The subject of learning to cook came up the other day as Paul and I were planning our menu for a short camping trip in the Nicola Region. After all this time, we still have to fight the urge to prepare for every contingency either of us can think of, even though we are usually no more than half an hour from a grocery store.
Breakfast possibilities arose first. In the past I have brought a dry mix and just added water or milk. With fruit or syrup, it makes a decent pancake. For no reason, my mind wandered to grade seven home economics class at Melrose Junior High School now part of Miles Macdonell High School. The teacher was a formidable woman who had Olympian expectations for us twelve year olds. By all that is holy, if it was the last thing she would ever do, it would be to transform us into gold medal-winning chefs of the highest international calibre.
Teacher began with the lowly baking powder biscuit. I expect it is called something else by now but never mind… I still remember the emphasis on texture, the recommended size of drinking glass to be carefully floured and used to cut the perfect circles of perfectly kneaded dough which were then carefully lifted with a spatula and slid onto a spotless baking sheet ever so gently so as to retain the perfect circle shape. Then, we were to place the baking sheet into the oven on the middle shelf and bake at 375 fahrenheit (this was even before metric!) for 28 minutes.
We innocents waited the allotted time, perspiration pouring down our prepubescent foreheads. In my shadowy memory what follows is a blur but I seem to remember something about failing miserably due to the lack of rising to the proper size.
Our next traumatic experience was with white sauce. By now Teacher had made it clear that this was probably our last chance to redeem ourselves. No decent man would ever want to marry a young lady who couldn’t make baking powder biscuits or white sauce.
A couple of us hadn’t really given that idea much thought yet but in a vague way it started a tight little ball of anxiety festering in our hearts.
As you probably have experienced yourself, there is just nothing on earth that can destroy confidence like a grand failure followed by an even more intimidating challenge which is accompanied by a threat of free floating, unnamed doom. Downcast and defeated, we began the white sauce debacle. Like automatons marching to the cliff of certain failure, we put the butter in the pan over low heat, added the salt and flour and mixed the ingredients together with a spoon. Cruelly, Teacher ignored us. It would have been kinder if she had loomed over us with her whisk and criticized. Disheartened, we added the milk much too quickly and to our horror watched gloppy lumps form, cementlike in colour and texture. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t unstick them. I have no recollection of what happened after that. I do know that somehow, we all passed and switched to sewing class.
I myself took a seven year side-trip whereby I swore off boys and rode horses instead. They didn’t seem to be too fussy about my cooking ability as long as I flung hay into the manger and rattled a can with a handful of oats for a snack.
When my horse phase was over, I took up cooking on my own terms. I learned to make a mean lasagna, great Irish stew and the most amazing lemon merengue pie ever. And, I eventually found my decent man who really enjoys my cooking!