Cooking with mother

My recent venture into pavlova-making has made me think about how we learn to cook. It’s not only all the unsolicited offers of fail-safe recipes and cooking hints of variable worth that mention of pavlova provokes, such as:

–         you need to add the sugar a teaspoonful at a time

–         you need an electric beater

–         castor sugar gives a better marshmallow texture to the beast

–         it all depends on the temperature of the eggs; they need to be room temperature.

But it’s also friends talking of how they learnt baking with their mother. And I suppose that’s how you learn when something looks right, pick up handy tips along the way, gain an understanding of how things work. I thought of that at Christmas too, actually. This year it was Christmas dinner for 9, rather than the 25 of the year before. And it’s no big deal really, if you’re organised, but this year I did have my mother as executive chef, keeping an eye on things. And it was interesting how, while I was faithfully following recipes, she could look at the brandy sauce and say ‘more icing sugar, more brandy’, or the stuffing for the turkey and suggest adding the juice of a lemon as well as the grated zest (and, I have to say, it turned out to be sensationally good stuffing!). So, I guess I’m just thinking about the importance of inter-generational skills transfer, or, throwing the jargon away, of simply doing things with kids. I’m happy experimenting and playing around with food, but sometimes I do wish I understood the processes more. Wasn’t that the Julia Child thing too, wanting to understand?

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