When I do any historic open-fire cooking, I can deftly mix up a batch of biscuits, experiment with herbs ‘n spices, scale ‘n gut fish, create yummy cakes ‘n cookies, and do wonders with various vegetables and meats, all while hoisting a hot ‘n heavy pot or two. And for some reason, because I do this well and enjoy it, people assume that I also do some major cooking at home. In fact, this came up several times prior to the 2008 “Fireside Feasts” series at Wyckoff, including when I was interviewed by two major Brooklyn newspapers (see one at http://tinyurl.com/cejt8d). I’m often asked, “Do you cook alot?”
Well, oddly enough, the answer is a Big resounding NO! I do not cook at home. Nor do I particularly like to cook. Certainly not anything “from scratch,” like pies or creme brulees. I imagine part of the reason for this is my past. My mother rarely, if ever, made a dish “from scratch.” Neither did either of my grandmothers. Come to think of it, I probably learned more about cooking in junior high Home Ec class than I did from any relative. Probably where I really learned to cook was at the living history museum. It was there that I rolled out my first pie crust, knocked out dozens of biscuits, and put together full-course meals. And, mind you, all without benefit of any modern equipment!
Not that my mother was a bad cook or anything. She fed us daily and fed us well. Despite my father’s frequent dinner-table joke that she “treated us like gods by giving us burnt offerings,” we actually had some great family meals when I was growing up. I learned quite a few things along the way, just by watching my mother at work or by being present in the kitchen during her preparations. She regularly made some killer dishes, and now that she’s gone, I often long for many of them. I have fond memories, too, of making gingerbread and decorated sugar cookies at Christmas.
But did she ever make a pie, cake, or muffins “from scratch”? No. I’m not really sure why. I don’t know, was it that she didn’t know how? I doubt it. Maybe she just didn’t feel it was necessary? Golly, what were all those new-fangled box mixes and frozen side dishes for anyway?! At the same time, I always felt (rightly or wrongly) that my mother just didn’t particularly like to cook. I kinda got the impression that she had always hoped, expected even, that she’d have hired help for that. If she did, she never got it. Or perhaps she merely thought that there were better things she could be doing. After all, she had a PhD in economics! (as in $$$, not home)
As for me, well…it’s “like mother, like daughter,” I guess. I tell you, getting someone else to do it sounds great to me, too! There’s always so much to know and learn and do, and it takes so long to do it. Then, Poof! it’s all gone, eaten in just minutes, and usually in less time then it took to make it. And then comes the REAL fun: the clean-up. ugh
So, the extent of my modern cooking “from scratch” expertise is making a grilled cheese sandwich or scrambling a couple of eggs with sausage or broiling a steak. Well, and maybe some occasional popovers. Other than that, though, I’d have to say, prepared meals have always been the way to go in my adult life. My microwave and my toaster oven are my two best friends, and I use them almost daily (when I’m not getting take-out). Ahhhh, those assorted Stouffer’s frozen entrees! Nancy’s frozen quiche! Marie Callandar’s chicken fettucini! Eggo’s frozen waffles! Yum!
So, the moral of this story? Give me an open fire, and I’ll give you a fantastic, “home-cooked-made-from-scratch” meal. Just don’t expect much out of my home’s modern kitchen!