These are things I didn’t know about food or cooking until I was an adult:
- I didn’t know that you didn’t need a box of Jell-O instant pudding to make pudding.
- I didn’t know you could make pancakes without Bisquick.
- I didn’t know the difference between butter and margarine.
- I didn’t know that American Cheese slices were not actually cheese.
- I didn’t know the difference between Non-Dairy Creamer and cream. (Seriously — I must not have read that “Non-Dairy” part too closely.)
- I also didn’t know the difference between whipped cream and Cool Whip.
- I didn’t know that you could make salad dressing without an envelope of pre-mixed spices.
- I didn’t know there was any kind of lettuce besides iceberg.
- I was eleven before I found out you could make cocoa without Swiss Miss (my mom shocked me by making it right on the stove with a wooden spoon and a tin of Hershey’s cocoa).
- I was thirteen before I knew you could cook a hot dog by boiling it instead of putting it in the microwave.
- I was fourteen before I knew you could make mashed potatoes out of potatoes instead of out of a box. (We loved the lumps and embarrassed our stepmother by going on and on about them.)
- I was fifteen before I knew you could make a grilled cheese sandwich from actual cheddar cheese. (And my boyfriend impressed me even more by making it on homemade bread and even added sprouts.)
Sometimes I think about this as a very clear metaphor for the baggage we haul around from our family of origin. Some of it is good stuff, some of it is bad stuff and some of it is just plain wrong stuff. Fortunately you can start to correct the bad stuff just by being out in the world and being open to noticing new things.
I’ll admit that I was a 23 years old before I learned the difference between whipped cream and Cool Whip. Doubly embarrassing since I’d spent a couple of years working the retail counter at Katzinger’s, where knowing about food was part of the job description. But we never used whipped cream there that I can remember so when my co-worker asked me to go grab some for the strawberry shortcake she was bringing to our lunch potluck I headed to the frozen food aisle. Meeting up at the check out line she gasped at my blunder and marched me back to the dairy aisle to grab a spray can. (Later I learned to make whipped cream myself with an ice cold mixing bowl. Miracle of miracles!)
As time went on, I learned to pick and choose from the things I learned from my family and the things I learned as I went along. I only made homemade pudding once — the results were good but not worth my boredom stirring over the stove. But I never use margarine. My kids like their grilled cheese made with “Grandma Cheese,” so-called because I kept our ‘fridge stocked with actual cheddar until they discovered those creamy individual slices at my mom’s house and insisted on putting them on the shopping list. We don’t have a microwave and I never make mashed potatoes out of a box but I do use Bisquick to make these particular chocolate chip cookies my kids love and my husband likes to mix Hazelnut Non-Dairy Creamer with his half-and-half in his morning coffee.
We pick and choose. We learn things, we discard things, we pick new things up and we keep some old things close.