A young couple decided they needed an au pair, and arranged for a girl to come over from Northern Finland. When she arrived, the wife asked, "Can you cook?"I've always liked to cook, and read cookbooks. My first cookbook was a Dell Home Activity Series workbook called Cooking is Fun, Book One, published in 1970. I can't show you a picture of the book because it was given away a long time ago, and the only copy for sale online is listed at $99.95 (with no photo). Someone gave it to me when I was about seven, and I wrote the names of my favourite foods inside the cover: my grandma's "eldirberry pie" was one of them.
"No," said the girl, "My mother always did that."
"Can you do housework?" asked the wife.
"No, my oldest sister always did that."
"Well," said the wife, "You'd better just look after the children."
"I don't know how," said the girl. "My youngest sister always did that."
"What can you do, then?" asked the wife, in desperation.
"Well," said the Finnish girl brightly, "I can milk reindeer."
So between kids' cookbooks, ladies' magazines, Brownie badges, and occasional helping in the kitchen, I got at least an idea of how meals got put together. By the time I was in middle school, I was still better at cookies and cakes than at cooking dinner; but I eventually figured that one out too.
How has it been different for my homeschooled girls?
I don't know that any of them paid a lot of attention to meal-making until they were actually old enough to see some benefit in being able to fix something for themselves. When they were younger, I think they spent more time helping their dad with outside and fixit chores than they did hanging out in the kitchen. They did help get groceries, and helped stir things together when I asked them to; they helped make jam and Christmas cookies and Easter kiffle. We use food and kitchen tools a lot for school (though not necessarily in "cooking class"): we do math with measuring cups (and, when they were younger, cereal and raisins), we do science experiments with celery or corn syrup or popcorn, or make edible models of the atmosphere. Sometimes we've tried new foods when studying other countries. Last year we did some spice studies.
Because the recipes I make (or make up) aren't terribly complicated, I've often made a point of saying, "You liked that chicken we had for dinner? You could make that, you know. All you do is..." Often I just get rolled eyeballs, but I figure some of it has to soak in. I've also collected up a few extra copies of my favourite cookbooks, so that the girls will have their own, if and when they want them. (Of course I could just tell them to check the blog...)
Another strategy, for kids who would rather read than cook (or read cookbooks), is to introduce them to "food fiction," especially with a frugal or make-it-work twist. Ginnie and the Cooking Contest. Little Nino's Pizzeria. Bread and Jam for Frances. Stone Soup. Understood Betsy, who learns that there's no right or wrong about making applesauce. The whole Beany Malone series (although we have only a couple of the novels, plus the cookbook). Little House on the Prairie, especially Farmer Boy. Maybe Grace Livingston Hill's novels, when they're old enough not to think romances are icky. I would probably not include the Warton and Morton Toad books, unless you like beetle brittle.
The Apprentice surprised me during her high school years with the dinners she knew how to make, or with interesting snacks she would occasionally produce when younger-sister-sitting. If asked, she would say something like, "well, of course I know how to do it; I'm just not that interested." Crayons still says she would rather do something else (she also says she's never moving out).
Ponytails at one point watched a lot of cooking shows and online videos, and liked to try out things like crepes. This semester she is taking food and nutrition at public high school, and she's had to answer a lot of assigned questions about holiday meals, what's in the refrigerator, and so on. One day the teacher had a lot of leftovers from another course, so she had the class make up their own casseroles; Ponytails came up with something involving turkey sausage and broccoli soup that sounded amazing.
The Apprentice has been equipping her own kitchen recently; she has a room in an off-campus house, and she stays there a couple of nights a week because of her summer classes. (In the fall she'll be there all week.) Right now she has the kitchen on her floor all to herself. So she's been putting all her prior learning to practical use. Last week she even made herself slow-cooker pork chops and mashed potatoes--with real potatoes.
I think they'll do fine.
Elderberry pie photo found here
Linked from Four Moms: Cooking with Children.