One of my biggest “beefs” in food, is that we now seem to have been persuaded that in order to keep ourselves nourished, we need to be immensely talented. Chef talented. When really all it is, is in the best way, to learn as a child in a natural way, at home or in school.
Now before, you slam your laptop lid shut and roar, HOW DO WE DO THAT, WE ALL HAVE TO WORK! My mother and father both worked, but I learned in school, as well as occasional baking forays with my mother and other family at the weekend.
So, I was absolutely charmed when recently flicking through one of Quadrille’s most recent Classic Voices in Food, The Gentle Art of Cookery by Mrs CF Leyel & Miss Olga Hartley, originally published in 1925. Tucked towards the back of the book is a gorgeous and comprehensive chapter on cooking with children.
Contained within are lots of classics that I remember making like fudge, meringues and toffee. There are some unusual things which probably wouldn’t wash now, like an ostrich egg made using a dozen hens eggs with a pigs bladder for a mould (!!!). I love it. There are many other chapters of course, including one dedicated to chestnuts, home made wines and cups and the more traditional fish, meat, poultry
The pre-amble to the chapter is beautiful, and I think conveys a message most of us have now forgotten. And that is, just how magical it is for a child to cook in a kitchen. I’ve reproduced it here for you. I would highly recommend buying the book.
Many children listen to the story of Cinderella with their sympathy for the heroine warped by the reflection that at any rate she was given the free run of the kitchen when the family departed for the ball. Most children prefer the kitchen to the nursery or drawing-room. If the cook is an Irishwoman, she will welcome the society of five or six children in the kitchen at all hours; if she is any other nationality she will probably prefer them one at a time or not at all. But it is a pity when a child is debarred from all contact with the practical affairs of the home during its impressionable years, and anyway, the time to interest children in cookery is when they are under twelve, when their education cannot or should not be all book work, and when it is undiluted bliss to be allowed to shell peas, pick currants and whisk eggs. By the time they are eighteen the glamour of life will be re-oriented. but when they are very young there is romance in the oven and the singing kettle.
A child in the kitchen is an alchemist learning the properties of these mysterious elements – fire and water. A saucepan is a crucible in which anything might happen. Cooking is sheer magic to the child, pure white magic. A child watches the kneading of flour and water into dough and the transmutation of the pale dough into crusty loaves and brown cakes with the delighted wonder with which the cherubim and seraphim must have looked on at the creation of the world.
It is easy to give children the natural primitive pleasure of making things themselves. They can make or help to make their own toffee and ginger beer; they can cut their own gingerbread ducks and whales. Not all of the following recipes are intended to be made by children themselves. The “ostrich-egg” calls for some skill, and the point of others is their surprise. But they have been chosen because they will appeal to children by providing the combination of the familiar with the unexpected, which is the real zest of pleasure to children all over the world.