I used to say, “If you can read, you can cook.” But that’s not really true, is it? If you’ve never actually seen someone sear a giant roast, how would you figure it out? When a recipe reads, “Mince two cloves of garlic…” could you do it? And how much, really, is a “pinch” of salt?
In my 20s—before online search engines answered any question we might have about cooking—I called Mom, Grandma or Aunt Beverly for answers. When I first moved south, I pestered my friends Millie or Betsy. Now, I just shout it into my phone. That’s incredibly convenient and efficient, but I miss those food chats with real people.
Real people usually have confessional stories to accompany their answers. Take, for instance, my “town kid” mom who married a farm kid. She knew nothing about meal prep, let alone growing food. When Grandma sent her to the garden to pick some strawberries, she scanned the tidy green rows in anguish, spotting nothing resembling a delicious red fruit. Aunt Marilyn to the rescue! She parted the leaves and—voila! Strawberries! Hiding underneath! Who knew??
It is astonishing how much food knowledge a farm kid gains just by hanging around the fields and gardens. In college, a friend asked me, “Do you ever just walk into the field, rip off some corn, and start eating it?” Sarcastic snort before, “Well I might. If I was a COW.” [awkward pause] “Field corn is not the same as sweet corn.” [crickets] “It’s really dry.” [blinking] “You’ve maybe heard the commercials about corn-fed beef…?” [light bulb moment]
The same is true of kids who hang out in the kitchen. You might start out standing on a stool and just stirring, but you soon learn a wooden spoon picks up every flavor, every spice it stirs. So you might not want to mix your baking batter with the same spoon dipped repeatedly in your pot of jambalaya. You don’t remember learning this, but you just know that measuring cups are different for dry vs. liquid ingredients. So you measure flour or nuts by the cup or half-cup, and oil by the ounce.
So yes—if you can read, you can cook. BUT…there’s always a learning curve along the way. Just ask the questions. Someone out there will be happy to share the answers. Bonus: You might get a little story out of it. Like that time I had to rescue a salty gravy a nameless friend tried to thicken with baking soda instead of flour…