Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Cooking Lesson -- Who Wants Pie?

cooking 9/7/11
For the younger generation, this is what real food looks like before it's been processed.  It's called an "apple."

Perhaps I should call this post “Beans and Rice Redux” as a sequel to my last post.  Or perhaps “What the Heck is ‘Girl Scout Stew’?” based on questions in the comments box.  My original post topic for today had been about going apple picking.  But all of those food-focused ideas were trumped by Helen Zoe Veit’s rally call for an old-fashioned home economics class.

Last week my ancient microwave blew, exploding a spaghetti squash in the process.  Until I replaced it a few days later, the younger generation in my house didn’t eat anything unless I cooked it.  You know, it just takes too much effort to put an egg in a pot of boiling water and wait for two minutes, or wash blueberries and add them to a bowl of yogurt and oat flakes.  And, whoa, do you have any idea how long it takes to make a grilled cheese sandwich?  You could probably watch two out of the three Lord of the Rings movies before the cheese began to melt.  And where’s the butter anyway?

For me, my home ec class was Mrs. Cox – she of the very large size and very small face.  I figured that she was forced to learn to sew because she couldn’t find anything to fit her after eating everything these 7th grade girls cooked (hey, sorry, I was an uncharitable 13 year old).  The only thing I remember cooking was pancakes.  Maybe we did more, but my mind was more on the epic sewing battle that raged that semester.

At this age, my Grandma would have been on her way to supporting herself as a professional seamstress (or, as they would have called it back then, “just a seamstress”).  She began to teach me to sew as soon as my legs were long enough to work the knee pedal on the machine.  From her I learned shortcuts for fitting, marking patterns, and so on.  When I applied all of that knowledge on my blue A-line dress I was making for home ec, Mrs. Cox graded me down for not using the more basic techniques she was teaching.  She didn’t care what I had learned from a lifelong expert; she wanted it done her way.

The most important lesson I learned in that class came from my mother.  She told me to do it Mrs. Cox’s way just this one time.  Some battles weren’t worth fighting.

I didn’t need a home economics class because I began cooking in my mom’s and grandma’s kitchens, standing on a stepstool with an apron tied up under my armpits.  As Veit points out, in this era of obesity the younger generation doesn’t know what real food is.  It’s all processed food and drive-thrus.  Many children have never eaten chicken that isn’t breaded and shaped into bite-sized nuggets.  And what’s a turnip?  What’s paprika?

Brad hauling our apple-picking bounty (an hour to drive to the orchard 
and ten minutes to pick)
cooking 9/7/11

After all, what’s more fundamental to a lifelong education than knowing how to feed yourself?

Learning to cook is about more than food.  It’s about savoring the pleasures of something you created.  It’s about sharing.  It’s about family history.  It’s about conversations and memories.  No home ec class I know could ever teach you that.  But still, they could teach you that what’s worthwhile sometimes requires more than 90 seconds of preparation time.

So all that said, I’m leaving you with two recipes that you never would get in a home economics class:  Girl Scout Stew and Bertha Farrar’s 1-2-3 Pie Crust. Bon appétit!

Girl Scout Stew
There are no measurements to this.  It was all about how much we could pack for the camping trip and how big our pot was.  All ingredients can be altered to suit your taste and needs.

-1 lb. ground beef
-2 cans Campbell’s vegetable soup (I’ve never dared try any other brand; the texture of their soup and simplicity of their ingredients suits me for this recipe)
-chopped onions (I always use frozen chopped onions)
-minced garlic, to taste
-salt and pepper, to taste
-basil and oregano, optional

Brown the ground beef in a skillet.  Drain grease.  Add the onions and garlic and cook a bit.  Add the soup.  You might decide you want to add ½-1 can of water.  Or you might want to add more soup.  You also might like to add some spices.

You can make it basic, like this, or you can fancy it up.  But whatever you do, don’t make it like work.  And it’s a simple recipe for teaching your own children to cook.

The original pie crust recipe.  Click thumbnail to enlarge
 cooking 9/7/11
Bertha Farrar’s 1-2-3 Pie Crust
It wasn’t until I was a young bride that I finally asked Grandma the secret to her perfect pie crust.  She reached into her recipe box and pulled out an old magazine page from the 1940’s promoting a new product called “Mazola Corn Oil.”  They created this recipe to entice the old Crisco crowd.  For deep dish pies I increase the measurements by 50%.  The recipe makes a single pie crust.

I made my first apple pie of autumn over the Labor Day weekend and it was fabulous.

1 c. plus 2 T flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 c. Mazola corn oil
2 T cold water

Mix flour and salt.  Blend oil in thoroughly with fork.  Sprinkle all of the water over the mixture; mix well with fork.  Press dough firmly into ball with hands.  If too dry, add 1-2 teaspoons more oil.

Roll bottom curst and fit into pan.  Fill with fruit filling of choice, then trim even with pan edge.  Mix and roll top pastry.  Cut slits and place over filling. Trim ½ inch beyond pan edge, fold under.  seal and flute.  Bake 35-45 minutes at 425º (50-60 for fresh apple).

Note: I sometimes turn it down to 375º and cook a little longer because my stove runs hot.

Any cooking stories to share yourself?  Tell us in the comments box.


Renee said...

I am going to try your pie crust recipe! An apple pie sounds really good and it's supposed to cool off next week. (It was 102 yesterday.)

The GS Stew I'll save for an

On a side note, I just watched Julie & Julia and I have Bon Appetit! running thru my head.

inluvwithwords said...

Hi Julie, thanks for these recipes. I don't really enjoy cooking anymore. I'm all about finding something EASY. And these two look like they fit the bill.
Sounds like our daughters have a lot in common. My oldest would rather go all day without eating than actually make something herself!

Anonymous said...

Great recipes! And I love that apple photo. So pretty and fall-ish! I took home ec way book when. I don't even know if they teach it anymore!

Nancy MacMillan said...

Great family story. Hey, I was Girl Scouts for 10 years and we never had Girl Scout Stew. Sounded a lot easier than trying to fry an egg on the bottom of an upside-down #10 can heated with a "buddy-burner."

I love to cook and printed your pie crust recipe to give a try. Apple pie is my favorite.

Nancy @

Julie Farrar said...

Well, Nancy, my troop didn't rough it that much when it came to food. We cooked a lot of things wrapped in foil, but we packed a lot of kitchenwares also and ate real food. I remembered this easy-peasy recipe when I was a poor college student. My kids are in their 20's and still request it (although they won't make it).

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