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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Cookery for Children

read by Miss Firth
Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 479-485

I think that I cannot have a better beginning for this short paper on "Cookery for Children," than Mr. Ruskin's definition of what cookery means. He says:--"It means the knowledge of all herbs, and fruits, and balms, and spices, and of all that is healing and sweet in fields and groves, and savoury in meats; it means carefulness, and inventiveness, and watchfulness, and willingness and readiness of appliance; it means the economy of your great grandmothers, and the science of modern chemists; it means much tasting and no wasting; it means English thoroughness, and French art, and Arabian hospitality; . . . and as you are to see imperatively, that everybody has something pretty to put on, so you are to see yet more imperatively that everybody has something nice to eat."

The love of cookery, or rather cooking, is born in almost every child. If you watch a group of children on a shore, the little girls invariably make mud pies, or turn plum puddings out of their buckets, and have mysterious mixtures in cockle and mussel shells, and the whole presents a wonderful repast. Then when this make-believe is realized, there is the love of producing something that can be eaten, that appeals to the appetite.

I remember, when a child at school in Germany, the fun we used to have on half-holidays, making toffee of water and lumps of sugar (saved from our cups of coffee) in a wee frying-pan, held over a piece of candle in a toy stove; we imagined the result to be delicious, though now I fancy it must have tasted chiefly of burnt sugar and candle smoke!

Then, too, how proud one was of being allowed to help at any cake-making at home. The mere fact of being in the kitchen, which was looked upon as a kind of mysterious alchemist's den, was delightful. The pleasure of handling real things, the awe with which one broke one's first egg, the whipping of lemon sponge, done with far too much zeal, until it was lemon rock instead of lemon sponge--such experiences as these simply delight and fascinate a child; how much more so, then, when they possess their own stove and cooking apparatus, and really make things throughout.

Cooking is a taste that has been sadly neglected in a child's education: in most cases, it has been, and is there all the time.

Some critics say that learning cooking would incline children to be greedy and selfish, and that they would always be thinking of food. I do not agree with this idea. With wise management, children may take a healthy and pleasurable interest in food, as they were meant to do. I own that it may lead to criticism of food. A little knowledge is dangerous thing, but think it would only act as a spur to the cook, to know that the occupants of the school-room had some idea of the how the things should be done.

In speaking of children's cookery to unsympathetic people, they imagine that the dishes only include toffee and cakes made by untidy little people in a miz-maze of a room. They certainly would not enjoy eating anything made by children, and they say it is a great folly and mismanagement to waste good food materials on them. Now I think we shall see that this is not the case with children taught cookery as they should be.

As to the reproach of greediness and selfishness, an excellent way of self-restraint would be for the child to make, occasionally, some cakes, and cookies, for less a fortunate and less happily-fed child, and send them as a real surprise from "Santa Clause." This would give great pleasure on both sides, but should not be made a great virtue of.

Cookery is most valuable, because it makes such a complete change from book work; this may be said of sloyd or any other manual work, but the results of the lessons are very different and appeal to different senses.

For a wet afternoon, for instance, what could be more delightful and interesting than to set to and make real cakes of savouries--perhaps tea.

The cookery lesson should be looked forward to as a treat, but it must be work, and not play only.

Now, as to some lessons which this "home virtue" may teach, fits and foremost, I should wish the children to learn the sacredness of food. I should discourage all baby play with dough, etc.--they can make little men and mice out of clay.

They should not be nasty nice about touching uncooked fish or meat, as some grown-up pupils of mine have some times been. You naturally would not give a child a huge joint to cook, and it depends altogether on the temperament of the child how you would meet this aversion. Dishes with or without cooked meat might easily be made. I think it great pity, and I always object to it in my pupils, when they liken the cooked pipes of macaroni to worms, and call some mixture or other 'like a poultice;' any remark calculated to excite disgust in connection with food ought at once to be put down as bad form. Nothing should be wasted, any leaving of mixtures should be used up in some way, so that true economy is insisted upon.

There is continual opportunity afforded by cooking for self-control. To understand the delicacy and finesse of cooking, the child should be encourage to taste frequently, but this must be done with an "honour bright" feeling, otherwise the tendency would be to make the child greedy. Also in making cake mixtures, in picking sultanas, or cutting up candied peel, with many children, it would be very tempting to eat little bits, both this should be discouraged, and of course absolute daintiness about tasting must be insisted upon; the little finger should be used for tasting, it is known as the cook's finger (though I wish more cooks would make use of it), the fact of its being able to be held out from the others, and without making the whole hand stick, etc. is in its favour.

Observation is very important, and children will see that the neglect of it has a dire effect on their dishes. For example: I was teaching a little girl friend how to make corn flour shape, and had impressed upon her to observe that when the corn flour began to thicken she must stir vigorously, telling her why, and what would happen if she didn't. Another child was making something else, and No. 1 was watching her, with the results that the shape went hopelessly into lumps, and only half the quantity was left. As it had been boiling away--and so with many things, but I am not always sorry when a pupil has a failure occasionally, it is good formsome to learn by failure, and, in many cases, it acts as a stimulus. It is most extraordinary, how few have the power of accurate observation. If you have been demonstrating a simple dish, giving the method etc, yet when you let the pupils make it, they apparently have not noticed the chief point; so with children, it is most important that they should be led to notice small things, especially in cooking.

Almost equally important is accuracy of quantities as regards weights and measures. Children naturally delight in weighing things, it is like the fascination of keeping shop, and if it is done with perfect adjustment of the scale, this is good; the same applies to liquids, they will get familiar with pints and gills, the practical knowledge of which is a great gain. It is most important that the proportions of things be learnt; one or two simple recipes should be known by heart, such as what goes to make 1/2 pint of sauce, 1/3-lb. pastry, simple batter for pancakes, etc.

It is a great help to know about how much or how many certain quantities of ingredients produce: thus for example, children would learn to calculate if such and such recipe would make sufficient cakes if they had little friends to tea; and nothing should be done by guessing or rule of thumb, at least by children.

I think the absolute necessity of being quick and alert in cooking is most useful for slow dilatory children. You tell them, for instance, that unless they are quick in getting their pastry into the oven, before the baking powder loses its effect, their tarts will be flat and heavy, and the materials wasted;--the result of their slowness is painfully evident. A useful lesson would be to insist on the special dish being made properly before a new one was allowed. They will also see that if they are slow, and take up most of the time in making one dish, of course they won't have the time for a new one. Cooking ought to "sharpen them up," as the saying is, otherwise the cookery lesson may be an ignominious failure.

However successfully the dishes or cakes turned out, I should consider the lesson a failure if there had been no order or tidiness during it, tidiness and daintiness of person being an absolute necessity; there should be no excuse for the want of the latter; sleeves and apron, or pinafore, and, in the case of girls, the hair tied back, should make any boys and girls look bewitching little cooks.

It would be well to have an old piece of carpet or rug laid down in the room, in case of accidents of spilling, etc., but these ought very rarely to occur, the table and boards ought to be kept scrupulously tidy, and used plates, knives, etc., when finished with, should be put aside, or washed up there and then. It is really far more important for them to gain this habit of keeping tidy, than that they should make so many cakes and things. This is one reason why cooks do so dislike the young ladies going into their nice clean kitchens and leaving everything in a mess, as they do not clean up the things they have used in making their wonderful creations. It would be bad for the children if they had all cleaned up after them. If they have the pleasure of cooking, they must also have the so-called drudgery of washing up, though in almost every case, it will be a real pleasure. Still, sometimes as the novelty wears away, they may be inclined to skimp it.

There is a deftness of touch gained by cooking, which is quite different to that acquired in other manual training. In making pastry, viz., they must recognize the importance of lightness in touching the elastic dough; quite different to building up and moulding clay structures. Also, in rolling out pastry, they must not roll heavily, but lightly, lifting up the rolling pin, and not pressing out the air bubbles, which are a very important ingredient. There is a great knack in the proper way of holding a rolling pin, gained by practice.

I find that almost without exception, the first time a pupil beats up an egg, she beats the basin instead of the egg, and uses her whole arm and shoulder instead of only the wrist, thus making it much more fatiguing. One beauty of cooking is to do it without apparent effort. Another tendency in pupils is to poke down over what they are doing, they should stand upright and only stoop from the waist.

Everything should be explained to them so that they may do things intelligently, knowing the reason why and wherefore. That is one reason why a good cook is often difficult to obtain--she does things haphazard, without knowing that certain rules in cookery must be followed.

Children should grow familiar with the different processes of cooking--stewing, frying, roasting, boiling, steaming, etc., and know the special result of each. Also, various cookery terms, for this art vocabulary. I should suggest that they do their own marketing and keep accounts, this will make them realize in a small way the average cost of food, and bring into practical use their knowledge of arithmetic. It would also add interest to the lesson if various articles of food, such as rice, macaroni, potatoes, etc., were taken beforehand as an object lesson, and they were told what effect cooking had upon them.

I see no reason why boys should not share the pleasures and discipline of cooking with their sisters; they do their own cookery in the way of mixtures for chemistry and photography, and there are so many positions a boy is placed in, in after life, on board ship or camping out, when to be able to cook certain things would be a gain, not only to himself, but to people around him. Some young men certainly can make very good omelettes in their college rooms.

Familiarity with cooking utensils is a gain to children; they should have, when possible, the care of their own, and so learn how to clean knives on a board, scrub the pastry boards, wash the pans, etc.

It may be said that accidents will happen to the children, such as burning, cutting or scalding their fingers, but with due care and watchfulness on the part of the teacher, this need not happen; round-bladed knives should be used, and it ought to be pride on the children's part not to burn or cut themselves, as it is very often carelessness or want of thought. That is why I strongly recommend Rippingille's oil cooking stoves as being perfectly safe using for children. The lamps are enclosed so that there is no fear of children's frocks or pinafores catching fire, which is rather liable to happen with a fire oven or gas oven where the jet is unprotected.

Rippingille's stoves are clean and absolutely without smell if properly seen to (by the way, it is well before using a new stove to burn it in an outside place for some hours to get rid of the varnish, otherwise the smell is rather inclined to make people say, "Oh, that wretched little stove!"). They may be had in various sizes and prices; a useful size is one that costs about £2 9s., with a kettle, frying-pan, saucepan, and oven tin included. One or two more pans would be needed, and it depends upon the number of children to be taught how many boards would be necessary; two children at a board is a good plan.

I find that it is best to burn the best petroleum, at about 1s. a gallon, in the stoves, as it is purer and so is less likely to smell. Children can stand quite well round the stove without any fear of accidents, and it is very manageable.

Then as to what children would be able to produce.

Very much depends upon what time can be given; an hour would restrict the recipes, as by the time the children have prepared them it would not give time for the actual cooking. In one-and-a-half hours, or better still two hours, they would be able to do a good deal, with the washing up included. Soups, fish, meat dishes and savouries with eggs, puddings, sweets, cakes, etc., can be made, and the children should cook an entire small dinner sometimes, and dainty preparations of vegetables must not be omitted. The House of Education students who have had the cookery training would have suitable recipes.

There is often a mistake made in thinking that you cannot make things worth calling dishes unless the recipe contains many eggs or much butter or cream. This is quite erroneous, and it ought to be the pride of a real cook that her dishes are perfectly dainty and yet economical.

To do this you often have to fit one dish in with another, using up whites of eggs, etc. There are many thoroughly wholesome festive dishes that can be made for special occasions, such as birthday suppers, when cream might be allowed. While always making things look pretty and inviting, children should be taught not to over-decorate a dish, or to make it seem laboured; it ought to look as if fingers had hardly touched it; and much should be left to their own individual taste. If the children possess gardens, it would be a capital plan, when possible, for them to grow a few vegetables and herbs, so that they may become familiar with the growth and habit of each, and its use in connection with the preparation of food.

Thus in a small way, whatever the children do is laying the foundation for future training and usefulness. As with many other lessons, there is no time like youth for learning cookery. Surely if boys and girls acquire by its means some habits of observation, accuracy, alertness, order, self-restraint, and can in a small way yet thoroughly understand what is needed for the wholesome, intelligent, and dainty preparation of food, they will not add to the number of domestic incapables, and in later life, unless in circumstances as agitating as those of King Alfred, they will not "burn the cakes."

Proofread by Stephanie H. 2008