Sunday, June 21, 2009

Well Done

Reading a post by Sizzie a few minutes ago, reminded me how I learned to cook. When I was a child in our southern household, my favorite place was the kitchen. I loved to stand and watch my grand'mere make orange marmalade in a big kettle, and I would have spent all day in there when the cook prepared Sunday dinner. Usually, however, I was shooed out. "Don't bother Victoria," my mother would say.

When we finally hired a cook for our house, Mother remained good to her word. I wasn't allowed to watch. I am still not sure why.

The result, however, was that I went away to grad school in London unable to cook anything other than scrambled eggs. I learned a few things from my flatmates, though. Bangers and mash, for instance. Pork sausages browned in a skillet with left over mashed potatoes and cabbage. Surprisingly good, actually. I could boil the potatoes, too, and mash them. And once I went over to Fortnum and Mason, the specialty store, and bought canned Mexican food items--Spanish rice, canned tamales, canned chili con carne. And I prepared a "Mexican" meal for my flatmates. They ate it and said it was good, but really!

So when I was on my own in DC a couple of years later, I was desperate. Fortunately someone had given me the first Julia Child cookbook. This was a brilliant idea. She broke the ingredients and process down into small increments that even a novice could understand. Moreover, she taught technique--how to chop, etc. Eventually I became a fairly competent cook, especially in the days when one could use butter and cream.

Using her cookbook, in fact, I made only one odd meal and that was garlic soup, which I prepared for my mother and my fiance about two years after that. The mistake I didn't catch involved the liquid that should be used. (Sizzie, please note: not the amount of liquid, but the kind.) The recipe said that one could use broth or water. I had no broth, but I did have water. And the result tasted exactly like that: garlic boiled in water. Not a success.

PS: A moment ago I looked up the recipe on the internet (its link is posted above) and they call it aigo buido, and lo! water is correct. However, I promise I followed the recipe to the letter and it was not good. Maybe I didn't use enough garlic!


sizzie said...

I just stopped by and am delighted to read about your learning to cook. My grandmother made orange marmalade and there was always a box of mason jars filled with it and stored under the guest room bed. I recently read a journal one of her sisters wrote about their time as children (in the 1890's rural England) and a mention was made of orange marmalade stored in a box under a bed. I don't remember ever trying it though.

Sydney said...

You may be interested in the new movie coming out with Meryl Streep as Julia Child, focusing on how she took french cooking lessons as a lark and later in life and wasn't a whiz at cooking. It's paralleled with a story of a modern day young woman who has a blog and starts a project to cook each recipe from Julia's famous cookbook in 365 days -- hard as she is in a little apartment kitchen and there are about 5oo+ recipes to fit into the 365 days. Supposedly both stories are true.