Yuck Soup: Or, How My Daughters Taught Me to Cook

Egg  Cup
In my defense, I have to say, I could sort of cook. Eggs. Eggs were easy. To that, one can add bacon, ham, mushrooms, tomatoes. And that leads to bubble and squeak. Soup is simple, and if one can make soup, one can make stew. Somewhere along the line I learned to bake bread and make rice pudding, as well as roast a joint of meat to the point of over-doneness and boil some veg to go with it. Oh, and cauliflower cheese. I made a nice cauliflower cheese. My pride was tazlins, little pastry tarts made at Christmas in Derbyshire (where I was born) filled with raspberry jam, lemon curd, or mincemeat.

Cauliflower Cheese (Attribution: Pixabay)
When my daughters were about two and four, as I worked my way through my limited repertoire week after week, they wanted to cook as well. I would give them a couple of wooden spoons and a large bowl, into which went water, eggs shells, used tea leaves, sometimes a drop of food coloring, and anything else lying about. My older daughter, Elizabeth, dubbed the dish yuck soup, and at the end of the cooking session I would try what they promised would be a delicious concoction, splutter and cough on my pretend sip, then loudly exclaim that I had been tricked before the soup ended up on the compost heap.

During September 11, 2001, I kept the television turned to the Food Network. Five year old Elizabeth was entranced. “I will cook dinner tonight,” she announced. Single-handedly, she produced toast and scrambled eggs with small pieces of raw spaghetti scattered on top. “The garnish,” she replied to my question.

I had a collection of cookbooks given to me as gifts, only one of which I had ever used, My Learn to Cookbook, some thirty years ago. At seven, Elizabeth leafed through one of James Beard’s books, and was very taken with the picture of a raspberry tart. I had to help her with the shopping list, and explain some of the directions, but she produced a very tasty effort with no other help. She replicated it the next week for the cooking contest at the neighborhood picnic, where it won the grand prize. The following year they had a children’s division: she and her sister took first and second place.

last pic
By now, she was adding home-made sauces, pesto, tacos, and Indian dishes to our once-dull roster of meals. “Come on, Mum,” she urged, “It’s not that hard. Taste it. What does it need?” I was flabbergasted. It had never occurred to me to adjust seasonings. Indeed, it had never occurred to me to actually do things to make food taste good. “Try finishing the sauce with a little butter.” It was like magic. Suddenly there was a smoothness and a depth of taste that had been lacking.

Cake (Attribution: Pixabay)
Her sister, Catharine, joined the family effort. She is more of a baker, and took me into a world of cookies, brownies, shortbread, sponge cake, layer cake dusted with cocoa and icing sugar. The only real disaster was an “oops” with a phone app that multiplies a recipe apparently endlessly. Rather than three dozen sugar cookies she ended up making some 420!

Until my children started to teach me, I never realized what a pleasure cooking could be for children—and adults. Over the years we used various books. I had a quick look in JNF 641.5 and found an old favorite as well as three of the sorts we enjoyed. A book such as Passport on a Plate: A Round-the-World Cookbook for Children by Diana Simone Vezza gives an informative introduction to each cuisine, explaining how the geography of the region affects the ingredients available and gives straightforward instructions for over 100 recipes in a nicely illustrated volume. If your children want to explore the food of a particular country in greater depth, there is a series called Easy Menu Ethnic Cookbooks, each of which is called Cooking the [whatever] Way. There is a lot of cultural information, including mentions of regional cooking, a glossary of special ingredients, and simple menus that allow you to cook typical meals.

There are historical variations, including Loretta Frances Ichord’s Hasty Pudding, Jonnycakes, and Other Good Stuff: Cooking in Colonial America. Not only does this book cover foods from various traditions—European, African, and Original Peoples—but it stresses the need to preserve food. There are not a great number of recipes, however the ones included are illustrative of the points made in the text.

For a bit of fun, try Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds by Ann McCallum. The cooking is simple in this book, but for a child who enjoys messing around in the kitchen and is having trouble grasping basic math concepts such as fractions and probability, this book could be a valuable resource with hands-on learning.

And for afters, as we called dessert when I was growing up, we found Bake and Make Amazing Cookies excellent for baking parties with friends. Author Elizabeth MacLeod presents some thirty recipes, some to cover holidays, some as presents, some seasonal and some just for fun, in easy-to-follow steps. The only trouble was that after everyone had a go at quality control, there was never enough filling for the chocolate sandwiches on page 37.

And that, dear readers, is how my daughters taught me to cook.

—Mary Elizabeth Allen, Hickory Corner Branch


  1. Such a fun read! I love how your daughters were so interested in cooking and baking!


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