookbook had a recipe for making pastry and a recipe for Deep Dish Apple Pie.
Both recipes worked. When my husband came home I spread a cloth over a table on the porch and we ate our dinner where we could smell the sweet blossoms on our plum tree (that never had any plums) and enjoy the greening of the world around us. I remember the spicy sweet smell of the pie and the rich heartiness of the soup.
I also remember how very happy I was on that day in my kitchen, wearing my apron and following the recipes so carefully as I mixed and rolled and chopped and baked. I remember the pretty curtains I had hand-sewn, fluttering in the breeze coming in the kitchen window. But mostly I remember the feeling of supreme satisfaction at having successfully made such good food all by myself. I was hooked at the moment on cooking from scratch and I have never left that path. It was no historic day; no one but me probably remembers the pie or the soup and yet it is one that stays in my memory as golden moment, a treasured memory of scents and sights and contentment.
That is how I learned to cook. How about you? Do you remember your early cooking experiences?
Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.