First, Comb Your Hair…
February 24, 2011 § 1 Comment
Mother once told me that when she and Dad married she could boil water, but always over-cooked the boiled eggs! Her mother had never taught her to cook. As she put it, “your grandmother didn’t have the patience”. I believe that’s also why she never learned to sew – her mother was a professional seamstress – or crochet.
At the time of her marriage, Mom taught school in Chilton, TX – high school English, Latin and coach of the girls’ basketball team. As part of her salary, she received free room and board in the home of the chairman of the school board – whose wife was one of the great cooks of the world. Her wedding gift to Mom was a cookbook. Appropriate! Mother always said that if one could read, one could cook and she proved the rule!
Years later, as my siblings and I grew, Santa gave us a children’s cookbook and Mother gave us free reign in her kitchen. “Cook anything you like,” she told us. “Just clean it up when you’ve finished!”
Soon we were Chef and Sous Chefs (David being Chef as he was oldest). Cookbook propped on the kitchen table, we read the riddle (our kid’s cookbook had a riddle to solve with every recipe) then assembled all of the utensils and ingredients. We baked brownies, cookies, eggs-in-a-basket, waffles, muffins. What delights! Our sweet-tooths never had it so good!
One Sunday afternoon, tired of taking a nap, I asked Mom for her sacred recipe – fudge – the one thing she learned to cook early in life and never forgot. She wrote the recipe down on a piece of paper, and at the top she wrote, “First, comb your hair. I don’t like hair in my fudge!” I dutifully combed my hair and secured it with a barrette before gathering the ingredients. and beginning.
Fudge is an art and this recipe was no exception. The most important requirement of the cook, after “strong beating arm”, is planning and observation!
In a 2Q sauce pan:
- Combine 2Cs sugar and 3Ts cocoa powder until thoroughly mixed;
- Add 1C milk and stir until thoroughly mixed;
- Put on the stove over a low flame (I still like gas best!) and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Bring to a slow boil;
- Cook until a drop of fudge in a cup of cold water holds its “ball” (no, don’t use a candy thermometer – they don’t work as well!)
- Remove from the fire and add 1T butter or margarine and 1tps vanilla extract;
- Beat until your arm drops off, then beat some more!;
- AND WATCH – when the sheen on the fudge begins to dull – the fudge is hardening and it’s time to “plate” – did I mention that you need to butter the platter earlier? Sorry! If you haven’t, then the fudge will probably harden in the pan while you do so, and when you pour it onto the platter it will harden into mounds (kind of like little “prairie muffins” in the venacular!). No, you want a smooth pour – next time!
- Top the fudge with pecan halves and cut into squares.
10. Pour yourself a glass of cold milk and enjoy.
At first my efforts produced runny fudge – great for spoon-eating or pouring over ice cream, but never hard enough to cut and stack on a plate.
Then I let it harden too much before plating and had to scrape it out of the pan. Doesn’t look great – but tastes wonderful nevertheless.
In the summer between my 6th grade year and junior high, I became a full-flown cook. Every day at 11:00 AM I watched the “Julie Bennell Cooking Show” on WFAA TV – and wrote down every recipe. (I still have some of them!) I made a deal with Mom. I’d be in charge of Friday night supper – planning, cooking, serving.
My first meal, served on our best china, with silver place service and crystal glasses – consisted of bacon-wrapped, cheese-filled wienies, baked beans (the slow cooked kind), baked potatoes, salad, yeast rolls, iced tea, and ice-cream cake. This last was a Julie Bennell special – angel food cake prepared by cutting a layer off the top, scooping out the inside of the bottom layer and packing it with a favorite ice cream, putting the top back on and freezing. I think I used peach ice cream.
The meal was a hit. Throughout my junior high and high school years I added other recipes to my repertoire – mother’s chocolate pudding pie; pineapple pork (from Aunt Lois) with rice; cornbread, beans, and pan fries; fried pork chops, country gravy – no lumps! – and fried apples. The list is endless. Remember, if you can read you can cook!
Unfortunately, most of these recipes are NOT politically correct today – too many calories, too much fat! – but I still comb my hair first before starting dinner!
My mom was an uncertain and never-very-good cook (although she sure could read). Add to that the fact her mother-in-law was an excellent cook and came from a completely different culinary tradition and things were bound to be bumpy.
My mother, an Italian, had never cooked potatoes. My father, a Swede, had never had pasta served at home. It was a good thing they loved each other because mealtimes were a trial. My mother had to cope with those dusty brown objects he was so fond of and he had to learn to eat pasta. The first thing he did was to put Catsup on the pasta (in addition to my mother’s sauce). My mother was horrified and offended–it didn’t help her confidence either. She was a wonderful wife, mother and writer, but never gained much ground as a cook. From her I learned to make an excellent pie crust and how to turn anything at all into a pot of soup (that was a show of her frugality, not her cooking skill).