Something From Nothing

In sixth grade, I had Home Economics on odd or even days for a semester.

I was excited about taking Home Ec.  In sixth grade, they taught you how to cook.  In seventh grade, it was how to sew.  When I went to band class down the exploratory wing for the whole first semester, I could smell the wonderful smells that emanated from the room on cooking days.  Home Ec was required for every student at my school, not just the females.  We all chuckled as the young, blond teacher divided our class up into groups of four, two boys and two girls for each group.

My mother would cook sometimes, but not often; she was too busy.  Most of her more elaborate recipes involved a crock pot and a long list of ingredients that simmered over hours.   Her cooking was a rare event, once a week at the most, rather than an every day occurrence.  I was curious about cooking, but the kitchen seemed an unfamiliar world to me.   Home Ec was a chance to finally figure out what was supposed to go on in there.

The Home Ec classroom was down at the end of the farthest hallway, past the band room and across from the wood shop.  The  room had six kitchen set ups around its perimeter.  A stove, a sink, cupboards filled with measuring supplies and dishes.  There was one refrigerator, located behind the teacher’s demonstration area.  She too had a kitchen set up, which in crowded classes became an extra group station.  Her area had a huge mirror above it so students could see exactly what she was doing without crowding around her station.

We had to cook four different recipes over the course of the semester.  The rest of the time was devoted to teaching us about food safety, nutrition and how to shop for ingredients.  When it finally came time to cook, the teacher would spend one class session demonstrating a recipe.  Then we spent another one rewriting the recipe out ourselves in long hand; all abbreviations had to be uniform and identical.  Neatness on the recipe was part of the grade.

Then finally, it came time to cook for ourselves.  Our first recipe was banana bread.  We learned how to mash up the overripe bananas.  We measured exactly to the line on the liquid cup, bending down to view the glass handled cup from eye level rather than from above.  We learned that the eggs needed to be cracked one at a time into a bowl just in case they were spoiled, so that we didn’t ruin the whole set of ingredients.

We were all amazed when the bread came out of the oven.  We were eleven years old, and we’d cooked something other than macaroni and cheese.  And it wasn’t just edible, it actually tasted delicious.  Our sense of accomplishment was palpable.

I would walk home from middle school in the afternoons to an empty house.  My sister was working after school or out with friends.  My brother was always out with friends doing God Knew What.  But me, I always came home.  There was homework to do, but I always finished it quickly.  There would be hours left in the day before everyone would come back home, and I was all alone in the house.

I would fill quiet, lonely afternoons with the lessons I learned in Home Ec.  I would take disparate ingredients around the house and make bagels, or bread pudding, or brownies; whatever recipe I could find that had ingredients we had on hand.  There was something magical in making something new and wondrous where before there had been absolutely nothing.

And so I cooked.


One Response

  1. […] was what Home Economics had been called when I had attended the school.  I interviewed for the job in the same classroom where I’d taken the class myself.  I immediately liked the woman whom I’d be replacing, […]

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