I’ve included recipes in my newspaper columns for nearly 70 years. That does not mean I was a very good cook when I started writing. Here’s what I wrote some years ago to describe the challenges I faced.
There were many things my mother did not teach me to do. She could not teach me to drive, but then she had never learned to drive herself. She couldn’t teach me to ride a horse because there were no horses around when I was growing up.
She also didn’t teach me how to cook. I could put a simple meal on the table if it meant opening a can from the store or a jar from someone’s pantry, but baking, deep fat frying, or putting together a casserole were foreign to my experience.
When I was about to be married, Mother was close to a panic. “I need to teach you to cook,” she told me. “That’s something I should have done a long time ago.”
She decided we would start by making a pie crust. “Mix up some flour and shortening and then add water until it feel right,” she instructed. I didn’t have a clue what it was supposed to feel like.
Then we made the pie filling and she said, “Add seasonings until it smells and tastes like it should.” Again, I didn’t have a clue!
My poor mother threw up her hands in dismay. “I cook by the pinch and taste and smell method without measurements, and I don’t think I can teach you how to cook like I do. You’ll have to teach yourself.” She bought me a Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, the one with a red checkered cover.
The first recipe I tried from the book was for yeast rolls. I must have been out of my mind to start with something that complicated, but it turned out reasonably well and I was encouraged to try other dishes from the book.
A couple of years later when I began writing my column for the Evening Sentinel, publisher Willard Archie insisted that I include a recipe each week.
He didn’t know that I was still a beginning cook, but I asked my readers, neighbors, and friends for cooking ideas and the recipes poured in. I always tried out a recipe before printing it.
In later years our son Craig remembered that if a dish wasn’t very successful, I would make it over and over again and serve it to the family until I got the recipe right. “If it was good, though,” he laughed, “we never saw it again.”
Times were changing, too, and cooking became easier for homemakers. Boxed mixes appeared on grocery store shelves. To make a cake, we would still add an egg and perhaps oil and milk to the powdered mix so we felt we were really cooking as we put together meals for our families.
Today the mixes share store space with frozen foods and whole dinners that need only a few minutes in a microwave before serving. Delis in grocery and convenience stores make it easy for us to grab labor-saving foods and take them home to put right on the table.
I remember long days on the farm when we would catch chickens we had raised, butcher and dress them, then fry the pieces in hot grease. That made delicious meals, but it took a tremendous amount of work even if you don’t count cleaning grease splatters off of the kitchen stove.
Today when Robert and I want chicken, we get a fully-cooked rotisserie chicken that is ready to serve. Since our appetites aren’t what they used to be, we get several meals out of one chicken, using it for sandwiches, putting some in a casserole, and then dicing up any remaining meat and adding it to a white sauce for creamed chicken over toast.
Through the years I’ve been grateful to receive many letters from readers thanking me for recipes I have published and even telling me that I helped them learn how to cook. Mother, who gave up on teaching me even the basics of preparing meals in the kitchen, would have been amazed.
Here is my recipe for creamed chicken on toast. It is simple and economical to make and delicious for any meal.
Creamed Chicken on Toast
1 cup diced cooked chicken
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter or margarine in a saucepan and blend in flour, stirring until smooth and bubbly. Gradually stir in milk and continue cooking and stirring until the mixture thickens. Add chicken and seasoning and serve hot over toast.