TT: Hot Stuff!

ALAN: Last time you promised to tell me how you learned to cook.

JANE: Unlike you and Jim, who had to learn to cook when you were adults, I learned to cook when I was a kid – all of us did, including my brother, so this wasn’t part of preparing a girl to function as a future wife and mother.

Well Used but Very Useful

To be completely honest, both my parents enjoyed cooking, so cooking was a routine part of life.

ALAN: Last time I mentioned that I learned to cook by reading recipe books and following them step by step, using practical skills that I’d picked up from my studies of chemistry.  But I would imagine that your learning experience was quite different from mine.

JANE: Not as different as you might imagine.  Mom taught us a lot of the basics, but she was determined to have us learn how to follow recipes.  I remember a slim cookbook of recipes for kids that we used.

ALAN: What sort of recipes did this include?

JANE: It’s been a long, long time, but I still remember two.  One was for cinnamon toast, and the other was for hotdogs stuffed with cheese.  Both of these involved multiple steps, as well as using the broiler setting on the oven, so they were real cooking.

Later on, my sister and I learned to make cookies and such.  We also made candy and donuts.  I can’t remember if my brother got into this, beyond the eating part.

ALAN: That’s the best part… Were you expected to help with preparing family meals as well?

JANE: Absolutely.  Each of us started with basics like making the salad, then graduated to more complicated things.  My mom wanted to go back to work and school when she had us all in school full-time, and she started planning in advance to make it possible for us to prepare some of the meals.

The first step was basic spaghetti and meat balls.  She would make the sauce in advance, but we’d make the meatballs ourselves.  This meant seasoning the meat, shaping it, browning the meatballs to the sauce, cooking the pasta, making a salad and having everything ready on time.

It says something about my mom that she thought of this as a “simple and easy” cooking job, since she’d already made the sauce (from scratch, of course).

ALAN: You said “first step.”  What about the second and subsequent steps? What were some of the other meals you learned to make?

JANE: Mom’s idea was that she would teach each of us three older kids to cook one meal.  That way, we could cover three nights if she couldn’t be home.

I was assigned pot roast.

ALAN: I use a crockpot to cook pot roasts. They take about 7 hours but boy are they yummy.

JANE: Honestly, I hate pot roast.  I like my meat at least medium rare and with texture.  Apparently, I made a great pot roast, but I always wanted to pull my share of the meat out early, before it got “ruined.”

My sister, Ann, was assigned chicken pot pie.

ALAN: I just went and looked that up because I wasn’t familiar with the term “pot pie.” I’d just call it a chicken pie… Did you make the pastry from scratch?

JANE: A while back we discussed how Brits think of pie as a savory, Americans as a sweet.  I’d guess the varied terms reflect that.

To answer your questions, yep!  Pie crust from scratch.  My mom’s idea of basic, easy cooking for kids did not involve pre-made short cuts.  But you need to understand, all of this was going on in the context of us already knowing a lot about cooking.  I made my first roast by myself when I was seven.

ALAN: A proper roast as opposed to a pot roast? At only seven years old? I’m impressed, particularly if you did all the trimmings as well.

JANE: Yep, I did.  My uncle was in town on business and my mom had invited him to dinner.  Then she twisted her ankle and needed to lie down with it elevated.  So I was directed to cook dinner.  I still remember trotting up and down the stairs to Mom’s room, to get each stage of the directions for seasoning, preparing the potatoes, and all the rest.

I liked that dinner!  Roast beef has rare parts.

ALAN: I regard roasts as simply an excuse to make lots of stock (I never buy stock, I always make my own) so I tend only to cook them when my stock of stock runs low. So to speak…

JANE: Ouch…  I make my own stock, too, and soups.   No matter how demanding her expectations were, I think Mom did things right.  All four of her kids enjoy cooking – including my brother, who is quite a good cook.  Jim and I have gone out of our way to learn a bunch of Mom’s recipes, including my great-grandmother’s spaghetti sauce, two kinds of sausage, ravioli, stuffed squid, clam and lobster sauce, and green tomato relish (my grandmother’s recipe).  And whenever we get together, we always end up cooking – sometimes traditional stuff, sometimes experiments.

ALAN: What about styles of cooking? What kind of things do you like to cook? Are there any dishes that you won’t touch with a bargepole?

JANE: Oh…  That could get complicated.  How about we leave it for next time?

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