My dad is one of six kids, and was born in 1927 in New York. One of his first jobs at the very young age of 5 or 6 years was to sweep the floor of the candy store below their apartment. You had to know my grandmother to understand the rest of this story. She worked full-time for many years, as did my grandfather. Her kids were often left to their own devices, and my dad says that “the best dressed kid in the family was the one that got up first.” She could handicap a horse with her eyes closed, and she knew the season’s racing schedule by heart, but she herself would have told you about her lack of cooking skills. She could burn water. Grandma was no Suzie Homemaker.
My grandmother’s one claim to culinary fame was her pot roast. My mom makes it from time-to-time, but it really is a lot of work and the onions really stink up the house. The pot roast is always yummy, and if you didn’t know that it had ginger snaps or vinegar in it you would never know!
So. Back to my dad (and where I’m going with this) …
I was about 10-years-old and very interested in cooking and baking. I remember one Saturday asking my mom if I could make a cake. She said sure, and got out a box of Duncan Hines cake mix. My dad, sitting at the table having his coffee and reading the newspaper, was horrified. He launched into a story about how he used to bake cookies and cakes when he was my age and he NEVER used a mix! So, me being the brat that I was, I challenged him, “So, dad, why don’t you show us how to make a cake from scratch if you can remember how.”
My dad rose to the challenge and said, “Sure! Why not!” I remember my mom saying, “Great. Just clean up the mess when you’re done.” I asked my dad if he needed a recipe from one of mom’s books, and he said “Recipe? Now way! I remember how to do this from memory!”
My dad set out to make a complete mess of the kitchen. He sifted flour, measured out this and that and mixed things up by hand (“The way I did it when I was a kid”). I remember this like it was yesterday. There was flour everywhere, egg shells on the tile countertop, and the oven heating up. My dad greased and floured the two cake pans, filled them with a yummy chocolate batter, slapped the pans on the countertop “to get the air bubbles out of the cake,” and popped the two rounds into the oven to bake.
Hmmm. The smell was divine. The timer went off. My mom and I came into the kitchen to check out dad’s cake. He, with a big smile on his face, put on the oven mits, and reached into the oven to take out his cake pans.
Hmmm. The look on his face! It was as flat as his cakes! He was horrified! He looked at me and my mom and mumbled something about the oven, or the eggs, or the bad baking powder … Oops! Baking powder, you say?
That mishap occurred about 40 years ago. That was probably one of the last things my dad ever tried to bake or cook aside from the occasional boiled hot dog. I’m not even going to go into the time that he “baked the steaks” in the oven at 200 degrees for 4 hours or the fact that he still calls the microwave that “new fangled thing.”