Friday, June 12, 2009

If You Can Read, You Can Cook

My mother, Judy (short for “Judith”), loved to cook. Her mother, Gert (short for “Gertrude”) did not love to cook, so as soon as Judy was tall enough to stir ingredients in a pot, she began making things that tasted good to her.

Judy had a best friend named Barb (they were close buddies their whole lives, until my mother passed away a few years back). Barb’s father, Bill Knapp, started a restaurant in Battle Creek, Michigan, that grew to become quite a famous chain of family restaurants in the Midwest and in Florida. (My favorites were their scalloped potatoes and, hands down, the Bill Knapp’s chocolate cake, which they provided for free on your birthday if you joined their birthday club.) Judy and Barb loved to cook together, and I (and many others) loved to eat what they made.

As soon as I could stir a wooden spoon in a bowl (sometimes while standing on a chair), my mother had me helping in the kitchen. She would measure all of the ingredients and set them on the counter, and then tell me when it was time for each (a 2-cup measure of flour, a teaspoon of baking soda, etc.). At one point when I was in elementary school, she asked me if I thought I could cook. She told me that my response was, “If you can read, you can cook.”

Now, my husband comes from Italian stock, and he is very good at adding a pinch of this, or a pinch of that to make things taste just right. I, on the other hand, am a true cookbook cook. I tend to use the exact measurements that the recipe specifies. But I love to cook. And I realized that both Dessert First and The Year the Swallows Came Early feature true food-lovers and chefs-in-the-making. Dessert First even gives you the recipe for Double-Decker Chocolate Bars on the back of the book’s dust jacket. (That's author Hallie Durand, at left.)

So why not also talk about reading as a pathway to great dining? I think the first thing I ever cooked on my own were Rice Krispy Treats, with the recipe right on the cereal box (and only marshmallows and butter are needed in addition). The peanut butter cookies in The Joy of Cooking is another easy-peasy recipe, requiring only the basics that you likely have in your kitchen already (and then if you want, you can add chocolate kisses, or chocolate chips, or even peanut butter chips, if you’re a peanut butter fanatic like I am). And of course, Toll-House Cookies, with the recipe right on the chocolate-chip bag.

Often, books inspire us to take action, and if we read a book about good food, why not take our youngsters into the kitchen and get cookin’?


  1. I grew up in Michigan and I mourned the passing of Bill Knapp's restaurants! Bill Knapp's chocolate cake was always my favorite. I went to college in TN, and one year my mom sent me one through the mail for my birthday! In recent years we discovered that you can still buy the cakes (frozen) at some local grocery stores.

  2. Laurie--where did you grow up in Michigan? What a great mom you had, sending you Bill Knapp's for your bithday! Have you tasted those grocery store cakes, though? They are Not The Same. Sigh.