This past weekend I spent a lot of time in the kitchen... which means the kids did, too. As Pixie turned 4, it reminded me a post I first shared 3 years ago, when preparing for Pixie's 1st birthday. Hope you enjoy! (Originally posted on One Generation to Another, October 30, 2007)
One of the greatest gifts my mom gave us kids was access to the kitchen. When other moms were shooing their children out of the room because they were “underfoot”, my mom always seemed to work around us. Some of my earliest memories are of watching my mom in the kitchen peeling potatoes, checking on a pot roast, or packing lunches for school. When we got older, and expressed an interest in cooking, we were given carte blanche as long as we “cleaned up after ourselves.”
I fondly remember a particularly complicated gastronomic endeavor undertaken by myself and a high school girlfriend (the eldest of 7, she was never allowed in her own kitchen except to do dishes). We decided to make fruitcakes for Christmas gifts. At the time I didn’t realize that nobody, with the possible exception of Uncles named Wilbur, liked fruitcake! But with earnest hearts and a sense of adventure, we began a month before Christmas, diligently chopping candied fruit, and mixing the concoction in several huge bowls. There was batter everywhere as we filled and baked 12 cakes. We doused them with brandy, wrapped them in parchment paper and cheese cloth, and stored them in my mother’s linen closet to “ripen”. Never once did my mother complain about how messy we were or chide us for embarking on such a monumental venture. As far as fruitcakes went, I’m sure they were delicious, although I happen to find the commingling of the plethora of fruits unnatural and inedible. Grandpa seemed to like his, but he also liked blood sausage, so he might not be a reliable critic! Anyway, the most important lesson learned was that the kitchen was a room of discovery and adventure, not to be feared or avoided. I lost contact with my high school friend, but I hope the frequent times she spent in our kitchen gave her the same appreciation.
Later, when encouraging my three children to pursue their own culinary curiosities, I realized that when my brothers and I “helped in the kitchen” we probably created lots of extra work for Mom, but that didn’t stop me from allowing my children in the kitchen as soon as they could drag a chair up to the counter. They began by “assisting me” but were soon turning out their own edible creations! Even in high school my daughter and her friends were forever in the kitchen baking, which often involved simply throwing together brownie batter, then sitting around the kitchen table, eating the raw dough, while discussing that evening’s dates. They cleaned up after themselves, but I always needed to revisit the counters and floors, after they moved on to a new activity. At these times I often found myself thinking fondly of my mom. Today, all of my children know their way around the kitchen, often using our family’s recipes, but adventurous enough to “throw something together” at the last minute. My youngest son and his wife often use the recipes collected at our family’s website, adding new recipes they’ve discovered. My oldest son mostly wings it, turning out very edible endeavors!
And the cycle continues…the other day I was in the kitchen baking a cake for my granddaughter’s first birthday. She was busy on the floor making her own concoction, transferring potpourri tarts from one bowl to another while mixing them with bright red spoons. Her three year old sister was sitting on the counter next to me, mixing the cake’s dry ingredients into the butter and eggs. Finally, my 4 year old grandson was at the dining room table working on his own project. His job was to place break-a-part cookies on a baking sheet. While I smiled at the hum generated by three content children busy in the kitchen, my grandson casually commented on his job. I was half listening and I gave a pat “Sounds great” comment. It took a moment, but I finally processed his words. They were, “Gammy, my job is to lick all the cookies.” I turned around and looked at him. Sure enough, there he sat, taking each cookie in turn, licking the sides and bottom before he placed them on the cookie sheet. Not to panic, right? Teachable moment, right? I said, “Hey sweetie, most people don’t like their cookies licked by other people. Why don’t you just put them on the baking sheet? You can lick your own cookie when they’re done.” So, I baked the cookies, knowing full well it was about a 50/50 crap shoot as to whether or not someone got a licked cookie. My suspicion, however, was that the licked cookies probably tasted a little sweeter!
Kids belong in the kitchen. Not only do they learn great life skills and family traditions, they also practice reading and perform complex scientific experiments! As an added bonus, they’ll be accomplished cooks later in life when they have you over for dinner!