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What’s Cookin’?

June 4, 2019

Here’s the second installment in the Cousin Memoirs, Sandy’s contribution:

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, girls took home economics every year until they entered high school in the tenth grade, when the subject became an elective.  We learned so much in that class – manners, proper dress, sewing, cooking. I don’t recall the lessons in manners and proper dress because my mother was the one who taught me those things; however, I do remember what I learned in the areas of sewing and cooking. My mother helped me somewhat with sewing, but most of what I used later, when I sewed for myself, Frank, and our children I, learned in school.

But cooking was a different matter. I learned some things in home ec, like how to read and follow recipes, how to measure dry and liquid ingredients, how to prepare difficult “dishes” like cinnamon toast and biscuits.  Not a very balanced diet, I’m afraid.

My real cooking instruction came to me from my mother . . . on the phone. When I was a senior in high school, dinner became my duty every other evening. My cousin JoAnn cooked on alternate evenings, but I don’t remember how she learned to cook. Mother told me what to prepare, and I did fine with things like making tea and boiling potatoes, but for most other dishes, I hadn’t a clue or at least not many clues. So I’d do what I thought I needed to and then call Mother at work in our store to get further instructions. She’d tell me to taste whatever I was questioning or to tell her what something looked like. Then she’d give me instructions, and usually everything turned out just fine. I don’t remember that I did any baking, though. Baking a cake or pie would be difficult to teach on the phone. Mother continued to do those honors, and she was so good at baking that I surely didn’t mind not doing sweets.

When Frank and I married, I knew how to cook, thanks to Mother; however, Frank, who had been a bachelor for several years and had cooked for himself for longer than I had been working in the kitchen, knew much more about cooking than I did. From him, I learned how to cook such dishes as Shepherd’s Pie, Liver and Onions (very cheap and just what we starving students needed), Clam Chowder, and Boston Baked Beans. (Sorry about all the capitals. I’ve made my own rules concerning capitalization since I’m not teaching!) He also taught me how to shop economically, something that my mother didn’t teach me. But that’s for another piece.

I think I’m a pretty good cook, but I’m a better baker. Cookies and cakes are my specialty, though pies are my favorite to eat. In our early married life, I baked only what Mother had – German’s Chocolate Cake and two pound cakes that were made from a mix with either lemon or orange juice added. I don’t recall ever having her Brown Sugar Pound Cake recipe, but she made that frequently. Recently I found a recipe online and will be making it this week, maybe tomorrow.

Nowadays, I bake cookies more than anything else. I even have an apron that Wendy gave me. It has “Cookie Maker” on the bib. Until two years ago, we had a huge Christmas Open House, and I’d bake about ten different kinds of cookies for it. 






I’ve had some real flops in my cooking “career.” Carrot Cakes are notorious for falling in the middle when I remove them from the oven, but that’s okay. I just put more icing where the indention is. I’ve burned up batches of cookies and had to get rid of them before anyone sees them. Once a friend gave me a recipe, and I didn’t notice that she had listed salt twice in the ingredients, and I added both amounts.


Perhaps the biggest faux pas in my kitchen came on Christmas Day many years ago. When we lived in Pensacola,  I was one of the few mothers who worked away from home. The other ladies in the neighborhood knew that our children needed watching as all the kids played in the afternoon. They felt free to correct Wendy and Jay if they misbehaved and didn’t hesitate to call me to tell me of their disciplining. They did this out of the goodness of their hearts and knew that I’d have been happy to help them out in the same way.

Since they were so nice to me, I decided that Christmas, after we had opened our “giffs” (Jay’s word) and while I was cooking dinner, that I’d bake four Egg Custard Pies, giving one to Peggy Fitzgerald and one to Sue Glenn, the friends who did the most to help me with our children. I delivered one to each of them while the turkey was cooking.


After lunch that afternoon, I called Peggy to see if she and Mike would like to come over for pie and coffee. I had other kinds of pies, but I chose to serve pieces of the custard. Frank, Peggy, and Mike were talking away, solving the problems of the world, when I set the pie before each. I took a bite of mine before they started on theirs, and . . . BLEEEAAAHHH! I grabbed all four plates and ran to the kitchen before they could dig in. I quickly cut four pieces of the other Custard Pie and took them to the table. Consternation was written all over their faces. I sheepishly explained, “I forgot the sugar.” I’ve always wondered if I did the same thing with the pies that I delivered.


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