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Kids. Kitchens.

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1152837011/gallery_29805_1195_5129.jpg" hspace="5" align="left">by Margaret McArthur

In those blue hours just before a summer sunset my two-year-old self laid her head against her father's chest and settled into the bedtime ritual: storytime. It wasn't always an idyllic world -- I can't bear to conjure Dumbo's plunge into the ring of fire, the maniacal clowns, and his Mom's madness. But the next story from the stack on my bedside table could send a terrified toddler straight off to Dreamland, if it contained some good eating, and so many of my books were about food.

I suppose they weren’t. Not really. The bunnies in The Tawny Scrawny Lion might have been making points about pacifism, but what I remember is the carrot stew. Peter Rabbit risked his cottontail to terrorize McGregor’s organic garden, and the Two Bad Mice trashed a mini-mansion when they discovered that the ham in the dolly's dining room was a plaster cast. Pooh had honey. But my real hero was Little Black Sambo, the kid who turned tigers into butter -- golden vortex of melted butter, just perfect for the pancakes Daddy flipped on Saturday mornings.

The story hour with Daddy didn't last long; learning to read came early and I 've spent the rest of my life turning the pages way past bedtime. I can't remember the plot points of Heidi, but I sure remember Grandfather's raclette. Louisa May Alcott promoted "honest" food, and dress reform too, in Eight Cousins -- Rose the Heiress baked bread before she was permitted to explore the decadence of cake. (Oh, for her skating outfit –the one with the scandalous trousers!) I still shudder at the memory of the maggoty biscuit aboard HMS Bounty; to this day it seems worse than a bloody back bared to the cat-o-nine-tails. Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian could have rewritten history had they shared a short stack, swimming in melted tigers.

I licked frosting from the beater of Mummy's Mixmaster, but my mary janes had mentally made their way to the stove before I could reach its knobs. Like sex when I was twelve (Frank Slaughter's Doctor's Wives and Thomas Mann's The Holy Sinner) and bird watching when I turned forty, I knew I wanted to cook because books told me it was important. I understood this long before my first visit from the Tooth Fairy.

I can't remember the title -- can't remember a single recipe -- but I'm pretty sure I ordered my first cookbook through the Scholastic Book Club, as a budding third grade foodie in Gatineau, Quebec. (Things have changed, but when I was eight, Gatineau's claims to fame were an enormous newsprint mill , managed by my father, and a Dairy Queen owned by Paul Anka's uncle.) I do remember a "Clean Kitchen Cook" sign-off sheet, on which we swore to submit to Mom for signoff after adventures with cupcakes. We pledged to wash every sticky frosting bowl, swab every dribble of lemonade from the linoleum, and stash the sifter into its appointed corner in the baking cabinet.

The book got lost in one of the moves my family made from one paper mill town to another. I own hundreds of cookbooks now, including a vintage Escoffier, a 1927 Fannie Farmer, and, inexplicably, two copies of Robert Farar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb. But I'd trade ten pounds of glossy photos and trendy ingredients for that smeary seminal volume -- my first cookbook, my very own cookbook, a cookbook written especially for kids.

I hadn't thought of that book -- let's call it Cooking for Clean Canadian Kiddies -- since I pulled on my first pair of hose, long enough ago that my mother had to explain the mechanics of a garter belt. Two years later I'd mastered pantyhose, eyeliner, and The Sunbeam Mixmaster Cookbook, and I watusied my way down the shelf to The Joy of Cooking. I felt as if I'd been handed a backstage pass to a Kinks concert or a summer internship at Seventeen. This was joy, all right, but it was something even headier -- it was power!

No more brownies and Jiffy Two-Egg Cakes for me. Absent my mother’s supervision, I could throw currants into a tomato sauce, fiddle with tiny logs of butter (Chicken Kiev) or sneak a sip of sherry (Mushrooms Under Glass). Even my brother liked the Country Captain and I realized why we always stocked onions in the avocado-green fridge: everything worth cooking started with runny eyes and a bloody thumb.

My cousin learned to cook in the ashram because the Maharishi had lots of followers and a limited supply of brown rice (Dr. Conover now ponders the reasons lab rats pack on the pounds.) His brother worked the line at the Keg and Cleaver through high school and college; the proceeds of his MBA are spent on professional ventilation for his six-burner Viking and two-week stints at private cooking schools in Tuscan villas. (July, 2006 -- yes, the whole month -- finds Cort in Catalonian villas and Paris hotels, dining through a wish list that would make anyone gnash his bicuspids.) My brother Ian, who made a mean plate of maple fudge before his eighth birthday, grew up and married Hilary, a hottie caterer -- he cooks for a living now. One friend made his bones cooking for roomies in Ann Arbor; another made dinner for his mother and brothers because Mom was tangled in tougher things. An Amish farm girl learns to cook because it's her job.

Irma and Marian

Irma Romabuer and her daughter, Marian Becker, taught me how to cook. These ladies, my teenybopper kitchen skills, and the on-call technical support from Mummy made my kiddy cookbook as redundant as my saddle shoes. What I didn't know then is that Irma Rombauer had written A Cookbook for Girls and Boys two years before my parents went on their first blind date. For a collector like me, the lure of a second-hand bookstore is as irresistible as the pull of the lotto machine to the six people ahead of me at the gas station. I spotted its pink and white gingham binding in a used bookstore last last winter, pulled a ten from my purse within six seconds, and skipped home to savor the childrens’ cookbook I should have owned! It fell open to Chicken.

The opening paragraphs didn’t waste time extolling the ease of the skinless boneless chicken breast, or suggest that a ten year-old could make his own McNuggets. The ten-year-old whose Dad had recently returned from Omaha Beach was made of sterner stuff! "To Clean a Chicken" didn't mean a quick cold shower and a patdown with a paper towel; Irma guided little Peggy Sue through decapitation, evisceration and gall bladder identification. She was warned to remember never forget to pull the stomach sac from the gizzard before proceeding to the first recipe in the section: Roast Chicken. I've never had to steel myself to perform a poultry post-mortem, but should it happen, I have a textbook set of procedures, elegantly written for the pre-teen pathologist.

The pages look like those in Mummy's Joy, with the same wide margins and neat columns. It's illustrated with charming black and white silhouette work, and garnished with historical gems like "In French the word [canapé] means 'sofa.' So the sardine, cheese or tidbit used is resting on a sofa (in this case a small piece of bread.)" "Joseph Conrad, who wrote many fascinating novels of adventure, once said: 'Eating is a necessity, but it can be a pleasure.' " Or, from the vegetable chapter: "In England, however, the potato was not well known, and Shakespeare's audience thought it was uproariously funny to hear Sir John (Falstaff) cry from the stage: "Let the sky rain potatoes!" Michele Felice Corne was the first man to eat a tomato in the New England colonies, and there's a statue commemorating his valor in Newport, Rhode Island. Who knew? Maybe public education has gone to hell in a handbasket since Grandpa matriculated.

The menus read like mid-century school night classics. Peggy Sue is wrapped in her Mom's apron, (a riot of rickrack). Dad's beaming at his Princess, and the little kids, Dick, Sally and Jane squirm in their seats until Big Sis sets down the Pork Chops with Scalloped Potatoes, French Bread and Harvard Beets. "No Apple Crisp until you finish your beets!” (Thursday is Liver and Onions night -- I bet Dick dragged his feet returning from his Boy Scout meeting.) Cookbook for Girls and Boys is a real cookbook, with four hundred recipes, no dumbing-down, and zero concessions to cake mix, shortcuts, or Sloppy Joes. The publisher, (Bobbs Merrill) provided blank pages at the back of the book for "Your Own Recipes. " It's long-ago owner, Clara Gordon Harley, bothered to scribble only one: Plum Pudding, which begins with the instruction: "Chop one pound suet." In 1952, (year of the second edition) Daddy Gordon didn't swing by Baker's Square on Christmas Eve to pick up one French Silk, One Apple -- Clara was in the kitchen stirring up some Lemon Sauce.

I began to wonder if learning to cook is for most modern kids a chore as anachronistic as a paper route, or polishing the family shoes on Sunday night. After all, my friends and I weren't distracted by four seasons of interleague sports, a computer in the bedroom (with a clamoring buddy list) or baby-sitting our younger siblings until Mom got home after her busy day clerking for a Supreme. Mom and Dad don’t necessarily sit across from each other every night, making sure Brandon's eating his brussel sprouts and grilling li'l Kimberley about the wisdom of her belly ring. Heck, they probably haven't had time to check that the kids have washed their hands.

Tiffany and Tyler

Glum: That describes the four short shelves of cookbooks in my small-town library. The good ones I already own, the majority run to diet-of the-decade and a complete set of Jeff Smith. I was struck by the absence of any Kiddy Cookbooks, not even those devoted to the American Girls dolls -- heck I'd seen a notice announcing the formation of an American Girls Book Club on my way in! What, not even a copy of The Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook, the one that sold enough boxes of Bisquick to reach to the moon and back (before, I might add, NASA got its act together.) I approached the reference librarian, a hearty lady with sensible shoes, baggy cardigan and masterful mien -- a dead ringer for my tenth grade English teacher, Elsie McPherson.

"Doesn't anyone publish cookbooks for children anymore? I checked over in Cookbooks and couldn't find a single one."

Elsie lifted a hand from her ergonomic mouse and set down her can of Red Bull with the other. "Kid's cookbooks? We've got hundreds!" She rattled off the Dewey range.

Feeling as if I'd forgotten to do my homework, I stared down at my shoes and said that I'd looked, I really had, and I couldn't find any. Elsie swung out of her chair and red-cheeked, I trailed her Reeboks to a corner in the children's section. She was right -- there were more cookbooks for little Madison than there were for her Mommy.

Elsie squatted and started stacking cookbooks on the floor for me. "Let's see, Emeril's book is really popular. And kids like gross recipe books like Roald Dahl’s. And this one, where you can make a cake look exactly like a litterbox." I peered over her woolly shoulder and yup, that cake sure did look like a litterbox garnished with Tootsie Roll turds. "And then there are the American Girls cookbooks of course. They're always checked out." I told her that I owned the Samantha cookbook, a relic of my daughter's long-ago fling with an American Girl. Then I started my own stack.

Samantha still sleeps in a box in the bedroom Honor abandoned ten years ago, but after I dumped my haul on the kitchen table, I checked for her cookbook in the bookcases -- nowhere to be found. Is it possible that Cooking with Samantha has made the move to Los Angeles and sits near the All-Clad, the 1975 Joy the ten Global knives and the sushi mats in my daughter's kitchen? I hope so -- an American girl's first cookbook.

I poured myself a martini and commenced to con the kiddy cookbooks. Hoo Boy: I'd set a high bar for these efforts. Yes, I'm a cook, a writer and a mother –- my heart gladdens when I hear the children of friends have that cooking jones: Brianna has baked her first brownies, and little Lucas drills out dolmades. I realized that I'd established a set of serious criteria – a book should equip Ethan with a working knowledge of stocks, salads and sauces. He should know how to spatchcock a chicken, and he should be armed with all he needs to trim an artichoke. But, fretting about the short attention span of kids who can surf the seductive web for all cooking advice they could ever need, I wanted the books to be alluring.

Many martinis later -- spread out over a span roughly equivalent to Spring Break -- I'd read Elsie's recommendations, scoped out the selection at the local Borders, and proceeded to checkout at Amazon with a couple of promising-looking candidates. Not one would get my vote for Student Body President, but it was sure an eclectic field. The only plank in every platform, pitched to all my children from Ashley to Zach was:

More student parking? Open lunch for freshman? Lifting the restriction on bongs as a Pottery Class project? Nope:

Granola.

What were they smoking, those Boomer writers? They gave up granola before they'd retired their turntables and pulled down their Farrah posters. I’ve yet to meet a kid who’d rather drag out the rolled oats than nuke a piece of frozen pizza.

Slipping into full-fledged fogey mode, I understood my mother's sadness that I can't decline Latin nouns (or is it verbs? Cases?) My grandfather could recite Coleridge. I understood for the first time why my American Girl, my brilliant English major, hadn't read Jane Austen in high school or college -- no one had assigned it. Most of these books seem to destine a child to scrape through real cooking lessons the way I scraped Joseph Conrad. Tyler and Tiffany can make a smoothie from these books; they can whip up some nachos. But they won't know how to make a pot roast or a piecrust, or even an Apple Crisp.

If they turn to The Best Kids Cookbook (Sunset, 1992) they'll learn about the now-derided Food Pyramid, "Dawn to Dusk Granola" and "Halloween Orange Worms,” prepared from pureed apricots and gelatin. It's an earnest book that reminded me of a Health Class text, but cuter. Though it attempts to steer the cook onto the righteous lo-fat path -- way too many dishes call for Neufchatel cheese -- it does demonstrate sausage making, and tarnishes its healthful halo by including a lovely, lipid-laden recipe for Cheese Grits. Some kid must have liked it -- the pages had to be pried apart, they were so sticky.

The Math Chef (John Wiley and Sons, 1997) reads like the lesson plan of a well- meaning sixth grade teacher -- there are quizzes about computing the area of a pan of brownies, answer keys to the quizzes, lectures on the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales, and instructions on how to figure half of three quarters of a cup. (That last is useful, actually!) But oh my, it’s dreary; so dreary I almost yearned for cutesy names and day-glo illustrations. My quick scan of the curriculum revealed the only recipe asking for butter rather than margarine: inexplicably, Animal Crackers.

The Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cookbook (1997) didn't rate a smear. It contains a scant fifty recipes, heavy on the store-bought tomato sauce: lasagna, pizza, tacos and their bubbly cheesy ilk. It's cheerful, it contains complete nutrition facts for every dish, and it won't tax the talents of your budding Batali – he's instructed to use a package of Ranch Dressing mix instead of olive oil and lemon juice.

Better Homes and Gardens also gave us the latchkey kid classic: After School Cooking (1987) It's bright, it's pretty, and all a hungry kid needed to grab before wasting a few hours with Mario Bros. was a package of frozen waffles! We have "Yo Go Waffles", the "Wonderful Wafflewich (peanut butter and bananas,) "Pie a la Mode Waffles" -- pie filling from a can and instant pudding mix. When Jason wanted to come down from his sugar high, he didn't need to worry about nicking his game thumb with a paring knife -- he whipped out the freezer corn muffins and a can of chili. Soups come from cans, hash browns from a bag, and salad dressing from the supermarket. This book will teach you more uses for canned crescent rolls than Escoffier had for demi-glace.

I felt myself slide into Concerned Parent Mode -- this wasn't teaching kids how to cook! These books were pushing a deadening after-school combination of homework, junk food and trips to the freezer. I kicked my hypothetical son off the computer, told him to go play outside, ride his bike, be a kid, maybe shoplift a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos from the Speedway. I opened my box from Amazon.

The Fanny Farmer Junior Cookbook (Joan Scobey, Little Brown 1993) can't be accused of being garish, cute or patronizing – it includes five recipes for homemade salad dressing! But, dearie me, it is so prim, from the chaste black and white illustrations to the recipes for Boiled New Potatoes, Microwaved Fish and Blueberry Muffins. Your daughter won't get into any trouble here, but she'll be as likely to love it as wear a Laura Ashley dress to the prom.

I turned with real hope to Marion Cunningham's Cooking With Children (Knopf, 1995.) The Grande Dame of authentic American food writing dedicates it to Evan and Judith Jones; with a gene pool like that, how could a hopeful child not learn to cook? In fact, this could be a useful volume for beginners of every age, with its basic repertoire, logical progression, careful instructions and realistic learning curve. Cunningham used her experience teaching cooking classes for children at a local community college, and it shows. She's devised a fifteen lesson master plan, each chapter building on skills taught in the ones before it: soup, salads, eggs, biscuits, meatloaf, popovers, bread, apple pie, roast chicken -- a kitchen canon.

Chapter Nine, Pasta is exemplary. She gives us a summer and a winter version of Tomato Sauce: "Tomatoes can be dressed differently in the summer and the winter, just like you." Praise be, she demonstrates a splendid mac and cheese, including "a basic white sauce, which will reveal the mysteries of thickening." (The prose style she uses with children makes me grate my teeth along with that cup of sharp cheddar cheese!)

Cunningham has done everything right in this book, and for all the right reasons. In her introduction she says, "Teaching children to cook, I think, is our greatest hope in recovering what we have lost. Those values we unconsciously learned and absorbed day after day as we shared meals together and exchanged conversation." Yes, all those lost things: Saturday morning pancakes, Sunday dinner, liver and onions on Thursday. I mourn their passing too, except for the liver..

It's a terrific book: why did it fall so flat for me? Maybe the lesson plan format, the lists of learning objectives for the little cook, the not-quite-good-enough illustrations, the rare photographs that look like family pictures snapped on Grandma's deck. The subtitle captures the tone of the book perfectly: "15 Lessons for Children, Age 7 and Up, Who really Want to Learn How to Cook." (Emphasis mine.) I felt as let down as I had when the high-minded Louisa May Alcott married Jo March off to that goody-goody German professor, instead of to the rich, dashing Laurie. It makes sense, it's the right thing to do, it's all for the best . . . but it made me yearn for some color, some romance. Some BAM!

Hannah and Liam

There's beaucoup bam in Emeril Lagasse's There's a Chef in My Soup, (Harper Collins, 2002) including a recipe for "Baby BAM" spice rub. Emeril's face beams from almost every page, the illustrations are bright, and the recipe names so damn cute I almost – almost -- wished for Cunningham's stern blue pencil. Have a Happy-Happy Club Sandwich, kiddies? Maybe a Notches Unknown PBJ? Care for a Ka-Bam Kabob? (Yup, the Crispy Crunchy Granola Munchies are yours for the asking: page 120.) But I soon took myself to task for being such a parental purist; these recipes sounded good! The instructions are clear, he's enthusiastic, and he's concerned about safety. (Maybe a little too concerned: he recommends that we cook our hamburgers well done -- can he really prefer his meat gray? Hah.) And Emeril’s a brand. Children know brands, and as sure as they know that Puma sneakers are cool again, they know that Emeril is everywhere.

Children watch Food TV, and Rachael Ray is the way cutest brand for the twelve-year-old lad who's perused her spread in his big brother's Maxim. Her Cooking Rocks! (Lake Isle Press 2004) is spiral bound , bright , bouncy and heavy on sugar-rush recipes . Rick Bayless’s Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures (Stewart Tabori and Chang, 2004) is a serious cookbook featuring recipes from their road trips in Mexico, Oklahoma, Morocco, Thailand and France, along with the Pedagogue Dad/Smartmouth Daughter back-and-forth that rings true.

Barbie: there's branding even Emeril can’t match. I thought of her when my Wolverine buddy told me a story. His five-year-old daughter is allowed, as a special treat, to stay up late on Wednesday night and watch Alton Brown with her Daddy. Just before Christmas, as he was putting her to bed after their quality time with FoodTV, she begged: "Please, please Papi, don't give me any Mr. Brown tapes for Christmas. I want a doll!" Iris, don't tell your father, but do I have a cookbook for you!

Barbie Fun to Cook (Dorling Kindersley, 2001). It’s a slim forty-eight pages of girlie fun, packing the same picture-heavy format DK used in the Anne Willan Look and Cook series ten years ago. Like Emeril in his cookbook, Barbie bubbles from every page in hers, but with better hair and cuter clothes. She and her multiracial Barbie buddies cook like girls, and why not? Their sleepover Nacho Nibbles are untainted by the leering lure of prepared food products, their Cute Cookies are very cute, and the Dippy Chicken requires marination, skewer-threading and a semi-authentic satay sauce. My mother once frowned at Barbie -- in fact I was the only girl in my school without one. But Mummy came to her senses and now bestows Barbie at every gift-giving opportunity, and her great-nieces love her. Now that Rachel and Lauren are a little older, I think she should send them each a copy of Barbie Fun to Cook for Christmas, along with Barbie's Dream Kitchen.

Barbie and Emeril gave this high-minded foodie Mom a reality check. Who cares if Barbie isn't discussing demi-glace with Skipper, or that Emeril is flogging a pint-sized line of cookware and tiny aprons? Maybe, like gas station coffee, granola has improved since Kent slung macrobiotic slush in the ashram. I know that there's a serious child who will follow Marion Cunningham's curriculum to the letter. Perhaps making pizza on a Bisquick crust, all by himself, will spur your son to buy a package of yeast some day and fool around with focaccia.

Of course you could bypass the Kiddy Cookbook genre entirely, and present her with Joy or Julia or Jean-Georges. The buddy who dished dinner to his brothers before his voice changed might have reached for Rachael Ray. But, oh the enchantment when I held in my chubby hands that long-ago cookbook that was written for me. My book, my recipes, my name on the flyleaf. Buy your kid a cookbook, any old cookbook -- his very own cookbook. Write his name on the flyleaf, and date the inscription. I bet you a bunch of Ka-Boom Kabobs that your child will organize an unscheduled trip to the supermarket before her next soccer practice -- in fact, you might just want to fire up Excel and make up your own Cleanup Checklist before you pull the minivan out of the driveway.

But when you put her on the plane for Purdue, and pack away her 4-H ribbons, discarded eyebrow rings and favorite Puffalumps, please cuddle her cookbook into a corner of the box. She'll want it someday.

Margaret McArthur, aka maggiethecat, is host and Dark Lady of the Daily Gullet Competition forum. She writes, cooks and tends her garden near Chicago.

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Loverly!


Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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I wasnt sure of ettiquette - to post or not.

Thanks for leading the way, AnnaN.

Thanks for writing that, Maggie/Margaret. Its beautiful.

My childhood cookbooks were The Time-Life Food of the World series. They've been mine since I was 12 and are jealously treasured.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Lovely writing, but I must disagree about Cunningham's Cooking with Children. In fact, I don't always love the final product from her recipes, often feeling a bit of this or that or a tweak to a technique would improve it, but I never fail to appreciate her teaching methods or her tone. The proof is in the kids' reaction to it. I'm on my second year of using it with kids' cooking classes -- it is a hit, particularly because of her prose. They feel empowered by her confidence in them and her simple instructions. I'm sold.


~ Lori in PA

My blog: http://inmykitcheninmylife.blogspot.com/

My egullet blog: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=89647&hl=

"Cooking is not a chore, it is a joy."

- Julia Child

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Very interesting and useful survey of the genre, Maggie. What do you think of the book Alice Waters wrote about Fanny?

The problem inherent in cookbooks for children is that authors rarely figure out who their audience is. This is one of those cases where pitching to the person who's going to buy the book gets tangled up with who's actually going to read it.

I'd like to change my mind someday, but right now I believe it's best to write for the adults who wish to reach children (their own, students...) vs. the children themselves. I'm speaking from the position that many of us share: an interactive, hands-on "lab experience" in the kitchen is superior to the book-learning that motivated kids will pick up on their own later.

What I like about Cunningham's book is that she offers a strong didactice tool for adult readers. My only problem is that the recipes are dated and designed to appeal to the most mainstream of American palates. There's little adventure. Yet, then you have the common situation often faced when it comes to children and food: are they only going to eat what what is familiar? What do you do when you don't have the Edible Schoolyard to entice the stubborn--or fearful--little dullards to try the chard they grew themselves? And are contemporary demographics going to motivate us to change our notion of what appeals to Keisha, Simon, Shalani & Pedro?

There's a fairly interesting set of educational books put out by Discovery on food, addressing both nutrition and culinary history. They're recipe-less. I don't know how much they appeal to young readers.

And Dave, if that's yours, great illustration!


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Thanks all, for your thoughtful comments. Lori, I'm delighted that Cunningham has cred with your students, probably, as I mentioned, kids who really want to learn how to cook,or they wouldn't be taking cooking lessons! I suspect you're downplaying your role: I'm sure your skills and enthusiam count way more than Cunningham.

Pontormo: I haven't read the Waters book, but I will.

There's little adventure. Yet, then you have the common situation often faced when it comes to children and food: are they only going to eat what what is familiar?

I suspect that for many kids the canon is unfamiliar, and that's what I admired about Cunningham's book -- it might expose a frazzled convenience-food raised kid to the glory of a real roast chicken. Lori said that a tweak can help many of Marian's matronly recipes, and hopefully, if they've covered the basics, they'll feel free to splash about a little.

(Shameless brown nosing--he is my boss, after all -- but Dave did indeed do the great art and has a hand in every single Daily Gullet picture.)

Full disclosure: as a twenty-year old bride I made my bones doing an early Julie/Julia thing. My copies of Mastering the Art lost their covers during the first Reagan administration. I cooked my way through Food of the World too.

I'd be interested to hear from all the gifted male home cooks we have in these parts: what was your, er, seminal cookbook?


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Wonderful article! I've been realizing slowly that many of my childhood memories also turn on enjoying food. Not just the usual, "my mom made this trifle every Christmas," though there's that, too, but memories like the story of how my friend and I would sneak fast food into the movie theater, saving enough of our money to be able to have dessert after the movie at a restaurant that featured crepes (a big deal in my hometown then).

While I cooked some as a kid, my real interest didn't flower until sometime in college. I can remember returning from a college journey to New Orleans with my very own copy of a New Orleans cookbook (I still have it, of course, battered and stained, but I don't recal the name). Many more have followed, but I still have all of my earliest books.

We have a number of kids' cookbooks now, but none of them have exactly been "right." Most are, as you say, rather dumbed down. My kids can make nachos without needing a recipe! But the pictures are mostly great, and the kids occasionally flip through and find something to make (almost always treats). The best recipe, from another book I can't remember the name of, is peanut butter popcorn.

What we do mostly is cook from either our current receipes and (grownup) cookbooks, or get an idea of something to make, and find it on the internet. After tasting Indian Pudding recently on a trip to Boston, my 7-year-old daughter and I found a recipe that we liked (I did already have my own Indian Pudding recipes, dating back from when, long ago and pre-kid, we lived in Boston, but those weren't good enough), and made it for a school project on colonial days. Neither of the kids is to the point yet where they can make an entire dish themselves (other than stuff like nachos), so cooking with me still works the best. (Dad loves to cook too, but he has a hard time sharing the cooking with others...) After another recent batch of Indian Pudding, my son, not satisfied with my offer of his own scones or biscotti or even chocolate mousse, announced that the only thing he wants to make is a chocolate souffle. Ok, I love throwing in the science instruction with the cooking and baking! And like most (all?) of us, they're learning how to modify and change recipes to suit our tastes.

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Wait a minute, Pumas are cool again? How the hell did I miss that? I still have a "vintage" pair somewhere...

My first cookbook was from one of the Pillsbury Bakeoffs. Since then, I'm a happy baker. Bread, souffles, casseroles, none scares me. Still stuggling with the pan gravy a bit. It's edible, but nothing to write home about. But I can roast a chicken that will make Julia clap her hands with glee.

Very nice article.


Screw it. It's a Butterball.

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MtheC, an excellent, thought-provoking piece. I tend to lump modern chefs writing children's cookbooks in with erstwhile college-radio singer-songwriters recording albums for children -- the music no less granola. Both cause me the same brain scream: Why? (I understand about the money part.)

As I am sure you understand, just as we eschewed toy tools for our child as soon as he was big enough to hold the petite picture-hanging hammer, (and of course now he can heft with one hand the big old honkin' 18.8-volt Milwaukee cordless drill while I have to steady the relatively wimpy 20-year-old cast-off Makita with two), we also have instilled the idea of real cookery using real ingredients.

I admit to a slight frisson of West Coast pride in reading that the Sunset book was somewhat less worse than others... the Magazine of Western Living has long been a repository of open-minded, decent, forward-thinking food writing. Course a child could take any of the charmingly pithy recipes from any of their regular publications and make them work, I think.


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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Great article -- perhaps finally an explanation why I paid more attention to what the characters in stories would be eating, and not so much what they were doing.

My two favorite books to read, even before I was given the opportunity to cook dinner for my family when I was 6:

gallery_46495_3285_11014.jpg

gallery_46495_3285_1941.jpg

My mother gave me the Cooky book (still can't get over that spelling!), my older sister got the Boys and Girls cookbook (she might still be using it, I imagine.). I still reference the Cooky book when I want to make a batch of Molasses Crinkles or Refridgerator Cookies. The pages are smeared with molasses and chocolate stains and butter spots. It's gritty from flour dust. It still smells faintly of Mom's house.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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The picture on the cover of the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook brings back memories. I still have the book, smudged and smeared, but the cover is long gone. In the book it lists the names and ages of Betty's kitchen helpers and I always wanted to be one!


Johanna

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Just lovely, Maggie. Your own sense of childhood is still quite evident in the piece, and evokes the days of standing on a stepstool, dipping down into the flour bin, stirring and checking and hoping, til the magical rise and brown and there was cake.

I still go to the children's section, every library trip, and the cookbooks are always part of my trove. Some of the fondest memories of literature are of dinners and their preparation, the March family's almost-breakfast, Alice's none-yet tea, the color and the fantasy of teaparties and banquets and wedding feasts.

Since by nine, I was also turning out biscuits and cornbread and all manner of cakes (still haven't mastered piecrust---just don't have the "hand" for it, my Mother said), I found the Betty Crocker Kids books a quick read, perhaps from the library or borrowed from a friend.

I loved to delve into the old Mrs. Seeton's on my Mammaw's shelf, for the cooking as well as all the home remedies and old wives' advice; some of the cures sounded much worse than the malady.

I'd never heard of Julia Child til I had my own home and kitchen; no such citified volume ever reached our little town. We DID, however, for some reason unknown, sport two copies of MFK Fisher's writing-about-cooking, and they were the source of unending pleasure, from an early age. Just reading the richly-phrased sentences, the descriptions of sumptuous sauces and delectable dishes---those voluptuous words flowed like bechamel, igniting all the senses to receive the rich offering.

Thank you for the remembering, the re-living, and most of all for being such an articulate advocate for helping children learn to cook. We have so many young kitchen stars on these boards, and we're all astonished and proud and entertained. Every day, we marvel at the next picture and the next menu, set out shining and perfect to feast our eyes.

And may I say, Mrs. Fisher had nothing on your own way with words, culinary or otherwise.

edited because my midnight meanderings sometimes take on the windbagness of Foghorn Leghorn.


Edited by racheld (log)

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Great article -- perhaps finally an explanation why I paid more attention to what the characters in stories would be eating, and not so much what they were doing.

My two favorite books to read, even before I was given the opportunity to cook dinner for my family when I was 6:

gallery_46495_3285_11014.jpg

gallery_46495_3285_1941.jpg

My mother gave me the Cooky book (still can't get over that spelling!), my older sister got the Boys and Girls cookbook (she might still be using it, I imagine.). I still reference the Cooky book when I want to make a batch of Molasses Crinkles or Refridgerator Cookies. The pages are smeared with molasses and chocolate stains and butter spots. It's gritty from flour dust. It still smells faintly of Mom's house.

So that's where I got it!! I have always spelled individual ones "cooky" and many of them "cookies". I am pretty sure I had that book as a child - hard to tell exactly as I accidentally set a fire (I was having a dinner party for my stuffed animals and needed candlelight :rolleyes:) and burned up every single toy, book, game and piece of clothing I owned at age 8 :sad:. I love old children's books and have begun a new offshoot of recipe books.

Maggie - wonderful, evocative writing - as always!

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Maggie, beautiful article!

I use a lot of the instructional kiddie genre cookbooks as a starting point. Mostly on how to present our regular food to the kids in a fun way. Of the children's genre, the best for us has been Ponzek's "The Family Kitchen". She has very clear instructions on presenting new skills. Oddly enough, in the past year, the recipes that get the most use are from Phaedon's "The Silver Spoon". They currently like making risottos and gnocchi from scratch.

The twins will be 5 in November. For the past two years, we've collected THEIR recipes that they've learned to cook. I've written them out on index cards and personalized it for each daughter (the way she likes her food) in an inexpensive photo album. The girls love it. My hope is that we will keep this up so that they will have a history of their cooking and their family.

The recipes range from wontons (I need to include pictures of their first ones!) to overnight oatmeal (w/ preferred toppings) to carrot slaw, etc.

So in addition to purchasing cookbooks, I vote for creating cookbooks with kids :rolleyes:

Pam

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I'd be interested to hear from all the gifted male home cooks we have in these parts: what was your, er, seminal cookbook?

My first cookbook was the "Peanuts Cook Book" featuring Charlie Brown and the gang. I still remember the first recipe I made from it which I believe was called "Apple Brown Lucy" (it couldn't have been called "Apple Brown Betty" could it? I didn't think Lucy Van Pelt would have allowed that).

My mom was impressed and quickly moved me onto prepping dinner when I got home from school. We became latchkey kids when my mom eventually returned to the workplace and it fell to my oldest brother and me to start dinner when we got home from junior high and, later, high school, using instructions my mom left taped to a kitchen cupboard.

I bought the cookbook myself while I was in elementary school. I thank Scholastic Books for publishing the title and providing very affordable books for kids.


 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I'd be interested to hear from all the gifted male home cooks we have in these parts: what was your, er, seminal cookbook?

My first cookbook was the "Peanuts Cook Book" featuring Charlie Brown and the gang. I still remember the first recipe I made from it which I believe was called "Apple Brown Lucy" (it couldn't have been called "Apple Brown Betty" could it? I didn't think Lucy Van Pelt would have allowed that).

My mom was impressed and quickly moved me onto prepping dinner when I got home from school. We became latchkey kids when my mom eventually returned to the workplace and it fell to my oldest brother and me to start dinner when we got home from junior high and, later, high school, using instructions my mom left taped to a kitchen cupboard.

I bought the cookbook myself while I was in elementary school . I thank Scholastic Books for publishing the title and providing very affordable books for kids.

ou stor

Oh my gosh, a Peanuts cookbook! That takes me back, Toliver, and your story about the Apple Brown Lucy resonates: in MFK speak, successfully cooking that first dish from a cookbook was an early Measure of our Powers. And I'm so with you about Scholastic Books: cheap, interesting stuff. Growing up as I did in a place where books in English were non-existent, their offerings were catnip. They deserve "Harry Potter."


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Inspired to read this article yet again, as young Master Peter (now 10) is hot to trot, I pulled out my first cookbook -- a very well worn copy of Farm Journal's "Lets Start To Cook." Why did they cease to publish these books, especially this one?

It immediately fell open to the drawings of how to frost a cake -- put a plate on top of a bowl (so you can spin it and it is at eye level) and put strips of waxed paper under the cake so the plate stays clean). I flipped, and there is the recipe for Perfect Beef Stew -- that actually talks about what cuts are the most flavorful!

This was published in 1966, long before microwaves, when prepared food meant canned tomatoes and sweetened condensed milk. To this day, I can still remember the recipe for Hamburger Goo (think sloppy joes) that is the best ever. My kids won't eat anyone else's sloppy joes. Oh, and there's a whole thing on rolling out pie crust (yes, in Farm Journal books, it's pie crust). There are side bars with all sorts of useful information (how does yeast work) and quaintly early 60's drawings in black and orange (!). Each meat chapter starts with a line drawing of the animal and the various cuts.

Run, do not walk, to your local used book store and hound them for a copy, or search on Amazon. It would be a great gift for any beginning cook (no matter the age) and a good thing to tuck away for a future grandchild.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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Susan:

There are nine copies available at Amazon!

It sounds perfect, down to the Hamburger Goo, real stew and black and orange graphics. Master Peter could find new worlds, and reinforce the good stuff his mother has taught him with this tome.

Next payday...


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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My first cookbook was a Mr. Men production with cute illustrations in bright colours of foods we never cooked - potato boats with bacon sails on little toothpicks, sausages floating in baked beans. I did love looking at the pictures.

But the cookbook that I read for pleasure over and over as a child was Round the World in Eighty Dishes. I read that until the covers fell off. I stole it when I left home. I don't know that I cooked from it much but it was definitely a huge influence in how I thought about food.

Edited to mention: I also loved sitting down and reading my mother's very own folder of recipes clipped from magazines or written down by hand. There was one page where she'd saved the cover of a magazine section on biscuits (cookies) that had beautiful seventies lettering, I think it said "The Best of Biscuits" and all these lovely decorated biscuits arranged in rows. A star shaped one with pink icing and sprinkles is lodged in my visual memory. I could also draw from memory the photo accompanying a recipe for little cheesecakes with tinned mandarin segments from further back in the book, or the icecream that had pineapple chunks folded in from the page opposite the cheesecakes. Every now and then I'll demand that mum drag out the folder and transcribe a particular recipe for me, just so I have it.


Edited by Idlewild (log)

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My first cookbook, and the only one for most of my childhood, was my mother's copy of The American Woman's Cookbook. It's one of those classic-style all-inclusive cookbooks, like Joy, though lacking the Rombauers' exuberant chattiness (probably why Joy is still selling...). I liked that it laid out all the rules for entertaining, and formal cutlery arrangement, etc. I now own my grandmother's earlier copy of the same book (the wartime "Victory Edition," with recipes tailored for the rationing regime).

I was a precocious, smart-ass kid, and even before I knew much about cooking I would have disdained a "dumbed-down" or kid-oriented cookbook. I could read, I could follow instructions, why would I need anything simplified?

Looking back now, I can only wonder at my mother's indulgence. I was making my own porridge occasionally at five, and at six my own eggs and toast, and panfrying trout. I made caramel mousse at thirteen, and I vividly remember watching in wonder as the sugar melted in the pan (I still love making caramel). I had a less-relaxed attitude with my own kids, waiting until they were at least adolescents before I would permit anything involving hot fat or melted sugar.


"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"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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