In addition to teaching part-time at my local community college, I teach telecommunication employees. My predominant focus is literature and writing, and the company for which I work is always exploring ways in which participants can enhance writing skills while engaging in high-interest subjects.
With the current focus on culinary skills, I was asked if I would teach a course in which the students would write a family cookbook.
My sons, Lance and Quentin, knew that they had to learn to cook or starve, and so they opted to explore the refrigerator and the pantry to see what they might prepare. They became competent cooks with some help from the home economics teachers at Harlan High School.
One day Quentin told me that I had failed with my preparation of muffins because they should not have tunnels running throughout. My response was, “That’s a good thing because butter and jelly can run through those tunnels.” I did not convince him of my viewpoint which was contrary to what he had learned at school.
Back to the cookbook class… Nine telecommunication employees enrolled in the class, and I decided to write my own book. The focus of each book, which we are printing, can be whatever enrollees desire. And if you have been paying attention to the cooking shows and blogs, the range seems to be infinite.
I have a student whose dietary restrictions would overwhelm most, and she is including recipes for persons whose diets cannot include grain, soy, dairy, or eggs. Her working title is “What Do You Eat? Sticks and Leaves?” and the volume has great promise for those whose lives revolve around dietary compromises.
Another student, whose mother recently went into Hospice care, has dedicated her cookbook to her mother, and she features only recipes for delicious desserts which were passed to her by her mom. A third student has completed her cookbook, and it features funeral potatoes (I had never heard of this) and recipes such as “Not-So-Rotten Brussel Sprouts” and “Mrs. Piotrowski’s Pierogis.”
Stories and photos accompany the recipes. My cookbook is stories with a very small number of recipes.
Some would be humiliated to share their failures with food, but I’ve always felt that as important as cooking is, there are other issues that take priority.
My mother was an excellent cook, but she taught her children nothing about food preparation. When I married at age 20, I cooked only eggs, bacon, toast, hotdogs, hamburgers and tomato soup for the first five years. Then I got pregnant and decided to learn to cook with The Search Light Recipe Book, a vintage cookbook even at that time. There were instructions on how to kill and dress chickens and do all manner of things that I had no interest in doing, much less the required skill level.
As a kid, I watched my maternal grandmother, Viva Adams, go to her chicken house, select a pullet, wring its neck, chop off the head, and put the bird under a large tub to let it flop and the blood drain. She had a pot of boiling water in which she submerged the bird and then plucked the feathers. She set newspapers afire, singed the pin feathers, and then took the bird inside her home for the dissecting process.
This story is in my cookbook along with one about my Aunt Kate who traveled from California to Kentucky with her husband, Uncle Vess, to visit my grandmother. Prior to her coming, we had been told about her abilities to create delicious apple dumplings. What a disappointment! She used biscuit dough and very little sugar. I vowed I’d grow up and make great apple dumplings. And I do: with the help of refrigerated pie dough, apple pie filling, lots of brown and white sugar, a dollop of butter and a smoking hot, just right, iron skillet.
My failures are legendary. I cooked liver without removing the skirt; I made spaghetti with cheap hamburger, tomato catsup, and pasta stuck together in clumps. I told a faculty friend I knew how to cook pinto beans and invited him for dinner. The big cheap pot I had bought in which to cook those beans didn’t work, and I had no idea that soaking the beans overnight was a step in the process. I ran to the store, bought several cans of beans, and pulled off the deception. I did know how to make cornbread, and that is essential with soup beans.
Once I told my sister-in-law, Joan, that the delicious greens she was eating (straight from a can) had been picked by my Urbana College students earlier in the day.
And there was the pecan pie incident where my father-in-law, Roy Blevins, said, “This pie is pretty good — if I could just get this crust cut.” Bring out the power saw.
I was not always the guilty one with mishaps. On two occasions I was prepared to serve a meal when our Irish Setter, Maeve, put her paws on the counter and removed a roll of bologna and another time decided that the huge steak I had prepared had rested sufficiently and was ready to be devoured (See I’ve learned something from the cooking shows: rested. I thought that was something I did after a long day at work).
I think I will meet the deadline of Feb. 1, 2018, to have my cookbook all set up and ready to go to the printer. And then my missteps will be a part of my recorded history.
Why don’t you write your own before those recipes on scraps of paper or file cards are lost forever. If you can type, there are many publishing services ready to work with you. And your family will appreciate your recipes, your photos, and your stories long after you have departed this earth.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.