When I was five my grandmother tied one of her checked terry cloth aprons around my chest, stood me on a stool, handed me a butter knife and an egg and told me it was time I learned to cook. That’s how I learned to fry eggs, eggshells in the egg, egg in the hot bacon grease and my five year old self just as proud as I could be. Now, I know you’re horrified because none of you would ever put a five year old anywhere near a functioning gas burner or a pan of hot grease but let’s just recall that times were different—remember when child car seats hooked over the front seat and weren’t actually intended to restrain a child? Sometimes I’m amazed I survived my childhood.
What’s particularly interesting about my grandmother deciding I needed to learn how to cook (thanks to her I could put a full meal on the table for a family of six by the time I was 11) is that the only thing my mother could do in the kitchen when she got married was peel potatoes. My grandma would be the first to tell you she wasn’t a fancy cook, but that she was more than competent in the kitchen, yet it was my father who had to teach my mother how to roast a chicken, among other things. I puzzled over this for a long time but the scales fell from my eyes the first time I tied an apron around a junior member of the Kitchen Patrol at my house. I handed over an egg and butter knife and wound up a gibbering idiot with, quite literally, egg on my face.
It’s not easy to teach someone who is still developing fine motor skills and an attention span how to crack an egg and get it into a bowl. It takes patience and a willingness to settle for less than perfect results. Knowing my grandma, I imagine she decided it was just easier to do it herself than to fuss with the mess and bother of teaching my mother. Of course, by the time I came around she wasn’t worrying about putting out three meals a day for a family of seven and I think she could afford to be a little more relaxed.
Cooking with my family is still a source of deep pleasure for me—most of the best moments of my life have happened in a kitchen. The Junior Kitchen Patrol and I spend many hours cooking together. We make bread, brownies, biscotti, pizza, jello. Jello is in fact the hot favorite at the moment (don’t ask—there’s no way to explain it) with pizza running a close second. It’s not all fun and games. Cooking with children is a scholarly activity. We do addition (2 eggs + 2 eggs is ?) fractions (slice that pizza in into eighths!) we work on fine motor skills (try peeling your own shrimp for dinner and see how good you get) and we even squeeze in chemistry (contrary to what some people at my house think the sugar in bread dough does not give yeast gas—we’re still working on that concept.) Yes, sometimes I wind up gibbering, and I keep the frying-things-in-grease jobs for myself, but Junior KP can crack an egg with no mess these days and we’re both pretty proud of that. Cooking with a child does take longer but it’s a pretty rewarding pasttime and I’m glad my grandma had the luxury of figuring that out.
Silver spoon for children: favorite Italian recipes recipes adapted and edited by Amanda Grant
FamilyFun cooking with kids from the experts at Family Fun Magazine
Children’s baking book recipes and stylings by Denise Smart
Toddler cookbook by Annabell Karmel
Kitchen science by Peter Pentland