How Did You Get Your Start in the Kitchen?

Discussion in 'Baker Banter' started by Margot, Aug 15, 2017.

  1. Margot

    Margot Member

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    After my trip into the baking world at age seven with a failed whoopee pie attempt, I kind of just gravitated to the baking world. I'm sure it was mostly because of my preference for something sweet at that age. I didn't get into cooking right away. But as my parents both worked, we children were called upon to start a meal for supper. There were a few fails. I remember making a chocolate cake for my father – his favorite. And as mother worked till 8 at the bank that night, I thought a pot of coffee would be a nice gesture. I put the cake on the back burner to cool and started the old stove top percolator on the front burner. Unfortunately, I turned on the back burner and burnt the heck out of the cake when I walked away from the kitchen. I wasn't familiar at that time with a rack for cooling baked goods. Live and learn.

    By the time I was 15, I was old enough to work with 'work papers'. The local nursing home was hiring but I was too young to work with patients. Because I could boil water without burning it, they made me the evening cook and weekend fill in. It was intimidating to serve 60 patients a meal that would be palatable, but I worked with a menu. The day cook would prepare some things, or at least get them started. I always was unhappy to see egg salad on the menu. My day cook would boil them up but never chilled them. She would leave them to me to peel. I don't think that much of those eggs made it into the bowl. Large chunks of the white were discarded – stuck on the shell.

    One weekend serving as the day cook, hot rolls were on the menu. I'd never seen them on the menu before, and having experienced bread making, I knew I was in trouble. I don't know if I ran home for the recipe, but I found myself making my oatmeal bread into rolls for 60 patients. I figured that if I doubled the batch I could eke out that number. In those days, we had a big Hobart mixer. I knew nothing about a bread hook and used the paddle that was in the machine. Did they have dough hooks back in the '60's? Well, it didn't work. I ended up with a strange mixture much like cake dough. There were no forming rolls out of that. Today, I might have been able to save it, but I slunk with that pan full of dough into the dish-washing room and forced it down the disposal. Then I wandered into the pantry. There was not enough bread to serve with dinner and I was in a pinch. It was then that I spied a 5-pound bag of hot roll mix on the shelf. oh.....

    I continued to work there. Once I reached age 16 I graduated to a nurses aide position. I worked as an aide but sometimes as a cook, and stayed on all through high school and more as I went to nursing school. Summers and holidays from training, I was called upon to work in the kitchen. It was a nice change. I was able to provide aides and cooks with their summer vacations.

    I learned the value of the clean-up. Called on the carpet only once was more than I wanted to take. It turned out to be from someone's midnight snack not from our evening meal. But I never received an apology from the boss for that calling down. It was another lesson learned. It was about how to treat those that work for you. Yes, live and learn.
     
    Margot, Aug 15, 2017
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  2. Margot

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    Cooking was born of necessity. To say my mother could not cook is a gross understatement. My mother grew up in a well-to-do household; her mother employed a cook. So my mother could burn water and that was about it. And I do not exaggerate...


    My mother's roasted chicken recipe was as basic as it gets:

    • Take two frozen chickens out of the freezer. Rip the plastic off. In a feeble attempt to thaw, toss frozen chickens, with the bag of innards still frozen solid in the cavity of the chicken, into a sink filled with hot tap water.
    • Then with total impatience, toss the still frozen chickens, innards and all, in a roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven, then set oven to 350°.
    • In an hour or two, if you remember, run into the kitchen to yank the roasted chicken from the oven
    • Use a long handled fork to dig the bag with the chicken gizzards, liver, heart and neck out of the cavity. Serve with a side of soggy re-heated frozen spinach.

    Despite my knowledge of baking science, my mother's sugar cookie recipe remains shrouded in absolute mystery to me. Her lumps of sweetened flour came out of the oven just soft enough to bite through. But once thoroughly cooled, the cookies hardened into rock hard lumps. My brothers and their friends used them as grenades, lobbing them at one another in mock backyard battles. Those not swift enough to clear the path of in-coming cookie bombs were left bruised and battered.

    So necessity drove me to the kitchen at age ten. And it certainly was not without its hazards. I have a small scar in the white of my left eye where I was once splattered with hot grease.

    But necessity evolved into passion through my paternal grandmother. A country woman with deep southern roots, her food began in her garden. Vegetables from the side yard garden; fruit from the orchard. Even honey was harvested from her own beehives. Dinner was the bounty of a well-tended garden. She was from a generation and a culture in which farm to table wasn't an anthem, but a way of life. It was from my grandmother that I took notice of the art of baking. In my grandmother's hands, flour, butter, and sugar became the common genealogy connecting my life to her's and the women who came before us.

    Although my grandmother died when I was quite young, she left an indelible love and appreciation of food and how food gives us our cultural identity, our place in our families and in our communities. As I mark the years of my life, there is for every season a food to celebrate, a food to connect me to my past, to my children in the present, and my children's children in the future.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Aug 15, 2017
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  3. Margot

    Angie CupcakeQueen Well-Known Member

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    I started in the kitchen when I couldn't reach the counter yet. I always loved to be in the kitchen with my mom or grandma.
    The very first thing I baked by myself was this delicious coffee cake that I entered in the 4-H fair and got an honorable mention ribbon. I was so proud. After that I experimented a lot with cooking and baking, putting together my own recipes.
    I took Culinary Arts class at the Career Center and though I wasn't a fan of learning that way it created a spark in me. A spark that carried me to where I am now. Although I love cooking, baking is my passion.
     
    Angie CupcakeQueen, Aug 16, 2017
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  4. Margot

    RedShoe Well-Known Member

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    My mom was a good cook, but sickly, so my sister and I had to learn early how to cook. I recall being in the kitchen at 5 or 6 stirring pots. I think i was about 10 when i got my first fried chicken battle scars (splatters on face and hand!). I started baking around the same time too. I remember my sister and I making my mom a 29th birthday cake, a strawberry cake from a box, and we didn't quite grease the pans right. We ended up with a pile of cake and stuck a candle in it. Mom loved it, of course! I made it my mission to never fail a cake again. Good luck with that... The apple cinnamon upside down cake that smelled soooo good, yep, goop in the middle, crispy on the edges, stuck on the bottom.

    Over time i got better, more experimental, more creative. In my family, i'm the dessert queen. I think i've tried to make just about everything (except souffles and anything requiring direct fire, kind of a pyro, so...), but my love ended up to be cake. But i'm the oddball that loves cake but loathes frosting. I scrape 95% of the frosting off store-bought cakes, including cupcakes. I don't use much on my cakes, preferring to swirl icing out of a pastry bag or making a caramel topping and my customers love that. My favorite compliment is, "Your cakes aren't really sweet. That's why i don't like cake, cuz they're too sweet. I love yours!"

    On the Grandma In the Kitchen note: I always thought my father's mother was a great cook, but i was a little kid eating everything she made. As an adult, my dad filled me in on why everything tasted "so good". She smothered everything. Every meal had her delicious gravy. Because she burned so much food, she covered it in gravy! I was shattered! But i still hold her cooking in high regard because she taught her daughters and they were earnestly amazing cooks! My mother's mother, on the other hand, is a mess. She was supposed to be making us scrambled eggs for breakfast. When 10 minutes passed, my sister asked her if she needed help with them. She said she was waiting for them to finish boiling... She then chopped them up and cooked them (again) in a skillet with butter. Yep, that's my Gram!
     
    RedShoe, Aug 24, 2017
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  5. Margot

    JustJoel Member

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    Mom was not a cook. She didn’t understand even the most basic of concepts, like pre-heating the oven. That little hanit got her an exploded frozen cherry pie. It was like a sweet Vesuvius! Her idea of dinner for the kids was either takeout, or have Dad broil a steak (he wasn’t much of a cook either) and serve it with canned green beans slathered in Bob’s Big Boy Roquefort dressing.

    I learned to cook because I was craving some of that Roquefort dressing! I was living in Japan at the time, and not in Tokyo, which was a very westernized city, even back then. I needed some bleu cheese dressing, and there was none to be had! I knew I’d seen some bleu cheese in one of the big department store supermarkets, but I had no idea what to do with it, or even how to make salad dressing, of any type. But I needed it, so I went to the only bookstore that sold books in English and found a copy of The Joy of Cooking, and became entranced with cooking. Well, most cooking. Until a got my bread machine last year, I was a dismal failure at baking.
     
    JustJoel, Feb 2, 2018
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  6. Margot

    -Daniel- Well-Known Member

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    I started as an adult. My office had a baking competition to raise money for charity, so I participated. I enjoyed it so much that I got a few recipe books and began to make things more frequently.
     
    -Daniel-, Feb 2, 2018
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  7. Margot

    Becky Administrator

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    It's interesting to read how everyone got started in the kitchen, so many different backgrounds. I always love to hear stories of knowledge passed down through generations :)

    I got into cooking and baking when I left home as a student, in fact it was probably in my second year at uni when I was 19. I hadn't really done much before then. My mum was an excellent cook - her parents used to run a hotel on the sea front and her father (who died before I was born) taught her how to bake. However, she saved her skills only for when she was entertaining, and when she was getting ready to have friends over then generally me and my brother were under strict instructions to keep out the way. Looking back it's a shame that she never wanted to teach us what she knew, and she died in 2016 aged 60.

    The thing that made me want to learn how to cook was just the desire to eat nice food! I love trying new things, and I love recipe books - I have an unhealthy amount of them, lol.

    My brother and I both got into cooking when we were adults, although we are very different cooks! He's more of a cooking guy, likes cooking with meat (eg lots of slow roasting etc), never follows a recipe. On the other hand, I am interested in both baking and cooking, and I am a strict recipe follower! However once I'm familiar with a recipe or technique then I often make changes - my recipe books are all covered in notes. I'm a strong believer in moderation, so most of what I cook is healthy, and consequently I feel no guilt for the sugary/fatty treats :D
     
    Becky, Feb 3, 2018
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  8. Margot

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

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    Norcalbaker59 - Your mom's recipe for chicken is stellar! Too, too funny! And the cookie grenades - classic!

    I am another one that can report my mother did NOT cook or bake. Our meals were highly processed - think hamburger helper with the meat cooked past all possibility of taste remaining, lol. Until I got older and had other opportunities to taste them I thought I hated chili, lasagna and meatloaf, etc. My sister to this DAY will not eat any beef stew having been forced to eat far too many cans of Chunky Beef Stew growing up. And my DH makes an AWESOME beef stew when we go camping too - such a shame!

    I was an early reader and enjoyed books that were historical and they would often involve, mention food - the prep of it etc. I can't really remember a time before I was interested in learning to cook/bake for myself but I never did experiment at home. Home ec class, yes. Once I moved out and was in my own apartment, yes. Home, no. Without a lot of unnecessary detail suffice to say it was not a cozy, enjoyable environment. Enough said.

    I also think that learning the arts of cooking and baking do help give me a connection to those that have come before us - a connection I was not able to make within my own family, immediate or extended. It was exciting to buy my first cookbook (in mail order installments no less! haha!) and to collect dishes and cookware in prep to moving out on my own. I wasted no time in baking bread from scratch, making cookies and more.

    Cooking vs. baking took a little bit longer for me to really dive into but I feel like I am pretty fully immersed in both worlds now. Always trying to expand my skill set, try new recipes, etc. Which is what led me to this forum!
     
    AuntJamelle, Feb 5, 2018
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  9. Margot

    Norcalbaker59 Well-Known Member

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    @AuntJamelle, Your mention of home ec class really brought back some memories. :D My first real baking experiences were in home ec class. We started the semester making grilled cheese sandwiches. By the end of the semester we baked and decorated a scratch cake. My team made our cake into a bunny rabbit.

    I know what you mean about the hamburger helper… :confused:

    But I must confess I had a love of shake’n bake chicken. My grandmother raged against such processed foods. And of course when we were at her house we had to pretend we hated shake’n bake too.
     
    Norcalbaker59, Feb 6, 2018
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