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Dec 9, 2013 09:54 AM

SURVEY: When/Where/How did you learn to cook?

Melanie Wong has a wonderful thread going about the debates over food stamps and who should qualify as well as what they should be able to buy with them. As we all know, it is a VERY complex issue with no easy answers. I have been decrying the fact that most people who qualify for food stamps either a.) don't know how to cook, or b.) don't have time to cook because they are so busy hustling trying to keep kids fed and work at their minimum wage (or less) job that they need a 48 hour day to do all the things they need to do but don't have time for.

So... I'm curious about how many of us had any sort of cooking instruction when we were school kids. So here are my survey questions:

1. When, where, and how did you first learn to cook?

2. Did you have any sort of cooking classes in school as part of YOUR school districts mandatory curriculum?

2A. If you did have cooking classes in school, would you mind sharing your age and whether those classes were in the U.S. or another country?


As for me, I'm 80 years old, I did have basic cooking instruction in home economics classes in the 9th grade in California (1948 or thereabouts). Later, when I was in my twenties, I REALLY learned how to cook through daily private instruction from a master chef for about three full years.

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  1. I was eight years old and made my first pizza. It was Chef Boyardee pizza in box. There was a little can of sauce and the packet to make the dough. I even got the pizza pan from them.I really enjoyed this.Also my best freind was Italian and would watch his mom cook.
    It was all trial and error when I moved out of my parents house when I was eighteen and had to cook for myself.I also learned from watching Great Chefs,Julia Child,and all the shows on PBS.
    That's how I learned to cook.

    2 Replies
    1. re: emglow101

      Wow, that brought back memories. I can almost remember the taste of that pizza sauce.

      1. re: monavano

        They still sell it in stores. I made one last year for the heck of it. Wasn't bad.

    2. 1. ~25 when moved out to my own apartment. Learned from memories of watching my mother cooking, trial and error, websites, etc

      2. Maybe 10 hands-on lessons over 2 years (aged 11-12) as part of required classes. One final class we had to plan and execute a simple meal ie main, side and dessert.

      2A.They were in NZ in the mid-1980s. I enjoyed the classes but they were mainly irrelevant to me as they focused on foods (basic Western/Euro) and techniques (baking) that we rarely ate/used (I'm Chinese and mainly cook South East Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern food).

      1. 1) Probably around 10 for basic pan fry egg, bacon and sausage, and also grilling for Club Scout. However, I didn't seriously take on cooking until college, which would be like ~20. Only then, I was responsible three meals a day, 7 days a week.

        2) No. Nothing mandatory. Yes, it was mandatory for my club scout activity, but nothing from my school.

        1. Most of what I learned about cooking as a child came from my mother, an excellent from-scratch cook whose kitchen and schedule made it easy for me to sit and watch, ask questions, and begin to "help" (about age 7-8).

          I'd also say that my father's big vegetable garden, and growing up in a rural area, gave me an understanding of real food and where it comes from that underpins cooking.

          At age 11, I was in Girl Scouts, and earned a merit badge for cooking, so that was probably my biggest sustained learning/cooking burst until I was in college.

          My high school offered Home Ec, but didn't require it, and I doubt I would have learned a whole lot about cooking I didn't already know -- but the sections on cleaning would probably have come in handy. [mid-1960s US]

          One summer I stayed at college with a couple of friends, worked on the ground crew, and we cooked for our little household. One of the friends was Hungarian-American, and we often cooked her mother's chicken paprikash. My mother gave me the Joy of Cooking plus a few of her recipes.

          Then after college I lived in a succession of group houses. My equipment was a 1930s cast iron skillet from my mother, a Sabatier chef's knife and steel bought with my first paycheck, a copy of Vegetarian Epicure and my Joy, and an enameled cast iron casserole. Quiches, soups, ratatouille, breads -- the best of the seventies.

          My cooking's advanced almost as much over the last six years or so as it did in that period, thanks to meal planning, actually using my many cookbooks (thanks, Eat Your!), trying a lot of new things, some upgrades in equipment, and improved kitchen organization.

          1. We have a family in our lives that suffers for a., b., and c. I didn't know what to say when I was loading up her car with beef and pork from our freezer "I don't know how to cook these things." I snapped out of it and wrote down simple instructions for the crock pot.

            On to the questions -

            1. A couple of years after getting married, I was 27-ish and we moved into a different house. There was a TV in the kitchen and I learned to cook watching Rachel Ray, Mario and Sarah Molton.

            My mother didn't cook, I was raised on TV dinners from age 11yo on. She must have cooked something prior to that. I remember lots of Swanson meat pies. The arrival of a microwave changed her life, all TV dinners, all the time.

            2. I seem to remember a small segment in 8th grade of home econ class where we make stuff from boxes. This would have been in the mid 80s, public school, rural area.