Food: Learning to Cook

During the last weeks as I’ve rediscovered the delights of dough and baking powder, I’ve thought about my start in the art of cooking. Maybe in my case, that should be called a process rather than an art. 

At university, I lived first at a hostel where I met up with the three friends who went flatting for our second year. We rented the top  floor of a very damp house which backed onto a hill. The furniture and appliances were what might be called basic. Only Helen knew how to cook before we moved in. Jo had relied on her father for meals and Marg and I had let our mothers feed us. I had the least experience after four years of boarding school. 

We tool one night each to prepare dinner and joined forces on Friday and the weekend. Our first task was to buy a cookbook that assumed we needed directions to boil water. The book was printed in England so we had to make some adjustments in the ingredients. Not much demand for potted shrimp in New Zealand at that time. Our learning difficulties were compounded by our stove. First of all it was operated by gas and second it was very elderly and if you cleaned it, parts were likely to fall off. The three novice cooks experienced the usual problem of trying to have the meat and vegetables ready to be served at the same time. The chops got cold while you poked the potatoes to make them soften more quickly. We had the usual burnings and undercookings but avoided food poisoning.

We did learn to feed ourselves. However that wasn’t our only food problem.  The four of us collected scholarships with monthly allowances if we committed to teach for the same period of study when we competed our degrees. It wasn’t a very generous allowance and we literally had a bare larder at the end of each month. I can remember seeing only a lonely jar of Marmite sitting on a shelf. Sometimes we found enough loose change to buy a block of vanilla ice cream and a bottle of root beer to make floats to fill us up. None of us was fat with our rather spartan diet and the long walk to and from university every day. 

At the time, my future husband lived in a flat with three other guys. It was much classier than ours and they had a tradition of cooking a roast dinner on Sundays. The guys weren’t much for doing the washing up but we were happy to oblige in return for a good meal. They also shared cooking duty and had their specialties. Peter who had been brought up in India was into curry. This was usually too hot for his mates and too weak for him. 

By the time I married, I could produce a reasonable meal and was even into cooking with more exotic ingredients. Pork chops with pineapple and white wine was one of the successes. The virus lock down has revived interest in home cooking in me and many others. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues as restrictions on restaurants are lifted.