I grew up in a 4-H household in the rural Finger Lakes area of western New York state. The H’s stand for head, heart, hands, health and we had adult mentors that taught us general life lessons. In my case, cooking and sewing. Other kids raised farm animals but we lived in a little town of 300 people, so didn’t have the necessary barn or pasture.
My mother taught pie baking and I remember a specific lesson on how to make a bed with the sheets tucked properly to make square corners.My mother doing the demonstration and the back of my head. I was between 5 and 6. Two other “students” look on.
Being the youngest of four girls I learned to bake and cook through osmosis, watching everyone older than me. I don’t remember a specific time in the kitchen with my Mom but my older sisters let me sift the flour and measure the sugar. I was baking batches of cookies and sweet breads on my own by the age of twelve and full dinners by the age of fifteen. Full dinner meaning meat, potato and vegetable.
We “harvested” wild game and fish so I learned how to clean and cook them from my father. Taking a deer from the field and ending with the meat in the freezer is something I can still do today. We liked the flavor of the meats so they were fried, baked or roasted with just salt and pepper, no fancy sauces to mask what we were eating. After a duck and/or goose hunt he would check what was in their gizzard while cleaning them. If the contents were muddy we didn’t eat the meat because it would taste muddy, but if the contents were grain, we enjoyed the whole bird. Fish eggs from perch, trout, or sunfish were enjoyed by all.
To this day I have trouble cooking for just two. Thankfully my husband likes leftovers. “Playing” in my kitchen is fun and to this day most things, sweet and otherwise, are made from scratch. I do regret I didn’t learn to make roses out of frosting to decorate a birthday cake like my Mom used to. Mine always look like they don’t have enough petals and are already wilted. It’s nice to remember hers.