As homeschooling moms, we sometimes have lofty dreams of teaching our children to cook. We buy Amish cookbooks, how-to-make candy recipes, fix-in-15-minutes cookbooks, and everything in between. Every purchase is a dream of teaching our children this wonderful skill, but still, sometimes, the best we can do is pass on the great tradition of making wonderful PB&J’s. Is there hope for us? I believe there is. What began as a reaction to my fantasies gone by the wayside, has now become a lifesaving device.
First, we make or buy an apron for each child. No frills and lace for the boys, but do let every student choose their own fabric or apron – something which appeals to them and expresses something about their personality. They’ll live with these choices for years to come, so give a little guidance. Then hang a peg or hook for the aprons to hand on when not in use, so they aren’t lost around the house, when the cooking is complete for the day.
Year of Cooking
At the beginning of each year, not school year, but by the calendar, I make a list of things I’d like the children to learn to cook – but, I focus on a theme. The thought of individualized lessons for each child is wonderful, but with eight children, I make it easy and teach all our children who are capable to cook the same thing.
One year we focus on meats. So, I choose twelve favorite recipes and we don our aprons. This ranges from cooking on the grill (thanks to my husband for teaching this skill), to popping a roast into the crockpot. We learn how to buy the meat – compare the prices and quality – trim off the fat, then put it in the pot. From my herb chart, we discuss which flavors combine best with which types of meat. We also learn how to test for doneness, check internal temperature, and safe temperatures for cooking. Then, we add some sauces to the mix: barbecue, catsup, honey mustard, Bernaise sauce, hollandaise sauce, Chinese sauces, and others.
Another year we learn about desserts. That is the year everyone gains a few extra pounds, but thoroughly enjoy the route we take to get there. Sweeteners are covered – honey, juice concentrate, willow tree bark, stevia, and the sugars: brown, white and powdered. We purchase cookie cookbooks, death-by-chocolate recipe guides, things to do with pudding, and how to make pie primers. Every month we try a new recipe, and sometimes we spend the entire month tweaking it to get it just right! Everyone volunteers to do away with the failures.
Then we spend a year on special occasion dishes – what we cook for holidays. Beginning with the New Year, we learn how to cook black-eyed peas, ham and cornbread. For Valentine’s Day, we cook steaks and potatoes (a tradition in our family, since it was my husband’s and my dinner on our first outing - Valentine’s Day, 1975). Then we make chocolate-covered cheesecake with cherries for dessert. St. Patrick’s Day begs for some Irish food: Classic Irish Soda Bread, Irish Stew, potatoes, and green gelatin for dessert. And, of course, we always wear green.
For Mother’s Day, we eat whatever the children want to fix, since mom is off duty for the whole day. Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day finds us making barbecue chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, and red-white-and-blue desserts. A parfait from white chocolate pudding, with strawberries and blueberries, or a white cake with icing to match our flag.
As a fall festival, though we restrict our October 31st celebration to kind and good costumes, with a party at our church, we do make the traditional pumpkin pie and cookies. Sometimes we make pumpkin soup with real whipping cream.
For Thanksgiving, we learn how to choose and roast a turkey, make stuffing and stuff celery with cream cheese. Cranberry relish made fresh delights the grandparents. Sweet potato and pecan pies abound. Christmas brings cookies, gingerbread houses, chocolate candies, and fruitcake. Turkey, ham, potatoes and more.
Then there is the year of bread, a staple of the human diet for centuries. We learn about the basics of wheat, its history, and types. We discuss flours, their origins, the types and uses, self-rising versus plain, grinding the grain versus store-bought, and various nutritional aspects. We usually watch a video or two – focusing on bread-making and nutrition. A bread machine purchase opens a whole new world of bread-baking – with minimal effort and mess, we have bread in a couple of hours. We compare a bread machine to a microwave oven – they both take less time than conventional methods, but turn out a great edible product, nonetheless. Children from mid-elementary age can learn to make bread, with minimal help from an adult.
We browse through bread cookbooks, and recipes for all the various types of breads we like or want to try and list them in order of preference. Then we purchase the specific ingredients we don’t have on hand, and buy some butter and jams to help us enjoy the product of our learning.
Other ideas we have planned are learning to make sandwiches. A year of making different types of layers: meat, cheese, veggie, and sauces. Another year we’ll focus veggie dishes, a topic to make any mother proud.
While this might not be the most concise approach to learning how to cook, it is, for us, the most practical, because it gets done. One year of hands-on is better than all the dreams in the world. And, we’re having fun in the process. Can learning get any better than that?
Kym & her husband, Mark, have eight children and have homeschooled since the mid-80s. She writes the Learn and Do Unit Studies which you can see at: www.Learn-and-Do.com She sends out weekly e-Couragement for moms in her Weekly Wakeup with Kym Wright. For more information, and to sign up, visit: http://alwrightpublishing.com/weekly_wakeup.htm
Published in The Mother’s Heart magazine, a premium online publication for mothers with hearts in their homes. Visit www.The-Mothers-Heart.com for more information.