Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Did You Learn to Cook?

This was the question posed by Phyllis Pellman Good, the speaker at our women's retreat recently.

I love thinking about this as I have two children I want to teach how to cook.

1.  I recall "home ec" in eighth grade - learning the difference between liquid and dry measures.

2.  I made cookies and bar cookies a lot in high school, very successfully;  I also distinctly remember the time I rooted through my mother's spice cupboard and dumped all kinds of things on potatoes as I fried them.  They tasted different and better.

3.  I was a "salad bar attendant" at a local restaurant when I was 16, and that involved making broccoli salad and some other stuff I can't remember; I was learning how to chop, measure, and combine savory things, not just cookies.

4.  I bought myself a More with Less when I was in my first apartment in college and cooked a bit with my housemate from the Virgin Islands; I remember my astonishment when she made yeast bread and dumped in water until it "felt right."  I had never seen someone make bread, let alone by feel. From then on, I was deeply captivated by cooking and baking.

But I do not recall being instructed in the basics at home, although I'm certain my mother must have taught me because I learned how to make cookies somehow.

(Posts where I show my children learning in the kitchen:  dumplings, chopping mushrooms, peeling eggs, and Christmas cookies.)

I'd love to hear how you learned to cook and how you plan to - or do - teach the youngsters in your life.


Jennifer Jo said...

Excellent pictures to go with an excellent post!

I learned to cook by watching Mom and working alongside her. I sold pie crusts when I was nine, cakes when I was in high school, and (also in high school) worked in a church friend's kitchen doing all of her Christmas baking for her one year.

That said, I don't often let my kids in the kitchen with me, but when I do, they move quite naturally. I think their confidence comes from watching me day in and day out. They just know.

ThyHandHathProvided said...

I'm the oldest of five and we didn't have much money growing up, so everything was made from scratch. Being the oldest, Mom often gave me assignments to whip up the baked goods she needed. They were as much a part of my chores as dusting and cleaning the bathroom.

The problem I have with letting my kids help right now is that when one pulls up a chair the younger (one or two) cries and begs to help, too, and it becomes a struggle. I long for the day when they all exhibit a bit more patience when it comes to taking turns.

Naptime Seamstress said...

I had home ec in middle and high school, too. But I mostly learned to cook when I lived on my own, after finishing college. I ate lots of Hamburger Helper!!! I really learned to cook after I married.

My mom tried to teach me to cook, but I was so not interested in that - I had school, homework, piano lessons, books to read, friends to see, etc.

One thing I like about homeschooling our daughters is that they will learn to cook while young.

Attila said...

I learned in high school; an old fashioned girls school (UK) in the late 70's. What we cooked seemed crazy at the time, but later I realised that we learned techniques that meant we could cook just about anything from a recipe book or make up our own. I can't remember everything but a prime example is bread; when I left home, I had the confidence to try pizza, making the base from scratch. Sausage rolls with shortcrust pastry translated into quiches and pies. Cakes made with the rubbing in method or beating butter and sugar then flour/eggs. A pineapple meringue where egg yolk went in the roux sauce and the white made the meringue (my best friend and I drank the syrup from the tinned pineapple and then found it was needed for the sauce!)

Christian @ Modobject at Home said...

I love that last photo!

My mom always welcomed me in the kitchen if I wanted to join her and I cooked a bit in college, but, really, truly, how I've learned to cook is just working it out on my own... reading cookbooks, following recipes, improvising. I still have a lot to learn.

I *try* to welcome my own children in the kitchen, but sometimes the threat of a mess hinders me.

Deanna Beth said...

What a great question! I was all set to answer that I learned everything at my mother's elbow and was expecting that that would be your answer, too. But, reading your post, I realized all the other places that shaped me into a cook, too.

I took Home Ec. in jr. high. I entered Foods projects in 4H. In jr. high/high school, Mom had a job that required her to work until 6:00 PM on Tuesdays and she often had me prepare the evening meal on that day. I got lots of praise for it and it made me feel confident.

At the end of high school and during vacations from college, I worked in the kitchen of a retirement home and worked with expert cooks of the Mennonite persuasion. I felt more than equipped to start work in my own kitchen when I married.

BLD in MT said...

While I took a home-ec class I don't remember it at all. I learned basically all I know from my ever patient partner. Before he came along I made things out of boxes and tried my best to not burn everything...which I always did. Over the years I have gone from hating and avoiding to thoroughly enjoying whipping things up in the kitchen.

I was frustrated for a long time because he is a "til it feels/looks/smells right" type chef. It took me a while to realize that recipes are just an idea...you don't have to actually follow it to the letter.

What an interesting discussion.

Polly said...


My paternal grandmother taught me to make brownies....from a box! My single mother mom had little time to cook, so I was expert at ordering off a menu (no fast food....). Suffice to say I didn't learn to cook in my youth.

I'm not sure how I learned, but it had to do with what Julia child said--if you can read, you can cook. Recipes. In college I taught myself how to make pancakes, brown rice, beans, veggie stirfries. After I married I cooked through a Martha Stewart book & never really liked cooking until I stopped relying on recipes ALL the time and just learned technique.

I guess my children will just learn by doing...my 3 year old already helps with food prep pretty regularly (baking, making curry) so I suppose we'll just continue!

Tracy said...

I grew up cooking. It started when I was under 10, and my mother decorated cakes to sell out of our home. It was my job to mix the icing. I started baking, then cooking. There were a few home ec classes along the way, but in reality, they frustrated me because I was always in trouble for forging ahead instead of waiting to be directed by the teacher. Still, I always received an A.

My own children are very comfortable in our kitchen, and can cook very well. I learned long ago, that as soon as they were of an appropriate age to hand them a recipe and leave the room. Being a perfectionist, if I were watching, it made them too nervous to enjoy the process.


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