I’ve made a commitment to reduce the number of packaged convenience foods that my family purchases. To do this, each item must be replaced with a home-baked recipe.
Biscuits are the subject of today’s efforts. In the past, I purchased these either frozen or canned in the store’s refrigerated section. Now, I’m making them from scratch.
On top of the refrigerator rests an old metal box full of three- by-five recipe cards, organized alphabetically. Scanning through the “B” tab, I remove “Baking Powder Biscuits” and place it on the counter.
The paper has yellowed with age. Stained splotches of flour and water cover the faded ink.
Mrs. Tabor, my home economics teacher from fifth through eighth grade, gave me this recipe when I made biscuits for the first time. She had no way of knowing that I would remember and value her practical lessons throughout my life.
She taught her students how to cream butter and sugar for cookies and how to measure shortening in a glass cup filled with water to avoid air bubbles. She also demonstrated washing a head of store-bought lettuce by disposing of the outer two leaves, cutting the vegetable into quarters, and rinsing.
“Be sure to let the water run through each leaf,” she reminded us.
The lessons were not only about food. My home ec teacher also cautioned us about the dangers of impulse buying.
“Don’t go shopping and buy a shirt because it’s attractive. First, look through your closet to see what you have. Make a list of what you need and stick to it.”
She taught us how to look for quality when purchasing clothing.
“Examine the fabric and seams to see if they’re sturdy. Is the item washable? Will it shrink? Will it require ironing? Math is important because you have to figure out what ‘twenty percent off’ means.”
Mrs. Tabor taught us about menstruation and where babies came from. We thought we already knew everything there was to know about the facts of life. Thankfully, our trusted teacher was there to see we had the scientific facts.
While the girls were in home economics, the boys attended shop to learn about mechanics and wood working.
During the eighth grade, the girls and boys switched places. The shop teacher showed me how to change a tire, and he helped me make a wooden jewelry box, which I still own and treasure.
I was lucky, because my parents and grandparents were teaching me the same lessons, and more, at home. But not every kid is that fortunate. Many children have only one parent or have working parents, making the lessons of life more difficult to teach.
All of this happened during the decades of the sixties and seventies, when women became liberated. This was a natural outgrowth of the general human rights movement. I burned my bra, too. Well, being young, maybe it was a training bra.
Maybe it still is!
The problem is that we stopped teaching many life skills altogether rather than opening the classes to both genders. Girls and boys both need basic information, including cooking, sewing, mechanics, and woodworking. Otherwise, what will they do when faced with darning a sock or fixing a toilet?
The answer in today’s world is to buy a new sock or hire a plumber.
Is this the right answer?
That depends, at least partially, on a person’s bank account; it’s also an issue of empowerment. Knowing how to fix a toilet enables me to make a choice to either repair it myself or hire a plumber.
Both of my daughters were unable to take home economics or shop until high school. At that time, they enrolled in a class called “Food Prep.” They complained that the lessons related to the career of food preparation and not about everyday meals in the home. My girls took the class because it was the only one available.
I tried to teach my children life skills at home. In fact, even though they’re grown, this continues to take place. For example, the older daughter called today to ask about the proper oven temperature for a ham.
Back to the recipe index card on the counter—it looks yucky. I photocopy it and put the new one in a plastic sheet protector and wash my hands.
Mrs. Tabor’s Baking Powder Biscuits
2 cups sifted flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (or less to taste)
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup milk
Directions: Grease a baking sheet. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. (This helps to make the crumb light, but fluffing with a fork will work if a sifter is not available.) Cut in the butter until the texture is consistent, like coarse meal. (I use the flat tines of a large meat fork.) Add milk and blend. For drop biscuits, use a spoon to place rounded mounds onto the pan. For rolled biscuits, roll dough out on a clean floured surface. Cut with a biscuit cutter.
Bake at . . .
The oven temperature is unreadable on the dirty index card. I need to check the missing information in another source. So I grab an old cookbook off the shelf, which I recently purchased at an antique store. As I flip through the pages, a postcard drops on the floor. I pick it up.
An imprinted picture of Jefferson sits in place of a stamp, “ONE CENT U.S. Postal Card.” A postmark records, “Columbus, Ohio; July 6, 1941,” while a stamped-ink comment urges, “BUY U.S. SAVINGS BONDS.” A hastily written cursive designates an Ohio address.
I turn it over:
Hello, not bad so far. You kids should see me in uniform—wow! Am temporarily stationed at Reception Center at Fort Hayes in Cleveland. It doesn’t take long for us draftees to become Army-ized. Had a shot in each arm yesterday—my right arm almost useless. Wishing you were here.
—Your son, Johnny
I carefully place the card inside the 1939 cookbook, just as Johnny’s mother did so long ago—probably along with a prayer.
. . . the oven temperature is 450 degrees.