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First Steps in Cooking

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I'm pretty sure the first thing I made for myself as a young 'un was porridge for breakfast, almost certainly from rolled oats (though porridge was a staple and we also had Cream of Wheat and the multigrain Red River and Vita-B brands as part of our regular rotation, so it might have been one of those). Frying my own small trout, fresh-caught from the local streams, was almost certainly the second thing.


My mom was never fond of cooking, but executed simple, traditional meals well enough. My father was more adventurous - he'd read about something like polenta, and decide to play around with it - but he was at sea a lot when I was young. There were plenty of good cooks and bakers on both sides of my family, but they fell decidedly into the "homestyle traditional" category.


My first real look at a more sophisticated approach to food came in 8th grade, when I met my lifelong best friend. His parents were both German, though his father was raised and educated in England during and after the war (they were part-Jewish). His mother was and is an exceptional cook and baker, though much slowed by arthritis, fused spine, hip transplants, scoliosis, etc. Coming from a household where "salad" was shredded iceberg with tomato wedges and bottled dressing, eating something totally left-field like her herring salad was a memorable experience. I also had my first experience of slow-cooked sauerkraut (with multiple pork products) at her house, which remains one of my favorite cold-weather meals and a staple in my house. 


My mom always baked bread when I was growing up, so I felt a real imperative to start baking my own when I left home at 15. I'd watched her often enough, so I just bought the ingredients and gave it a go. I knew she put shortening in the warm water before adding the flour, but I couldn't remember how much...so I threw in a cup of it. Let me tell you, that bread was well and truly shortened! It was dense but certainly edible, so after clearing up the amount of fat required on my next phone call home (a tablespoon or so...) my next batch turned out better. Over the intervening years I made pretty much every mistake it's possible to make while bread-baking, but never stopped. It feels strange to think it's been just about 40 years now. 

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“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three


"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning


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  • 3 weeks later...

Here is the son of another friend rolling his first rice noodle roll (肠粉 Mandarin: cháng fěn; Cantonese: chéungfán). He needs to work on it a bit, but is clearly pleased with himself.






Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.


The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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  • 2 months later...
  • 1 year later...
  • 2 months later...

It wasn't the first food memory I had, but certainly the most vivid.


My dad was in the hospital, and mom was holding down the fort. Taking care of the kids, working a full day, shopping and cooking for us at night. As a stupid kid, I didn't realize how serious the situation was - dad had been in the hospital for weeks, and we were just told, "he'll be fine". Watching mom getting more and more tired, I got up and started cooking breakfast and lunch to take to work for her.


I made a mess, of course. I had no idea what I was doing, and I'm pretty sure the food was both burnt and raw when I finished. She ate every crumb and told me it was delicious.

Edited by tomishungry (log)
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