THANKS TO EVERYONE who responded to my essay “Cooking Up a Storm” (July 2010) with memories of mothers who cooked (or not), and their own take on meal preparation. At least one person, like me, is terminally ambivalent: “Although I’ve usually been able to pull it off when I needed to,” P. wrote, “I too have had a love-hate-endure-love(again) relationship with kitchen tasks.” (I’m using initials rather than names because I wasn’t sure you wanted to go on record. Please note that there are three different J.s!)
J. liked to cook more than her mother, a career woman who didn’t take any home-related task too seriously (so much for the Katherine Weissman theory of genetically determined cooking habits), but since being widowed 10 years ago she is less enthusiastic, partly for emotional reasons (“It felt like too much of myself was required”) and partly because the planning, shopping, chopping, and timing is just too grueling.
I found it refreshing, in fact, that a number of you were absolutely guiltless about not bothering. “I’m a modern-day woman: microwave and sometimes frozen straight to the oven,” said J. “My mother didn’t cook and neither do I,” wrote M. “Ironically, I have a degree in dietetics and an MS in nutrition. If you struggle in the kitchen, my hat is off to you, but I wouldn’t give it the effort.”
There were also people on the positive side: “Although my mother left me a lot of rubbish in many ways,” said R., “she liked to cook and made it fun and I think I have probably inherited the sense that it’s not a big deal.” Having a culinarily inclined mom didn’t guarantee that you grew up skilled in the kitchen, however. “My parents were foodies,” said A., “but all those great chefs didn’t let me into the kitchen!” A college roommate had to teach her the basics.
That was also J.’s experience (“My mother liked to be in charge and do everything herself”): She heard a lot about cooking as a girl but didn’t exactly learn how. “When my first husband and I were going together, he asked me if I knew how to cook,” she remembers. “I said yes, and that ended that topic of conversation. But on our honeymoon, something got him to ask me if I’d ever roasted a chicken. No. Had I ever made a meat loaf? No.
“ ‘But you told me you know how to cook.’
“ ‘I do.’
“ ‘What have you made?’
“ ‘Fudge. And a Lady Baltimore cake once.’ ”