Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Kitchen Fun. Really.

My mom, affectionately referred to in Blogopia as Dame Judi, is a wonderful woman. Of all the cooking influences in my life, and there have been notable ones, hers was the first. She is a very deft cook. Sadly, her husband (my father, Sean Connery) is not an adventurous eater. At all. So her skills were used on a regular menu of established dishes, with little room for massively creative touches lest she get a "what is this" response from the crowd.

But she encouraged me when I began to show a petite interest in cooking, allowing me to experiment and serve up my dishes to the family. She gave me my very own cookbook, a true treasure, because it had been hers before. It was a sweet little book titled Kitchen Fun: A Cookbook for Children, by Louise Price Bell, published in 1932. It was already well used when I got it, with marks and spatters on the pages and a little note beside the recipe for tapioca pudding: "icky", written in Mum's childish hand. (I write notes in my cookbooks; I realized just now that this is where I must have learned that).

Charmingly illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, each ingredient for each recipe was accompanied by a little drawing, so that an early reader could still work out the recipe. The instructions are very simple, with no particular information as to cooking whys and wherefores; but then,few children will sit still for that anyway. Too much like work. True to its title what the book does do is instill a sense that cooking is fun, with fanciful dishes like Cinderella Cake, Old King Cole Spinach, and Choo Choo Salad (grated carrots combined with raisins and orange juice and served on lettuce. I don't know what is supposed to be remotely train like about this dish).

Dame Judi very patiently allowed me to try my hand, guiding and answering my questions but letting me do for myself (the best way to learn, I think). I attempted every recipe in that book which didn't sound nasty to me. (Necessarily, I heeded her advice and avoided the "icky" tapioca). The family, with rather less patience, tried my efforts.

It should be noted that, sadly, nearly every recipe in the book is quite awful; inedible in some cases. This owes to the quality (or lack thereof) of the recipes. No amount of practise or increased skill could make the fudge creamy, give the cake loft or lend savor to the salmon loaf. (The salmon loaf can accurately be described as "gak").

When The Child turned 3 her aunt and uncle gave her a cooking set, an apron and a cook book. I about plotzed when I saw it...a reissue of the self-same Kitchen Fun. Being new, it was sturdier for The Child to use. (The pages from my/Dame Judi's copy having long since separated from the cover).

I tend to be a "new one in, old one out" sort of person but I still have the old copy of the book in among the Rachael Ray, Donna Hay and Pat Wells. Of course I do. it is more than a cookbook, it is a totem.

The Child, who 0 years later is well on her way to being a very good cook and an accomplished baker, will still sometimes retreat to the childish simplicity of Kitchen Fun when she's feeling peckish. She is particularly fond of the Cinderella Cake with Jam Frosting. Unfortunately, the reissue did nothing to address the paucity of goodness in the recipes. The cake still turns out dry and flat and only the young and very sugar toothed can enjoy it. Fortunately, she's never felt compelled to prepare the salmon loaf.

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