There are culinary tales in my past that may not have brought laughter or smiles when they happened, but as memories, they are some of the best.
I remember my wise mother saying that when I became a teenager, I might have other priorities, and so at 10 years of age, she taught me to cook and bake.
Spending time in the kitchen with my mom was one of my favorite places to be. I would sit on the stairs that led into the kitchen, and we’d talk while I watched her and learned to create all the wonderful dishes with their incredible smells and tastes that came forth day after day.
I baked my first cherry pie when I was 10, and I began helping with the family grocery shopping at our small neighborhood grocery store at that age as well.
In the fifth grade, I fixed dinner every Thursday night for my family. I bought the groceries and prepared the entire menu. I almost always fixed Sloppy Joes. I got my Thursday night recipes from my favorite Betty Crocker Junior Cook Book. The pages eventually became torn and splattered with spills from the trade, and I loved that.
As the family gathered one Thursday night, my 6-year-old little sister shouted, “I’m too young to die!” as I served up my Sloppy Joes. I didn’t think it was particularly funny, because I was very serious about my cooking. The family, however, thought her comment was hilarious, and they burst into laughter each and every time they retold the story to family and friends over the years, and I have definitely joined them.
During my senior year in high school, six of my friends decided to hold a baking competition. One of the girls was paired with one of the boys, and the two of them would have a “cook-off.” We baked homemade chocolate éclairs, cherry pies and chocolate chip cookies.
I can only speak for the girls when I tell you that we were focused; we practiced our recipes, and we wanted to win! Blind taste tests among the six of us determined the winner.
When my turn came around, my partner and I were to bake a cherry pie. How could I be so lucky? I’d been making cherry pies since fifth grade.
We met at a neutral house. My competitor and I brought all our ingredients and set to work. After the pies were in the oven, my girlfriends and I gathered in the TV room to hang out and wait.
Once the pies were done, they were sliced and tasted, and there was no doubt as to the winner. One of the pies had been sprinkled with hot pepper flakes, and tasted terrible. I lost the contest, but waged a formal protest; had there been cherry pie tampering while I was out of the kitchen?
No one fessed up, and I went down to defeat.
Maybe at the time the outcome seemed important, but looking back, of course, the memories of being with friends and laughing at the circumstances of that day win out by a long shot.
Some years ago, my husband and I were hosting a holiday open house. We were not quite ready for guests when the doorbell rang.
I spent some anxious minutes welcoming guests while I sliced cheeses and kept an eye on food baking in the oven.
Well into the party, I opened the freezer for ice and saw two cookie sheets full of spinach balls waiting to be baked. I was mortified, but it was too late to do anything but laugh. It is a memory that we still share often at the holidays.
Other cooking disasters that come to mind include the collapsed pumpkin pie spilled inside a friend’s oven and the turkey I roasted with the giblet packages inside.
The retelling of these botched kitchen moments can still bring tears of laughter to both the teller and the listener, and surely that’s the best kind of memory.