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Learning to Cook With My Mother in the 1960s: My Experience

As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

Making an apple pie

Making an apple pie

My Generation of Women

I am lucky to be a member of a generation that took great pride in teaching the girls of the family to cook, clean, and keep a home. This always seemed like elementary education to me. From even before the time I was tall enough to see into the sink, I was underfoot and wanting to help in the kitchen. My mother kept telling me I had to be tall enough to reach the sink to “help” her. I was pretty bummed that I was a short kid so I found a box and dropped it at the sink and climbed up on it. Mom had to laugh and handed me the potato peeler. That was my first chore in the kitchen. I was chief potato peeler for a year or more in a family who had potatoes at almost every meal: fried, boiled, mashed, French fried, disc fried, cubed fried, mostly fried.

Later, Mom showed me how to read a recipe and turned me loose with the oven as my best friend. I started with biscuits. For my UK friends, that’s a scone-type recipe without any frosting. Dad loved my biscuits with gravy and requested them often. This praise is all the encouragement I needed to bake more pies, cakes, bread, cookies, etc.

Mom to the left, me squinting in the middle and my sister next to me at a taco feed/swim party.

Mom to the left, me squinting in the middle and my sister next to me at a taco feed/swim party.

Grandma’s Taco Feeds

Okay, my family isn’t even related to any Mexicans that we know of, but we do love our tacos. Sometime in the 1960s, my aunt got a taco recipe and showed my mother’s mother how to make it. The rest became a family tradition.

Each summer, the family came en mass to Grandma’s house for swimming and a taco feed. The women would gather in the kitchen and divide up the duties. Some aunt would peel and chop onions (bowls and bowls of onions), some aunt would shred lettuce, someone would grate blocks of cheddar cheese. My mom would cut up the tomatoes and I helped sometimes when the women didn’t feel it was too crowded.

Grandma was in charge of cooking up the taco meat and adding the seasonings. Then in an assembly line, the tortillas were fried, folded, loaded, and served. Platters and platters of tacos would arrive onto the tables while empty ones returned to the kitchen for loading. We sometimes had as many as 60 relatives and would make hundreds of tacos.

These taco feeds were a time of great joy and fond memories. As each of the senior members of the family passed it became harder and harder for me to come to a taco feed and feel the same joy. The event had to be moved to a new location when the city seized my grandparent’s home in eminent domain to make room for a new high school. Then when my grandparents both passed, my mother hosted it for a while but when my dad passed and mom moved to a smaller house it wasn’t practical anymore. Then my mother’s sister made room for the taco feed to happen at her home, which was substantially smaller than my grandparent’s home but doable. As she got older, she gave up her home and moved in with her son. This last summer, a cousin called members of the family and told of her coming visit and requested a taco feed. My sister hosted it but I couldn’t bring myself to come. I have my own little taco feeds at home but it will never be the same. Still, the memories are wonderful.

Cooking with kids is not just about ingredients, recipes, and cooking. It's about harnessing imagination, empowerment, and creativity.

— Guy Fieri

Canned fruit at the fair

Canned fruit at the fair

Food Preservation

I learned not only cooking and baking from my mother and grandmother but also canning and preservation. We come from a long line of farmers—and harvest time means canning time. It was almost a party to rival a taco feed. I never looked forward to it as much though.

Each year as we got fruit by the box loads, the women were all called together to join Grandma for a canning day. It meant that all the empty canning jars had to be carted up from the basement (usually by me and my sisters), taken to the bathroom (because the kitchen was busy with food preparation), and scrubbed with hot, soapy water in the bathtub. First, I hated this job because it was backbreaking. Second, I hated that I was alone in the bathroom while all the conversation when on in the kitchen. When the jars were finally clean and brought to the kitchen, I could help with the peeling, coring, cutting, dicing, or slicing of fruit, or packing the jars.

Root cellar pantry

Root cellar pantry

Canning Process

In the canning process, the quart jars (even the clean ones I washed) had to be sterilized in boiling water. With tongs, they were retrieved from the boiling water and immediately packed with the prepared fruit. Then the hot liquid (sugared water or just water) was poured into the jar to within half an inch of the rim, and the hot lid and ring were synched down. Then the jar had to be put into a large pot with six other jars and boiled for 10 minutes. This was usually for peaches, apples, apricots, and even whole tomatoes. Once they were removed from the hot bath, they were placed on a towel on the table to cool and the lids would compress causing a seal in the jar. Now the fruit was good for the next few years unless the seal was broken. I loved the sound of the lids as they sealed. It made a musical “foomp” or “pop” sound. It meant all the hard work was successful.

We canned hundreds of quarts of fruit every summer, ready for peach cobblers or apple pies all winter. As you can guess, this was an all-day event and meant standing for hours in front of the sink and stove in a very humid kitchen.

Pig Latin in the Kitchen

If you come from a family like mine you probably heard about Pig Latin. Little people have big ears, and I certainly was a quiet listening type. I loved being in the kitchen to hear all the talk and the adult women didn’t really want me to hear ALL the talk so they would talk in Pig Latin. At first, it was just gibberish to me, but I was interested because it seemed to be something that was of importance. If you don’t want me to hear it, it has to be pretty important. It took a while but eventually, I worked out a word or two. Once I had deciphered one or two, I cracked the code and could understand it all. That’s when they couldn’t use the Pig Latin anymore.

American biscuits and gravy

American biscuits and gravy

When men reach their sixties and retire, they go to pieces. Women go right on cooking.

— Gail Sheehy

Cutting my sweet rolls

Cutting my sweet rolls

Final Thoughts

During this pandemic, so many dear friends have approached me via email and social media asking me to give them tips on baking. Staying home has introduced women to the kitchen again. Surely, a pandemic isn’t what was needed to pass cooking skills onto the next generation—or was it? What do you think?

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Chrish Canosa,

Oh, yes, there are times when it is a chore, but if you make it fun it can be enjoyable. I like cooking now but there was a time when it was drudgery. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Devika Primić,

I have noticed that as well. When I was a child you almost never saw a man shopping for food at the grocery store and now I see them all the time. Sometimes more than the women. It is a different age we live in. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Eric Caunca,

It does make us all wonder what the future will look like for our children and grandchildren. Those stories your parents and aunt and uncle told should be written down so they can be passed on to the next generation. They may be very interested to learn all that past generations went through to keep clean and cook meals. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

I'm looking forward to the gatherings as well. Maybe this year. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Lora Hollings,

We have saved a lot by not being able to eat out! Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Chitrangada Sharan,

That is the way it should be. We pass on what we know the next generation so that they can do the same. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Kalpana Iyer,

Me too. I hope we spend more time doing for ourselves after this and appreciating the little gifts of eating out a little less. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

That pig Latin was hard to forget. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Lorna Lamon,

I do miss that blackberry picking time. I don't miss the wasps that often lanced me while I was picking. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

John Hansen,

I remember that dark musty basement she would send me down into looking for a jar of pickled peaches. It was scary down there. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Eric Dierker,

Good for you. Enchiladas are great too. I can just picture you the only boy in the Home-Ec class. You make me laugh. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Rosina S Khan,

I always thought I was average in the kitchen but as the years go by and fewer girls are learning to cook and bake, I see what my mother and grandmother did for me as exceptional. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 28, 2021:

Louise Powles,

Things have changed and I am glad I taught my girls and my son to cook. It is a rare thing today. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 21, 2020:

Treshty,

I am blessed that you thought this was interesting and relatable. I love potatoes too but I'm partial to any breads. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Chrish Canosa from Manila Philippines on November 20, 2020:

It was a fun read, ive learned a lot from this article Ms Denise, I can relate some of those experiences in the kitchen, my mum teach me on how to cook when I was 13 it was really fun! Not until they made me their personal chef "day and night" now I'm thinking if I should quit haha. Thank you so much for sharing your story (I love potatoes)

:-) have an awesome day.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 20, 2020:

DDE,

I think you are right about that. Men have learned to cook and gotten past the stigma that kitchen work is for women only. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 19, 2020:

Denise cooking for most womnan has become a thing of the past. I noticed that men cook more than women. It depends on culture and careers.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 18, 2020:

Peggy W,

You couldn't have said it better. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 18, 2020:

Lora Hollings,

I know the pandemic is making many people explore the kitchen crafts again or for the first time. I believe it is more healthy to make it yourself. I've started making my own wheat rolls for sandwiches and I make them really small to control my portions. Now that's healthy for me! Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 18, 2020:

ChitrangadaSharan,

I'm glad you have happy memories of your mother as well. Food is an interesting thing. We need it for fuel but we build family and relationships around the preparing of food and the eating as well. It is a very pleasant thing. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Eric Caunca from Laguna, Philippines on November 18, 2020:

Hi, paintdrips. I am not 60 years old but my mother also the one who introduced cooking to me. I am the youngest in the family. When I was younger, my siblings cooked for us, but when they got married, I took the responsibility. Yesterday was my father's birthday, and it was the day that made him senior citizen. He became 60 years old yesterday. We celebrated it with my aunt and uncle. They were also talking about their past life. They told us the time when they were no shampoo and soap, they just used ashes and leaves' juices to make their body clean; when they were no internet, they just used penpal; when they were no stove, just coal, pots, and bamboo to cook etc. Thank you for your sharing story. I am wondering what would be my life when I become 60 and what would I tell my future children and grandchildren when I reach that age. Thank you. :-)

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 17, 2020:

divacratus,

I agree that everyone should know how to cook. It is interesting that more men know how to cook these days than before. I wonder if that is because so many women don't bother to learn to cook anymore. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 17, 2020:

So very sorry for your losses this year. Many people will not be gathering as usual for the holidays this year due to the pandemic. Best to be safe and look forward to future gatherings of family and friends.

Blessings to you and yours!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 17, 2020:

Peggy W,

You know I had forgotten about Pig Latin too until my husband and I were talking about being in the kitchen when the moms, aunts, and grandmas got to talking. It was fun to remember such things out of the blue. Especially this year when many aren't going to be with us during the holidays. I lost an aunt, a cousin, and both my sister's in-laws to the Pandemic. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Lora Hollings on November 16, 2020:

Such a wonderful article on the time you spent with your mother in learning how to cook and bake. We will always cherish these times that we have with our mothers and the valuable skills that they pass on to us. Your sweet rolls look absolutely delicious. Perhaps the pandemic is making people appreciate preparing their own meals more and finally realizing how much fun cooking and baking are and how much healthier and less costly it is than eating out all the time.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on November 16, 2020:

Excellent article and this gives a feeling of nostalgia. I loved going through your article and the precious memories. The pictures are beautiful.

I was a keen observer, when my mother was in the kitchen, and how she paid attention to every small detail. I have learnt cooking from her, and I am happy that I have passed it on to my daughter.

Thanks for sharing this beautiful and heartfelt article.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 16, 2020:

Lorna Lamon,

I do the same. Someone gives me more cucumbers than I can use and I pickle them. This makes me feel more than accomplished. I feel I am not wasteful. Remember how it used to be considered a sin to waste food? People just don't think that way anymore. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 16, 2020:

Jodah,

I've read a lot about people going "off-grid" and wonder if I could actually manage it. I feel like a pioneer sometimes but I still like some of my devices to make life easier, like my washer and dryer. Haha. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 16, 2020:

Ericdierker,

How very cool. I didn't experience enchiladas for many years after the taco feeds. I really like them better than tacos now. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 16, 2020:

surovi99,

I appreciate you saying so. I enjoy cooking and making people happy. You are very sweet to say so. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 16, 2020:

Coffeequeeen,

Things have changed a lot. Fast food and frozen meals have made it too convenient for girls not to bother learning the kitchen crafts and it is in danger of being lost. That would be a sad thing. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Kalpana Iyer from India on November 15, 2020:

Wonderfully narrated! You are right about the pandemic making almost everyone revisit the kitchen. I hope the trend stays. Cooking is an essential skill that everyone (not just women) should know.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 15, 2020:

BRENDA ARLEDGE,

I think most do use the pig latin although my husband said his family didn't. They just sent him out of the kitchen when they wanted to discuss things he wasn't to hear. Ha. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 15, 2020:

Alexander James Guckenberger,

I think all men should know how to cook but it just wasn't done back then. I didn't neglect my son. He was perfectly capable in the kitchen when he left my home. And it's a good thing because he was single until he was 26. Now he is a big help to his wife.

By the way, I have always squinted but they didn't know until I was 13 that I needed glasses to see.

Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 15, 2020:

Thanks to Rosina, I can now leave a comment! I loved reading your article. It reminded me of growing up in Wisconsin as a child. My grandfather had a couple of huge gardens. My mother and grandmother would can countless jars of fruits and veggies each year that carried us through the winter months. They also had root cellars where the potatoes and carrots could be stored.

I learned how to cook at an early age and by the time I was a young teen, I was cooking entire meals for my family.

As to the Pig Latin, I had forgotten all about that! Haha!

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 15, 2020:

Bill Holland,

Those were the day, weren't they, when women dressed so elegantly even for housework? I think I made that apron for her as one of my first sewing projects. She was, and is, amazing. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 15, 2020:

RoadMonkey,

I would love to puree and freeze a few things but my freezer is so small. I can remember canning enough tomato sauce to last us through the winter until the next tomato crop was ready in the spring. I never bought Ragu until I moved into an apartment and had no access to a garden. Sad. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 15, 2020:

Linda Lum wrote:

Well, here l am, late to the party. My mom would not have known a ... if she tripped over one, but boy could she can. Wonderful memories here.

Hi Linda,

I'm often late for the part but I managed to post your comment this way. My mom could can too and she taught me. I'm so glad she did because it has come in handy when times were hard and grocery budgets were tight. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on November 15, 2020:

Ann Carr wrote:

I loved your account of your experiences in the 60s kitchen. It's strange to see 'biscuits' that aren't anything like our baked, flat varieties! Also, 'gravy' to me is the hot meaty juice one gets from the roast, to mix with seasoning and pour over the meat. How strange that the English language varies so much in its uses!

My Mum used to make the most delicious ginger cake; crunchy on the outside and soft as butter inside - yummy! She also made treacle tart - open pastry with a treacle (golden syrup) and breadcrumbs filling and lattice pastry on top.

I was never that interested in cookery but I've had to acquire some of the skills of course! I do enjoy making certain things but I'd rather enjoy someone else's. I do make a mean apple crumble though.

As always, I hope this finds you safe and well.

All the best, Denise.

Ann

Hi Ann,

I'm sorry that commenting has gotten so awkward but I appreciate you making the effort to email me and let me know anyway.

I think I love cooking the way I love art. There is something artsy about preparing food for family and seeing them enjoy it. Although unlike art, it is consumed and you have to start all over again with the next meal. Still, there is a lot of socialization and communication that happens over a meal so there is that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Lorna Lamon on November 15, 2020:

I hope you receive this comment Denise as I fear I may be too late. However, your article brought back so many fond memories of my Grandmother and Mother in the kitchen preserving and bottling. My job was to take the stones out of the plums in order to make jam. I also joined my cousins blackberry picking which was great fun. I still make my own jam today and have taken to pickling as well. Old habits die hard. Thank you for sharing such an enjoyable article.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 14, 2020:

A wonderful article Denise. My grandmother did similar things to yours and I have actually done the bottling and preserving gig myself while we were living off-grid for a few years.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 14, 2020:

Thank you for sharing this. I the 60's I was the only boy in Home-Ec. That first picture looks a whole lot like my mom did. Ours were enchilada feasts.

Rosina S Khan on November 14, 2020:

A beautiful article about your experiences in cooking. It's good you learned not only cooking and baking from your mother and grandmother but also canning and preservation. It's nice now in the modern day, ladies want to learn baking skills from you. You seem to be greatly skilled in the kitchen and a good cook. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Denise.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on November 14, 2020:

Things have certainly changed a lot over the years. My mother used to cook a lot when we were kids. Both my Grandmothers were excellent cooks too. I do miss their cooking.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on November 14, 2020:

This was a great and interesting article.

Those days of family gatherings seem to be in the past for me, but I remember them.

I do wish I had learned to can goods but our family didn't do too much of that.

I remember making jam once and it was quite messy.

I like your quote that men fall to pieces while women keep on cooking.

Pig latin...that is so cute. I guess all families do this when they don't want the little one's to overhear.

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on November 14, 2020:

The photo of you squinting is adorable. You were such a cutie! I am a man, but I remember when we were younger, how our grandmother would let us help her cook. I gained more experience in the culinary arts through McDonald's, as well as personal experience in the home. Cooking is a fantastic thing to know how to do.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 14, 2020:

The picture of your mom, in a dress, with an apron on, brought back a ton of memories. Classic photo, that one!

Blessings always

RoadMonkey on November 14, 2020:

I can't say I was introduced to cooking at home. My mother cooked a Sunday dinner each week and that was it. My grandmothers both liked to bake but they had no patience for teaching. But I did science at school and reckoned that was enough to be able to read a recipe and cook it. We never canned large amounts of veg or fruit because we lived in a mining village. As an adult with a garden, I have recently taken to freezing pureed apples and pears which are the only fruits we produced in large enough amounts to justify preserving.

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