Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Cooking Class

"Remember when we had cooking class? Mom had a friend of hers come over and teach us how to cook. It was you and me, and our friends Sue and Nancy, I think."

This must have been about the time we had cooking class, 1959
I was 8 and Judy would have been almost 7
I had forgotten all about it until recently when my sister Judy mentioned it on the phone. But as we talked, I began to recall those after-school classes. It was pretty exciting stuff! I must have been about 8 or 9 years old, and Judy was a year or so younger.

Class began at 4:00pm. We put on our aprons and waited for the lady to come. Who was she? I cannot remember at all. Maybe it was the lady we called Aunt Helen, although she wasn't our aunt. We had a lot of "aunts" and "uncles" who weren't real relations, probably to make up to us the lack of family living close to us.

I can remember only two things we made in class. One was Floating Island. It was a thin custard, made with egg yolks, and the whites were whipped into meringue and dropped by spoonfuls on top--uncooked. It was delicious. Today's recipes for this treat are updated to include cooking the meringue, I have found, but I've never tried to make them. I wonder if they have the same wonderful lightness and taste?

We also learned to make an appetizer. This one was made with saltine crackers, buttered and then sprinkled with a variety of toppings and placed under the broiler just briefly, enough to melt the butter and hold the toppings in place. The toppings were simple: I remember poppy seed, sesame seed, and some sprinkled with paprika. They were very tasty, although our Dad commented that they were still just crackers and why all the work?

I wonder if cooking class was where we made baked meringues? Maybe so. And cakes? We used to make cakes for every family birthday, and with 13 siblings eventually and Mom and Dad that was a lot of cakes. I can't recall if we learned to make them and the buttercream icing in class, or if Mom taught us. I think, however, it was something we did in class.

Judy and I did a lot of cooking as young girls. Besides the cakes, we sometimes made cookies, and as we got older and Mom's health began to give her trouble we often took over making dinner for the family. The year I was 13 Mom went away to a health facility for a while, and was sick a lot of the year while she was carrying our youngest sister, so Judy and I alternated taking days off from school to take care of Mom and our home.

It was a lot for such young girls, I now realize, but we never really thought about it at the time. And both of us maintained good grades in school. Today, of course, such absences would not be allowed but in those days parents had the right to keep children out of school as needed.

I smile thinking back to the cooking school. Maybe Mom knew she was going to need us in just a few short years. Maybe when she was young someone came to give her cooking lessons. I don't know, but I do know that those early experiences developed in me a love of cooking that has lasted a lifetime.

And Judy and I still cook together at least once a year, when my sisters and I get together to make fruitcakes. We wear aprons when we do that, too! Judy on the left, me in the middle, taken at the fruitcake bake in 2013 at our sister Mary's home.

I looked online for a Floating Island recipe, and found this one on It sounds very close to the recipe we used, with the exception of cooking the meringue.

Floating Island

3 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Separate two of the eggs. 
  2. In top of double boiler, combine 1 whole egg and 2 yolks with 1/4 cup sugar and the salt, whisking until smooth. 
  3. Whisk in the milk and cook over simmering water, stirring constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon. 
  4. When the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat. (Do not boil. If custard should start to curdle, remove from heat and beat vigorously until smooth.) 
  5. Pour the custard through a strainer into a bowl and stir in the vanilla extract. 
  6. Cool and refrigerate.
  1. In a heat-proof bowl, lightly whisk the 2 egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, just enough to dissolve the sugar. 
  2. Place the bowl on top of a pot of simmering water and stir constantly until the temperature of the whites reaches 145 degrees F (63 C) or hotter. 
  3. Immediately remove the bowl from the heat, and use an electric mixer to beat the warm egg whites until they form stiff, glossy peaks.
  4. Pour the chilled custard into a serving dish. Drop the meringue by heaping tablespoons onto the custard to make islands. Chill before serving.

  1.  Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Brighid said...

Great story! I too had cooking class. I don't remember cooking much as a little girl, always outside with the critters.
Then I took cooking, canning and freezing class from a terrific 4-H leader. A wonderful lady that had no children of her own, she spread her knowledge to all the kids around.

Susan Anderson said...

Such a neat tradition of getting together every year to make fruitcakes. Love that.


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