A little boy was watching his mum prepare the Christmas ham and he notices her carefully cut a hunk off both ends of the meat. “Why do you that, mum?” he asked.
“I don’t know”, his mum replied frowning. “That’s what my mum did. Let’s go ask Nana why she cuts the ends off”. And so they did. “Mum, why did you cut the ends of the Christmas ham?”
“I don’t know, that’s how my mum used to do it”. So both women went and asked great-grandmother why the ham needed its ends chopped off. Great-nana laughed saying, “We couldn’t afford a bigger pan. Chopping off the ends was the only way to get it into the oven”. This wonderful story shows us that we should never blindly follow all instructions. We can ask questions and we should. Asking questions helps us to keep learning through our lives, including when we are in the kitchen.
Cooking and baking both occur in the kitchen yet are very different activities. Cooking is preparing and whipping up meals like the Sunday roast. Baking means preparing amazing pastries, cakes and deserts. I learned to cook and bake as part of year seven and eight school lessons. The girls got to sew and cook while the boys did metalwork and woodwork. I am grateful I am woman. Learning to sew an apron, make scrambled eggs, scones and apple pie has helped me in life much more than making a metal belt buckle or a book shelf would have. These basic lessons equipped us girls with life skills to understand different ingredients, follow a recipe and to clean up after ourselves. In hindsight, maybe the boys should have done some sewing and cooking classes. Maybe if I had sat through some woodwork and metalwork tuition, I wouldn’t be so woefully technically inept today.
One of my Saturday morning chores from age twelve was to fill the baking tins for the coming week and, by the time I left home at eighteen, I was a great baker. Magnificent chocolate eclairs and fairy light Pavlovas were not a problem for me. This was a very good thing because, in New Zealand, unless a young women could produce a fantastic Pavlova, it was rumoured they would never find a man to marry her. Not even out of pity. Pavlova or pass her.
However, my cooking skills when I left home were ordinary at best. Sweet treats do not make a meal, no matter how lovely they are. My mum always prepared the evening meal and I filled the tins. Two women cooking in the same kitchen is one too many. For food chores, I would peel potatoes and carrots, top and tail green beans and slice tomatoes and mushrooms. That was where it stopped. No popping peas into pots and boiling them for me. I was able to bake like a fiend but couldn’t boil a potato or grill a lamb chop to save myself. The only cooking skill I had learned was how to fry eggs on the irons in our boarding school laundry. A bit messy and ineffective, but it was so naughty, it didn’t matter that the eggs were inedible. Do not try this at your house. It was so annoying when my white school blouses came out unwrinkled but covered in yellow yolk spots due to another girl’s frying attempts.
The Edmonds Cookbook became my constant cooking companion after I almost burned down my first flat. I was trying to grill a lamb chop at 250 degrees Celsius because I had heard somewhere you had to grill food on the highest heat level. I am grateful that in New Zealand, it is almost a rite of passage to gift this book when a young adult turns eighteen. I had to learn to cook or starve and this book contains basic cooking skills allowing the budding chef to create something simple and amazing.
You do not need a lot of expensive equipment to start in the kitchen and a good recipe book will tell you what is required. A visit to your local second-hand shop might save you some hard-earned cash. I recently picked up a new copy of Jamie Oliver’s “30-Minute Meals Recipes”, usually sold for around thirty to forty dollars. The book cost me four dollars. The book’s inscription read ‘To You, thanks for your many years of service to our company”. Obviously, that retiree wasn’t into cooking but I was delighted.
Have fun while learning to cook and those stress levels may reduce. Cooking and baking requires effort, time and patience but experimenting with different techniques and recipes is so exciting. What you make and the methods you use can be as simple or complicated as you want. Your health may improve as you prepare delicious and healthy food with only ingredients you want to include. Home cooking is cheaper than eating out and, if you make mistakes, no one is hurt. You just throw the waste out and start again. You may decide to take classes to meet new people to learn to cook meals, decorate cakes, make biscuits or let your imagination run amok in speciality cuisines. A great new hobby opens to you as you enjoy the present moment showcasing your new talents to friends and family.
I often wonder with today’s takeaway convenience, if the next generation will have sufficient life skills to cook a meal for themselves. It is up to the current generation to make sure cooking and baking skills continue to exist. I learned, and continue to learn, new and exciting ways to prepare food.
Do something different and learn to cook and bake.