Baking Is the Gateway Drug of Cooking


I am a purely self taught cook. Yes, I learned a few things from my grandmother via my father, but outside of that I did not have anyone around who knew how to or liked to cook. Since I liked to eat, learning to throw together the limited ingredients I had at my disposal as a child into something better together than alone was an art I perfected.


I had only a couple of cookbooks in my childhood home. A 1956 edition of the Joy of Cooking, which was so out of date that every time a recipe called for baking powder the instructions on how to make it from scratch followed.   That thick cornflower blue volume was well worn by the time I was fourteen.


The other cookbooks were a set of Time Life Cookbooks by country, Like the Cuisine of Italy, or France. They were much more like travel logs than cook books. They spoke a language of chefs that was way over my childhood vocabulary, let alone full of ingredients that never darkened the door of my mother’s kitchen. The best part about them was they were full of full color pictures so I could get an idea of what a dish was supposed to look like. This was very helpful when I was preparing something out of the Joy of Cooking that might have had at best a line drawing of a whole chicken, but no clue as to what it was supposed to look like fried.


For me the gateway drug of cooking was baking. Like so many kids I first leaned to make things like cookies and brownies, mostly out of a desire for a dessert, which was always forbidden in our house. Understanding how to bake successfully, made cooking easy. Making a soup is much more forgiving than baking a cake, but what child wants to learn to cook soup?


I have been worried that Carter was going to grow up with very few cooking skills since she was more than content to eat my cooking. I have robbed her of the need to learn to cook by being too good a cook. Except that in the last few years I have rarely baked anything.


This past summer Carter got a bee in her bonnet to want to learn how to make a cake from scratch. It was a big success, but she discovered that it is a long process. Since she hardly ever has six free hours she has not repeated that task, but suddenly with a day off from school before Thanksgiving and the need for us to provide the desserts she has volunteered to bake something.


Now’s my chance to kick up her learning curve and throw something fairly complicated at her. I see being a skilled baker as a good prerequisite to taking chemistry. Once you understand the science behind baking you can be set free to create your own concoctions with a better chance at success.


Now I have tonight to convince her that making an apple pie layer cake will be fun and make her father very happy. Pray for me tomorrow. I will post a picture if we make it.

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