Cooking 101

At a Peabody Historical Society board meeting Monday night I found it necessary to defend my lack of enthusiasm for providing food for community functions. Several years ago when I agreed to take a seat on the board I very plainly stated that a condition of my membership would be that I would not do food things. The committee members all are champion cooks and bakers and I know my own limitations. I would never fit in.

I can do other things and told the group I certainly did not mind writing press releases, sorting historical detritus, or providing supplies and equipment from the wide variety of auction assets I own, but I simply do not cook or bake for the public. My friends and family will back me up. When it comes to kitchen talent, I am a menace to society.

Monday evening I found myself in a discussion about providing food for an upcoming community event. As other members volunteered to bake pies, make bread, and prepare long-treasured homemade soup recipes, I sat silent. Eventually I had to remind them of the condition of my membership – I do not do food things.

To prove my point, I am going to share one example of why I am so adamant about staying out of the kitchen. I should tell you before I launch into this tale that it is a true story. In addition, it is only one of dozens of such stories.

As a high school kid, I learned early that if I was busy with extra-curricular activities after school I would be exempt from helping prepare supper. Eventually I found myself in charge of washing dishes and cleaning up. I did almost no cooking. Fast forward through college and into married life and I still did almost no cooking – at least at first. I had this crazy idea that we would continue to go out to eat because that was what we did when we were dating.

However, the budget didn’t stretch as far as I thought it would and we ended up looking at sandwiches and hot dogs on a pretty regular basis. Eventually, I got a list of favorite foods from The Mister and made an effort to be queen of my kitchen. One item on his list was wilted lettuce. Being a northern girl, this was a dish with which I was not familiar. According to him, one got garden fresh lettuce, put it in a bowl, and poured hot grease and some vinegar over it.

“Oh my,” I thought. “Surely he cannot be serious!”

I gave it a try. Finding the garden fresh lettuce was not a problem. It was summer and all our neighbors had gardens. My mother never used meat grease or bacon drippings for cooking. In our house grease was Crisco. I put the lettuce in a large bowl, slapped a couple of giant scoops of Crisco into a pan and put it on the stove, just as I was told to do. When it got hot, I poured it over the lettuce, added some vinegar, fixed a plate with a sandwich and chips and sat down to wait on The Mister to arrive home for lunch.

Soon a peek at the lettuce told me that I might have messed up. It looked a bit limp and distressed. However, smart girl that I was, even I knew that lettuce needed refrigeration to maintain its freshness, so I tucked the bowl of lettuce, vinegar, and Crisco into the refrigerator as I waited. If you know anything about Crisco that has been melted, then refrigerated and coagulated with vinegar, you know that it is not an appetizing sight.

I have to give him credit though. Although he did ask what it was, he also made an attempt to eat it after I told him I had fixed one of the suggestions on his list of favorite foods. It was years before he mentioned wilted lettuce again. Eventually I did learn to fix it, even adding crumbled crisp bacon and chopped green onions – until the time I mixed the correct ingredients with a cleaning agent instead of vinegar. But that is another episode.

I can assure you that I will stand firm with the Peabody Historical Society and steadfastly refuse to join in the cooking and baking brigade. You have my word on that.

— SUSAN MARSHALL

 

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