When I was in the eighth grade I won an essay contest; I’m not even sure who sponsored it but the people who picked out the prize must have waited to select it until after the winner was named. I say that because the prize was “Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book.” I still have it and use it.
Back then recipe book photos were only of the finished product and like many cooks, my completed dishes never looked anything like the glorious, all color photos, in the book. But they tasted good.
Much of what I know about cooking I learned from my mom and Gram. Take jelly for instance. For someone new to making jelly the term “sheeting” would be worthless without a description or better yet, a demonstration. Envision this: the mixture of soon-to-be jelly is cooking along. You stir it with a spoon, which you lift out of the liquid. Drops fall from several places on the edge of the spoon. Following recipe instructions on about how long to cook it, you try the spoon test again with much the same result, although the juice is thickening a bit. The next time you try it, the jelly drops slide down the edge of the spoon and meet in the middle, allowing the liquid to form one stream to drop. Gram taught me that action is called sheeting. The jelly has cooked long enough and is ready for jars when it sheets.
When a person grows up around cooking, the lessons learned are not even realized because they become second nature. It seems I have always known when given the instruction to cut a lemon in half it means the fruit would be sliced around the circumference, unless told otherwise. During an adult cooking school class in Paris I learned that not everyone has this same knowledge. Another American college-age gal in the class had not grown up around cooking and had no clue that it was understood how the lemon should be cut. She cut her lemon in half lengthwise. That threw off the next step of pressing each lemon half on a reamer, a kitchen utensil used to extract juice. The process was also new to her, but is well known to experienced cooks.
Ree Drummond, known as the Pioneer Woman, has several cookbooks so well-written that any want-to-be cook can follow the recipes and learn as they go. When a recipe says to dice or cut into matchsticks her photos show what to do and what the end result should look like. Cooks learn not only how to prepare that recipe they also learn cooking terms that can be utilized when using or creating other recipes.
For those who have never cooked and want to learn it’s never been easier with videos and step-by-step photo books. If you can read, you can cook; with videos you don’t even need to read. Anyone who hasn’t had the privilege of learning at the right hand of someone can become a competent cook and baker. ❖
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