Sorry, kids, but you have to cook from scratch to make a real meal

April 02, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

THIS WEEK'S Sun article about twentysomethings who send out for dinner rather than doing any real cooking made me wince. I see the results of "the food delivered to the home" trend each Wednesday and Saturday morning when I take out the garbage for one of this age group's most ardent proponents. There's always a small dump of Styrofoam, pizza boxes and fried-rice containers.

So how did I learn to cook? Simple. I like to eat well and when I was growing up, I just watched the masters in my family's Guilford Avenue kitchen. My 7-year-old nieces, Katie and Mary, are learning, too. When they visited me this Easter, I was amazed at how expert these first-graders were with a potato peeler. Unlike those born in the 1980s, they had no trouble transforming the raw materials into a fantastic meal with very little stuff left for the guys from the Bureau of Sanitation.

I was born into a household wherein a can of Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup was viewed with contempt. We had no convenience foods; we made it all from scratch, seven days a week. Perhaps the one exception was Jell-O, but even this would be served with homemade embellishments: fresh-cut fruit and served with a small mountain of hand-whipped, sugared, high-test cream. We made ketchup; we made our own soap; we made our own noodles for noodle soup.

There would have been a Sunday morning mutiny in the ranks if my grandmother Lily Rose, and her sister, Great Aunt Cora, dared use a pancake mix. Not only did they create their own flannel cakes, they had a second Sunday starter, the buckwheat cake, whose batter recipe involved yeast and a Saturday night sleep in a cold pantry before it would be ladled over the griddle.

I guess it was some of the weekend preparation sessions that taught me what it takes to eat well, Baltimore style. On Saturdays, my mother, an enthusiastic and willing shopper, followed her mother's directive to buy buckwheat flour and sausage (only certain butchers would do) at the old Belair Market in Oldtown where my ancestors had resided since 1760.

Come Saturday evening, Lily and Cora routinely produced a bountiful and gorgeous dinner of standing rib roast of beef, baked potatoes, homemade macaroni and cheese and peas. That is, if they were not making a simmering spaghetti sauce that perfumed the house from coal bin to third-floor skylight.

After dinner's end, Cora had a couple of Chesterfields and Lily and my grandfather, Pop Monaghan, watched Lawrence Welk.

Then, about 9:30 p.m., Lily and Cora would get a second burst of energy. Their kitchen was officially closed, but out came a big mixing bowl, the yeast and the buckwheat flower. Soon the place smelled like beer (the yeast was working) - and some lucky victim was sent out to Ragland's Guilford Pharmacy for a late snack of Hendler's ice cream. As I mentioned, we ate well.

As a child of the 1950s, I was inundated by television advertisements for imitation maple syrups, which I dared ask we try. Lily gave in and bought a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's. Then she glanced at its ingredients and the next Sunday morning, her version of the same thing sat on the table. And it was far better.

The women claimed Sunday was the day of rest, but this was quite a fib. Come dinnertime, Cora slithered into the kitchen and was soon making the sauce for creamed chicken. Then, on cue, I would suggest that some biscuits might taste good. All it took was an upended tea cup, Cora's magic with flour and shortening, a hot Oriole-stove oven, and let me assure you, there was not a crumb for the garbageman.

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