Friday, October 12, 2012

Cooking Lessons

My mom used to make homemade bread.  I remember her putting the dough-filled bread pans, carefully covered with towels, out in a sunny spot in the backyard to rise.  I remember how she sprinkled flour on the cutting board and then smushed and burped and folded the dough as she kneaded it.  Occasionally, mom would give me a small amount of dough to knead and shape into a bun.  I would grease my little tin measuring cup with shortening, lovingly place the dough inside, and set it in the oven alongside my mom's perfectly made loaves.

The whole house would fill with the warm yeasty smell and to this day I can't think of mom making bread without also picturing the sunlight coming through the windows and hearing her singing along to Ella Fitzgerald playing on the radio.  I don't ever remember something bad happening when bread was baking in the oven.  

If I was really lucky the loaves would come out of the oven, and after a little cooling time, we would have a warm slice with homemade applesauce on top.  Life was golden and lovely.

It may have happened only a dozen times or so, but making my own little bun alongside my mother is still such a strong memory.  There is something so comforting in cooking memories. Recipes and techniques being passed down.  Stories being told as the lessons are learned.   What a strange connection food and love can have.

I've been thinking about what memories my kids will have of me in the kitchen.  Will they remember me being too scared to let them use the knives?  Will they remember me shooing them away from the stove every five seconds?  Will they remember me chasing them out of the kitchen, away from the possibility of a lesson?  A story?  A passion?  What have I taught them?  What recipes, techniques, memories will they carry with them?

Certainly they will remember making cookies with me.  We've done that often enough.  But so many times they ask to help, and either because of my worries, time constraints, or just my own control issues, their offers are cast aside.  Another opportunity wasted.

They are more capable than I give them credit for.  They are eager and willing to help and participate and bond.  They ask, and I need to give.

It starts out small.  We continue on with cookies.  "This is your great grandma's ginger snap recipe, and it is the best!" I tell them.  We count out the cups of flour and the sugar.  They marvel at the thickness of the molasses and how hard the dough is to stir.  They watch patiently as the cookies plump in the oven.  When the cookies come out of the oven they agree that great grandma really knew what she was doing.

Later on another opportunity arises.

As I am making applesauce Tommy saunters into the kitchen and asks to help.  Instead of my usual answer I tell him to wash his hands and pull up a stool.  I peel and he cores.  A few minutes later Ben sees us.  Then Grace.  Then Joey.  Soon we are all lined up making applesauce.  One peels, one cores, one cuts, one places the apples in the kettle.  An assembly line of the happiest workers you can imagine.  And, afterwards, the applesauce is the best they've ever tasted.  Their applesauce.
No one sliced a finger, no one burned their face off.  And everyone had fun.  It was a lesson for me, and a memory for all of us.

I hope I remember that feeling of being a little girl making bread with my mom the next time one of my kids asks to help me.  I hope I remember that these little things are what make up a lifetime of memories.  I hope that when they get older they will each carry my recipes, my techniques, my stories with them because I was patient enough to show them.

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Unknown said...

A lovely memory indeed. I am sure they will remember it always. :)

Mom24 said...

Oh my goodness what a wonderful post Kat. I am so guilty of not doing this. Good for you.

This would make a great "Listen to Your Mother" post.

Karen Deborah said...

big hug :)

ewe are here said...

I am usually chasing mine away from the stove and knives as well. Even though I know they just want to help. We've taught the boys to make porridge on the stove, but only with a grown up in the kitchen. I still get so nervous when they're doing it .. but they're so proud when they help.

Great post!

Unknown said...

This is perfect. And a great reminder. Thank you.

lime said...

that's great that you allow them to participate. i regret that when my kids were small i didn't encourage it more. the kitchen i had at that point was so tiny there just was not space. but by the time i had a bigger kitchen they weren't interested. good choice to have yours with you, mama!

Kat said...

Lime- That's exactly it! I always have so many reasons for not letting them help me, but I've got to stop that! Soon they won't even be interested in helping and I'll have wasted that chance. I watch cooking competition shows and so often the chefs talk about what they learned from their mothers/grandmothers and how it fostered their passion for cooking and I think to myself, "what if I am messing up that opportunity for my kids?" Or even just the opportunity for the feeling of closeness with me that cooking can give. Memories.

It is such a simply thing I can do to let them help out, and so many good things can come out of it, I just need the patience to let it happen more often. ;)

Krystyn @ Really, Are You Serious? said...

I love this! I'm always choo-ing, too. But, I don't have a counter like that in my kitchen. In fact, the widest one is maybe two feet wide. It's terrible and I hate it. But, we still try to make it work...we just use the kitchen table more often!

(PS if you have that bread recipe, I'd love to see it. Every time I make bread it's dense and chewy without the crunchy crust!)

Kat said...

Krystyn- I'm sorry, I don't have the recipe. I've actually never made my mom's bread by myself. She stopped making it quite a few years ago because she said she couldn't find decent yeast anywhere anymore. Maybe I should ask her to pull the recipe out and see if I could give it a try.

Rima said...

Oh, Kat, I just love this post so much! I am the same way in the kitchen - always stressed out and thinking it will be easier if I just do it myself. But you are right - kitchen memories and love are so deeply intertwined. Just today I was thinking about how lovingly my own grandmother always prepared and handled food, and how it's one of the most endearing memories i have of her. Thanks for the reminder!

Cyndy Bush said...

I just love this. So much.

Allison said...

Love it....and they'll remember moments like these, too!

PS I love the line "and no one burned their face off!"

CC said...

I used to let the kids help me more than I have recently. I'm just too hurried and too busy these days to slooooow down and let them help. I wish they could take over without the whole "teaching" process!

Anonymous said...

Sweet blog post, Kat. You're right about those moments being memories someday.

Jeni said...

I'm not what one would call an excellent or prolific bread-baker but over the past 10 years, I have developed into being a fairly decent one. My Mom and Grandma both baked bread -Grandma more so than my Mom. I don't remember watching my Mom but I do recall watching my Grandma and a lot of my so-called skills today come from my memories of seeing how she did various things. My kids never seemed interested in anything to do with cooking but one time, about 25 years ago now, I had made a recipe for "Cream-cheese filled Muffins" which was very good and quite easy. THought nothing of it but about 2 nights later, I came home from work to find a plate of these muffins on the counter. Seems my son had actually been watching me, paying attention to how I made these muffins, knew where the recipe was too and he had made up a batch. Boy, what a great surprise that was for me!

dawn klinge said...

This is something that I need to remember too. So often, I am in too much of a hurry and I miss out on the opportunity to build beautiful memories with my kids. I loved reading this. The picture of all your kids in the kitchen, making applesauce, is very sweet. Thank you for writing this.

Wisconsin Girl said...

Love this:) My MIL is great with letting the kids help her make stuff in the kitchen...I'm often impatient and I don't like that. But I am in the kitchen A LOT and am trying to make more of an effort to let them help in some way. I love tradition and the power of those cooking/baking memories!

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