All my children are taller than I am. But when they were little, oh, did we have funny times!
One day our five-year-old came up with a great one-liner: “I know how to make brown bread–toast it!” We laughed, but he was serious. He honestly was exploring with his mind, the finer points of food preparation.
Our canning successes and failures have impressed our children. As we ate peas for supper one night long ago, the seven-year-old said, “I’m glad God made seeds because if you plant just a small pack, you get a LOT of peas to eat!” Me too, Dearie.
Our pickled peppers always received rave reviews from all the hot stuff eaters. And the muscadine jam–you’d have to taste it to believe it.
They learned so much.
When the deer got our peaches and crab apples and drought got our pears, their joy at what we had was sobered by what we lost. They couldn’t wait to start again, to do better. But in the meantime, we could open jars and remember.
One thing they loved helping with in the winter was apple leather. It is so easy to spread applesauce on a lubricated pan and set it near the fireplace to dry for a few days. How they loved making funny shapes of it with scissors! It was a favorite snack for them.
Actually, nothing beats the Winter Doldrums like the warmth and aromas of something happening in the kitchen. Whether Big Sis is rescuing some old bananas in yummy banana bread, or everyone is taking turns at the handle of the apple-slicing/coring device for apple crunch, we get miles of smiles from being close family in a simple kitchen full of love.
Kids love to cook. It’s a part of growing up.
They love to break eggs, dump ingredients, stir, set the timer, read recipes, etc. The kitchen, to them is like a big friendly science learning lab where we get to eat the experiment. Happy the child who feels welcome in the kitchen!
So is there a way a five-year-old can make brown bread? Probably not, but if you are making bread and let him count and dump in the part that makes it brown, wouldn’t he love it? How easy to launch from there into an explanation of differences in flours, complete with a microscope!
If his twelve-year-old sister does the bread making, she’ll beam when Daddy cuts himself a second slice. The seven-year-old could coat the pan with wonderful squishy grease. Teens love to rescue everyone when the hot pan is ready to exit the oven; the challenge of facing actual danger is like a tonic to them.
Are there any recipes a five-year-old can really do himself? Yes, the apple leather is one of them. He could make the butter for Big Sister’s bread: just shake 1 cup room-temperature cream in a quart jar for about 15 minutes and it makes butter. You strain off the remaining liquid for him, and let him pack it into a bowl. Or how about pie dough crackers? Hand him scraps to roll, cut, and sprinkle with milk and sugar or salt. Of course, you bake it for him.
A slightly older child can do more.
Let him slice some ice box cookies and arrange them on the cookie sheet. He can help you form the dough into the short, fat snake before you freeze it.
You might try a batch of coffee-can ice cream. Have him put a layer of ice cubes and salt into a large coffee can. Set a small, sealed coffee can ¾ full of ice cream mixture into the large can. Place ice and salt around the sides and over the top. Seal the large can and let the children roll this on the floor about 15 minutes until the ice cream sets. What fun!
When it comes to much older children, we know our future homemakers belong in the kitchen, but perhaps we’re lost about how and where to begin with them.
The first step is mentally to prepare for a mess.
Face it: you are neat and tidy in the kitchen because you learned the hard way it’s better to clean as you go. Your recipes are common to you and it’s no problem to fix a mess crisis while you cook. For the beginner, to cook IS the crisis and spills are commonplace. You can wipe up for her as she goes—an option that is good only for a while—or ask her to clean up when she’s done. We all must learn to police our own area.
So expect splatters from ceiling to floor. Grin and bear it. When my husband’s mother and I experimented with throwing pizza crust instead of rolling it, we gained a laughable moment that helped bond me to her like little else can. You want to bond with your own young chefs so they can feel loved and feel good about family life.
And don’t be surprised if your young men want to join in. I suspect when Jesus cooked fish for His disciples, it was scrumptious. And He did not learn that in the carpenter shop, either.
For beginning cooks, I like a mix.
Store bought or homemade, a mix is perfect for learning, because there is some fun measuring and beginners can concentrate on technique. Add skills gradually, layer over layer. You will know when you have come to the point where you can show her a recipe and do something else nearby. You can keep an eye on her and she can ask questions without leaving her station.
So, how old is old enough for each task?
Often I measure by height. No one should ever cook on a stove while standing on a box or chair. If you cannot reach the knobs, you are too young.
A lot has to do with motor skills. I have a cute photo of my daughter and one of her brothers when they were young—so young they sat ON the counter with the brownie bowl between them. It was their first try at egg-breaking. The egg was not exactly in the bowl. They were too young.
Invite them in, though. If you have many very little ones, start slowly, perhaps with licking the spoon. Do what you think is best for you, not forgetting the purpose: to have fun with Mom and be prepared for life.
Here are some easy or fun recipes to get you started:
No Knead Bread
2 cups white flour
1 package dry yeast
1 ¼ cup milk
½ cup butter
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
Mix white flour and yeast. Warm milk, butter, sugar and salt to 120 degrees. Add to flour mixture with egg. Mix on low speed of mixer for 30 seconds, then on high for 3 minutes. Stir in whole wheat flour by spoon. Let rise 1 hour. Stir. Pour into greased bread pan. Let rise 30 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Makes 1 loaf, 12 slices. Calories: 215 per slice.
Fast Fruit Ice Cream
1 can evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk)
1 quart individually frozen peaches OR 5 peeled, ripe frozen bananas
sugar or honey, to taste
Place into blender, cap, and blend on high until fruit is well blended. Place into ice cold container and freeze for about 3 hours. Or eat as is for a milk shake. Serves four. Calories: about 395, using peaches and 1 cup sugar.
1 cup flour
½ cup salt
1 teaspoon powdered alum
2 teaspoons cooking oil
1 cup water
food color (opt.)
Place all in medium saucepan. Stir and cook on medium for 3 minutes, or until dough leaves sides of pan. It will not be too hot, only very warm. Knead. Store in covered jar, or air tight plastic bag, in refrigerator. Looks, smells, and feels just as they hoped.
Have a great weekend!