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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?

THANKS!!!

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 Books.com!), 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.

            1. In Michigan, in the 80s, by watching/helping my mother. I began helping her in the kitchen at a very early age - probably around 4 or 5. I was always very interested in what she was doing in the kitchen and loved to help, read her cookbooks and watch cooking shows on PBS (Frugal Gourmet and Yan Can Cook? What's better than that?). Mom began actually "teaching" me how to cook a little later, probably around 7-8, and by the time I was in 6th grade or so, I was responsible for making dinner for the family once a week.

              I was also required to take a quarter of home economics in junior high (1988 or 89), and we focused on "cooking" for maybe half of that quarter, but it was mostly things like how to prepare instant pudding or make mac and cheese from a box, nothing I would call real cooking. No knife work or scratch cooking of any kind. Without my mother's instruction and my own interest I would have remained completely clueless.

              I have continued to learn ever since by watching food tv, reading food magazines and cookbooks, taking the occasional specialty course (knife skills, sugar art, etc.) and just generally cooking A LOT. I have a full-time day job in addition to my singing career so there are definitely times when I'm too busy to cook, but I enjoy it AND I know it allows me to eat a much healthier diet than I otherwise might, so I make it a priority.

              3 Replies
              1. re: biondanonima

                I basically will echo blondanonima,
                Started cooking in mid-eighties or a touch earlier after taking a home ec class that was an optional choice in junior high(grades 7-9) here in Canada. Mom was a single parent at the time and I would get home several hours before her from school and a couple times a week would make supper for us(brother as well). I recall making a 'spanish' omelet (think tomato sauce on top of an omelet) to trying my first deep dish pizza.
                At the time the only cooking shows available were also similar, Frugal Gourmet was always on our local PBS station after school and most certainly inspired me.
                Ended up working in restaurants for a time before my current career and learned much then and am now basically self taught through the various medias available.
                2A= currently 43 and am in Canada.

                1. re: damonster

                  Wow, I have a lot in common with you both. Michigan, single mom, started cooking in the 80s (ok maybe a '78 or '79 thrown in). Loved the frugal gourmet and Yan can cook. My grandmother actually got me watching cooking shows. She was a good cook too.

                  My mom took a French cooking course and a wine appreciation course in college, so always had some elevated dishes mixed in with the everyday meals. She also belonged to a food coop, so we had interesting ingredients and things in bulk, usually to bake with. Mom made 4 loaves of bread and a pan of rolls every week, and always made her own pizza dough.

                  I did have a home ec class in 8th grade that actually taught some from scratch cooking. I recall making caramel corn all in the microwave, popping in brown paper bag, making the caramel in a Pyrex measuring cup, then finishing off the corn in the bag in the mic. We also made hard candy, and some meat stuffed dough of sorts.

                  I remember always helping in the kitchen, eventually being supervised while I cooked the whole meal, and then cooking for the fam multiple times a week. I would invent my own recipes, which usually centered around braising meats and serving with various sauces. I became the delegated dessert baker too. All served me well when I bummed around kitchen jobs in post-college years.

                  Later, I picked up a lot of tips from the Great Chefs of ... cooking shows. Also from Julia and Jacques.

                  1. re: charlesbois

                    I think I still have the recipe for the paper bag popcorn!

              2. 1.) When I was born my father owned a diner in Elizabeth NJ. My first job there was at 3/4 years old and it was scrapping gum off the floor with a metal spatula type instrument. I got $.20 per piece I scrapped up. By the time I was 5 years old a pack of gum was $.50 for 10 pieces. I learned I could buy a pack of gum, offer it to the truck drivers, increase the gum on the floor thus increasing my profits.
                I moved from gum scrapper to soda fountain guy by the time I was about 7 years old. It was at this age I learned baking basic's -AND- prep work like peeling potatoes.

                2.) Around the time I was 8 years old my father moved up and bought a full service "fine dining" restaurant, much closer to home. I hung up my spatula and soda fountain cups and was given my first official apron, I was now a full fledged member of the kitchen staff, preparing salads on the weekend. Any time spent away from my salad station was spent behind the line learning from the Chef/cooks.

                New Years Eve 1980 (I'm 10 years old) ,the majority of the kitchen staff were Egyptian at the time. The main guy in the kitchen decided to give my father an offer he couldn't refuse, he could give all the kitchen staff a raise, or they would walk out on New Years Eve....with 300+ reservations in the book. Apparently they weren't prepared for what would happen if my father refused the offer, he fired them all on the spot, throwing them off the property.

                My father made a phone call to one of his cooks from the above mentioned diner, the cook, my father and I put out 300+ dinners that night without a hitch. That was my first real life cooking experience. I graduated from salad boy to part time line cook......helping out here and there but actually cooking on Sunday for Brunch.

                I spent the next few years as a cook until my father got out of the business when I was 16 years old. A friend and competitor of ours knowing my experience, having grown up in the business, offered me a job at his restaurant. It was at this point that I learned more about the front of the house and stayed on the job until about 22 years old, where the business I still run today took off enough for me to leave my restaurant job. Long story behind the transition but once again my father played a big role in my career changes.

                12 Replies
                1. re: jrvedivici

                  You really have to write a book or become a stand up comedian... Louis C.K. has nothin' on you!

                  1. re: acssss

                    Thank you again for your kind words. I actually took a stab at writing jokes for a friend of mine who was trying to make it in stand up comedy. He failed, not because my jokes were no good, he just had issues.

                    You have to be a natural like Robin Williams to be able to pull off impromptu comedy. My friend, similar to myself, was a pretty funny guy. But the key to his/our funny was more observational comedy, quick witted, tongue and cheek comments. The key to being a good stand up is being able to follow the "script" of jokes written, you are really just telling stories, one leading to the other and keeping the audience engaged on the same page with you.

                    Well he would go out follow the script for a few minutes....people would laugh he would get too self confident, then start with his "observational" humor, which would routinely be him picking on members of the audience. People don't mind being made fun of by Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy or any true professional comedians. People don't take to likely being made fun of at McNultey's Tavern when the price of the show was included in the Tuesday Night Prime Rib Special.

                    One night he made fun of an old lady, a Grandmother type because she wore that grandma moo-moo type dress's to the show. I literally left the room mid act, went outside and pulled the car around back for a quick exit I thought the crowd was going to kill him/us when he got off stage.

                    1. re: jrvedivici

                      I don't say it to be kind, I say it because I mean it. You are funny and a great story teller. You remind me of my older brother (even though if you were ten in 1970 you are younger than me). He is a businessman and has his own company but is the greatest story teller and funny as hell. He has performed at clubs on occasion as well (my parents never wanted him to be a "stand up comic" so he sits when he performs)
                      In general, I surround myself (whether online or IRL) with people who don't whine, complain and bitch about every single thing, who know how to smile and laugh a lot, who don't think you have to be a sourpuss in order to demonstrate intelligence and who see things in a positive way.

                      1. re: acssss

                        You have written a few things (here and in previous posts) that I would love to discuss with you but are WAY off topic for anything to do with chow. I have an email address on my profile if you feel comfortable I would love to ask you a few questions about what I have read.

                        If not I completely understand and respect everyone's privacy. Should this get deleted as I expect, I will just keep an eye out just in case.

                        Either way thanks again and I do enjoy our dialog.

                        1. re: jrvedivici

                          No emails unfortunately for me. But... just write whatever you want and make food references every now and then, and then your posts won't get deleted :-)

                          1. re: acssss

                            While eating an Italian roast beef sandwich, topped with a fine gruyere cheese the other day I noticed you mentioned something of being an author. Between bites, I was washing that fine sandwich, did I mention it was on a french baguette, down with some un-sweetened home made iced tea.

                            I just remembered reading that and have often considered some form of formal writing, just have no real practical idea how to get started. I also love Twinkies.

                              1. re: jrvedivici

                                I am a SW Engineer (who loves roast beef as well) by trade, but have always had a love (deep passion) for reading and writing from a very very young age. As a 8 year old child (I hated brussel sprouts), I published short stories in our local newspaper but studied Engineering in school (which I also loved doing). Husband and I retired early (never mind that we became bored and he returned to school), and I am now on my fourth book. Although I sent a few short pages to a publisher, who gave positive feedback and is waiting for me to send in the finished product, I've decided that only when I finish 10 books, I'll send them in to be published and not before.
                                In short, I have no idea how to tell you how to get started. Just write and write and write and find an editor who will critique and fix it up. You have the talent - I can tell you that - you are a great story teller - funny and I would buy your book!

                                1. re: acssss

                                  Oh ok I see now, so in other words, you lied! (jk) I prefer original coke vs. the new recipe? Do they still make the new recipe? I don't ever use recipes when I cook, I just cook by taste and when I like what I taste, it's done! Oh look a butterfly! Thanks!

                                  1. re: jrvedivici

                                    I don't see where I lied, but you're welcome! (I think)

                                2. re: jrvedivici

                                  ...and just so you know, I am still laughing (not smiling but laughing out loud!)

                                  1. re: acssss

                                    This is getting a little far afield, so we would encourage you guys to take this to email, rather than continuing the discussion on the site. Thanks!

                    2. My mother didn't teach me any more than the basics of scrambling eggs, baking chicken breasts, and cooking rice so I'd be able to feed myself as a teenager when she was at work.

                      I learned to actually prepare complete meals from cookbooks. I would pick a recipe or two each week from the Bon Appetit cookbook and make them. My husband was working up north at that point and usually wasn't home until 8 or 9pm. I get home at 2pm so I had a lot of time to fill. I discovered Food Network a couple of years ago and, surprisingly, learned a lot of basic stuff (blanching, chiffonade, searing, folding, etc.) from watching the instructional shows.

                      These days I still do the "pick a recipe or two" thing either from my ever-expanding cookbook collection or from various internet sites. I certainly don't know everything and have plenty of room for improvement. I still watch Food Network but I don't really learn anything there these days now.

                      1. 1. I was always interested in cooking, even as a kid. We didn’t have many fresh vegetables in our house save for some iceberg lettuce or a tomato, everything was frozen or canned. My parents embraced the Betty Crocker boxed stuff, canned asparagus, Shake and Bake pork chops, to name a few (I was born in the late 70s, my diet reflected that). A foodie house it was not. I learned basic stuff growing up from my parents: making eggs, browning ground meat, baking boxed brownies, etc.

                        2. We had mandatory home economics and shop classes in both seventh and eighth grade (ages 12-13) we rotated between cooking class, a sewing class, a drafting class (as in hand drafting/building plans), and a woodworking shop class. Home economics was an elective in high school, and I opted to take it then as well.

                        2A. I am 37 years old, so it was the very late 1980s to 1990 that I took the mandatory classes. This was in suburban Connecticut in a public school district that was very middle class/working class (not affluent but not poor).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: mels

                          My father worked for General Mills. At one time, they had a program whereby employees could buy a grab bag of GM goods with damaged packages, so we got a lot of Hamburger Helper. After visiting me here in California back in the 80s they were so shocked by the lack of packaged goods in my cupboard that they sent me a care package of General Mills food. I don't know what ever happened to it: all I remember is that the ant invasion we had that winter left it all untouched.

                        2. My father was the cook in our family because he owned his own business and worked out of our home and because he like to control what we ate. He cooked mostly vegetables, which we had to eat before eating anything else on our plates. He was German, and who argued with a German back then?! I learned early on, that I had to learn how to cook in order to eat something other than brussel sprouts and lima beans. So, I did.

                          1. 1. 1962, New Haven, CT, in my mother's kitchen. In 1962 my mother git her Doctiorate Degree in education and was promoted from a classroom teacher to a schopol principal. She announced that she'd be working longer hours and this is the: stove, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer>>>today you'll learn how to use them.
                            It's 50+ years later and I still do most of the family cooking and all my own laundry. I've been married twice and neither wife was expected to, or did my laundry.

                            2. All 7th and 8th grade girls had home ec which included cooking in the New Haven public schools in the 1960s. Boys were not permitted to take these classes, Boys had to take woodworking, drafting and plumbing.
                            No cooking was offered in the high schools in that era.
                            In the 1980s I taught math and science at a state regional vocational/technical high school. Culinary arts was a major. ALL freshman had to take 4 weeks of culinary arts as an exploratory course.

                            I have a 25 and 16 year old daughters. No cooking classes are offered in our local (CT) school system, whatever cooking skills they have were taught by their parents.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: bagelman01

                              Smart woman!
                              I always made my boys to do their own cleaning, laundry and even their own cooking many times. I told them that their wives would thank me for it.

                              1. re: acssss

                                My ex-MIL used to laugh>>>>>>>>>>>she had 2 daughters. I married the eldest and did most of the cooking and my own laundry. The younger daughter married a chef and has never in 25 years of marriage done as much as boiled water or made coffee.

                            2. 1. For the most part, I taught myself how to cook. I grew up watching my stay at home mother cook, so I guess I always had her for inspiration, as well as for some questions I might of had along the way, but It was never a thing where she actually took me and showed me how to do anything, or how to make a certain recipe. She certainly would've had I asked, but I never did. I was always convinced I could do a better job than her anyways, and I rivaled in the challenge. :) I mostly just threw myself into it with recipes, and If I had any questions about a certain technique or term, I would use her or google. You'll see my answer to question 2 below, and yes, I did learn a little from that, as well.

                              2. I had mandatory Home Ec in grades 6-8. I had a class called Nutrition and Wellness that was offered as an elective in high school and I took it my Senior year. I hardly remember this class, but I know that we did cook in it and I know that our study books included lots of cooking terms, and I also specifically remember it including the names of the different cuts of beef, so a lot of information in those books.

                              2A. I'm 28 and these classes were in the US.

                              1. 1. I've been baking for pretty much as long as I can remember. I "cooked" starting in maybe high school, but that was just stuff like making rice a roni and chopping up chicken, sauteing it, and adding it to the rice a roni. My mom worked and so most of our meals were just convenience foods put together.... she knew how to cook real food though, I remember back when she stayed home that she made nice meals. My brother and I were picky eaters though, so I think we took the joy out of it for her. I didn't actually really learn how to cook until I was 25 and had bought my first condo with a pretty kitchen, and felt it was time to start cooking real food in my pretty kitchen. I learned by watching Food Network on Saturday mornings. My first cookbooks were Ina Garten and Tyler Florence.

                                2. No. My school had home ec classes that were electives, and they learned cooking there, but my schedule was too full to take them (although I was interested!). My electives were foreign language, music, and computer classes.

                                I'm 31 and grew up in Central CA.

                                1. 1. Just past the age of 5; wasn't yet going to school so I spent my time making sandwiches. Am effectively self-taught with no formal training though I did read Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques.

                                  2. Yes, but while the girls were allowed to take shop class, boys weren't allowed to take home economics because the school board reasoned it would make them homosexual (I am not making this up). There was a pilot cooking class set up in high school which I did attempt to take but it didn't last through the first session after a fight broke out.

                                  2A. The pilot cooking class was in Western Canada back in the late 70s/early 80s.

                                  1. I was born in 1987-

                                    I grew up in a food stamps household with almost no homemade food. Actually, none until I was 10 and moved in with my dad and stepmom. My stepmom, bless her soul, is a great woman but not the best cook. I always loved food and had an interest in it from my early teens. I loved the cookbook http://www.amazon.com/Clueless-Kitche... Clueless in the Kitchen, and learned some basic skills from that.

                                    On my own in college I went pescatarian for about three years, subsisting on pizza, french fries, and morningstar entrees. Not a great diet.

                                    When I turned about 23 I started gaining a huge interest in cooking, I frequented this site :) and others like thekitchn.com and budgetbytes.com etc that really inspired me. Now I cook every day froma wide range of ethnic cuisines, as well as cater lunches at the winery I work for during harvest!

                                    1. 1. Started cooking from about third grade: Mom went back to work then, and I'd come home to an empty house. She'd left meat on the counter to thaw while she was at work (and we didn't die!). I was curious and wanted to help, so I began doing some prep before she came home. Also would wash a load of laundry. Later progressed to making the whole meal. Was amazed when I went to college that other girls couldn't even wash their own clothes, much less cook.

                                      2. High school (Kentucky, late 60s) had home ec, which was optional. I didn't opt for it; I wanted to take "shop," but back then, girls were excluded from it.

                                      No formal cooking training--lots of flops, a few hits over the years.

                                      1. I learned to cook a few of my favorite dishes from my mother. But she died when I was 23 before I really cared about cooking.

                                        I had no required classes at school in the 80s in Los Angeles.

                                        I think watching Rachel Ray put me at ease in the kitchen. I know she gets a lot of criticism, but she made cooking seem easy, and I am greatful to her. I have branched out to more complicated preparations, but still enjoy her style on a day to day basis.

                                        As an adult I have taken cooking classes in Los Angeles, and on vacation in Mexico City.

                                        1. 1. 14 yrs old when I moved out on my own. Everything was trial and error. I didn't have any vehicle to drive, so I would walk or ride my bike a mile or 2 to the nearest market (Mission Viejo, CA sucked in the early 90's for someone without a vehicle). Fresh vegetables where much lighter than canned goods or processed foods, so they were easier to carry home...except the milk LOL.

                                          2. No cooking classes. I used to watch cooking shows everyday after school and on the weekends. I'd hit up the library on the way home, or call mom to see how she did things for a quick mental walkthrough.

                                          Honestly, it was all pretty much experimental. I remember, one time, buying these giant beef ribs that were on sale at the market. Thought a quick grill on the BBQ would be sufficient. Boy was I WRONG! I had beef stuck in my teeth for a week! HAHAHAHA That experience warranted a trip to the library, let me tell ya!

                                          Ah, the days before the internet!

                                          1. 1. My mom always had me help her with baking and making family meals
                                            2. When i became a vegetarian at age 11 i made my own dinners from then on, usually the same veggies as family dinner (we ate together every night) and then something simple like scrambled tofu, a premade veggie burger, or baked sweet potato with beans

                                            However, in my early 20s i was in a relationship with a professional cook for several years, and he really taught me how to cook without recipes and how to enjoy food on a new level

                                            Never part of my schooling (small private school in suburban central ca)

                                            1. Started cooking in the early 1970s when I was in my early 20s. We were recently married and, for several months, my wife worked away for several days each week. It was cook or not eat.

                                              And, no, cooking classes formed no part of my schooll education.

                                              1. I did have cooking lessons in school - first in home ec, and then later actual cooking lessons as a elective in high school - this in the very late 60s, early 70s
                                                .
                                                I was barely allowed in the kitchen at home, so nothing happening there. Beyond that, I would say that I really learned about food and how to cook in the early days of the Food Network.

                                                I am now 60

                                                1. I learned to fry bacon and eggs on a gas range, and then a campfire. On a Scout Camporee (regional mass campout) I was frying bacon and eggs and gathered a bit of a crowd, and then guys started bringing theirs to me and begging me to cook it for them. I enjoyed being the star, but probably decided then that I didn't want to make my living at it!

                                                  I cooked only sporadically, and always from recipes (either written or, as in tuna-noodle casserole, remembered) until in my 30s I began relying more on remembered techniques and flavors to approximate dishes I'd tasted and invent new ones. After my then-wife and I had split up and I'd gotten a house that my brother and his daughter moved into I became THE cook, and started my cookbook collection. A couple of weeks in Italy with my mom added to the repertoire further.

                                                  I met the current and final Mrs. O right at my 40th birthday and moved into her place. She was (is) a pretty good cook, mostly of several set dishes that we both liked, and we alternated cooking chores. Then one afternoon I was really sick. She was working at a drawing table in the bedroom, and told me not to fuss, she'd take care of dinner. That was around 3 o'clock. By 8 o'clock I was feeling like I really ought to eat something, so when she came out to get a glass of water I asked about dinner. "Look," she said, "I'm just not INTO it, okay?" This shocked and stunned me, to realize that the love of my life didn't give a rat's patoot about regular meals. But I did, and I do, and so I have been The Cook from that point on.

                                                  Which doesn't really answer Caroline's question … so I guess my answer has to be: it wasn't an event, it's a process, and it's still going on. Between the many good and several truly great family cooks of my childhood, and my developing understanding that I could do that too, to the endless fascination that food and its history, preparation and consumption have for me, well, I'm going to be 73 next month and I think it will end only when I do. Hope so, anyway.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                                      Early Happy Birthday from me too, Will.
                                                      Cheers and Happy Cooking til forever.

                                                    2. 1. When I finished college and was living on my own. A friend recommended the James Beard Cookbook.

                                                      2. No - not for males anyway.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: John Francis

                                                        Back in my day, too, girls took Home Ec and boys took Shop. I recall actually being pissed off about that, and it seems to me that at some point, during that era some people (not me) despise as the point where it all went to hell, some boy or group of boys sued to be allowed into Home Ec.

                                                        Of course, one of the reasons I'd never have done that was that it's not all cooking; you get to sew and learn dusting/vacuuming skills too. One of the reasons I'm The Cook is that it gives me a good excuse not to do those things!

                                                      2. 1 - learned to cook by watching all of the women in my family cook over the year and then building upon that foundation more actively in the past 5 or 6 years.

                                                        2 - no mandatory cooking classes

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          I'm glad you mentioned that, about watching people cook when you are a child. My earliest memories are of watching my great-grandmother cook and some of it just soaks into you by osmosis. I'm certain she never heard of "deglazing" but of course she did it every time she made pan gravy. I read once about a man who, in full adulthood, discovered that he could speak Classical Greek so there was a big hoo-hah about whether this was some kind of previous life phenomenon, etc. Then it turned out that when he was pre-school his mother was housekeeper to a scholar of Greek antiquity: the boy had heard Greek by the hour, forgotten it, then retrieved it years later. Cooking can be like that, I think. I didn't start cooking until ten years after watching Grandma and then a lot of things came naturally, but aided and abetted by cookbooks.

                                                        2. not an answer to your question, but,
                                                          if you are poor and don't have enough time and money to shop, buy cooking equiptment/supplies, etc, what difference would it make whether or not you ever had cooking classes? i suspect i've missed the point to your question.

                                                          my answer to your questions:

                                                          1) i learned how to cook AFTER i took a job as a personal chef.
                                                          the main thing i learned about cooking from my mother is that if one starts out with terrific, high quality, absolutely fresh ingredients, it is best NOT to cook/manipulate/over-prepare them.
                                                          (i.e. top quality fish should NOT be cooked to death. salads made with top-quality ingredients should NOT be cut and tossed until they are wilted messes, etc)

                                                          2) i didn't take cooking classes at school. they would have been a complete waste of time and money anyway. if they had been offered they would have focused on betty-crocker-type food--complete garbage to my palate and certainly would NOT have been acceptable to my employers.

                                                          if you have an interest or need to learn how to make "comfort food" (i.e. food that, for the most part, is high in saturated fat, high in processed food content, and high in animal-based/gmo content), you can pick up one of those old cookbooks and master the stuff in less than a week. would be a really bad use of public funds to elevate this "cooking" as though it was a legitimate skill.

                                                          1. Rule #1 in our house (for me and my twin sister) was: You must be able to take care of yourself.
                                                            My mother was adamant about it, though she had a very happy marriage with my father. She said we should never be dependent on a man for anything. So... work hard in school, and learn to cook. She wasn't a great cook, but she taught us the basics. We were expected to help in the kitchen on a daily basis and also to help with "putting up" the garden... canning beans and tomatoes, freezing corn, etc.
                                                            My grandmother was a great cook. She taught me to make bread and other baking skills, making jam, etc.
                                                            Mom also taught our 4H cooking classes, where we just made simple things like meatloaf, brownies, etc. But, she taught skills to a bunch of kids who would've not had any other way to learn them.
                                                            I was very lucky. I just kinda grew up knowing how to cook.
                                                            We did have Home Ec in high school, but most of what we made there was just gross, awful stuff.
                                                            I've had several friends ask me to teach them, because they didn't learn it growing up.
                                                            I feel very blessed to have learned the basics at a young age. That's allowed me to confidently branch out into more complex skills as I developed a real interest in cooking.

                                                            1. i learned to bake when i was about 11, but that was because I wanted to - my mother wanted nothing to do with it (thought flour and sugar were the devil's handiwork. she had a point..) by the time i was 13 i was making souffles and amazing desserts. i got bored and moved on to bread - i'll never stop learning about bread. it can be a lifetime commitment, especially with sourdoughs.

                                                              however, my mother was a very good cook, and wanted me to be one as well. she FORCED me to cook a single dinner when i was 13. i was allowed to choose the meal. chicken thighs wrapped in bacon as i recall. somehow, it got so complicated, she never asked me to do it again. i had no further instruction other than watching in the kitchen(s) i was in.

                                                              I was again forced to cook when my future husband proved to be a disaster in the kitchen: i knew if i wanted to eat well, i was going to have to do it myself. i got a few great cookbooks and watched PBS a bit, but no other formal training other than watching, and questioning, experienced cooks.

                                                              1. 1. When I was about 10, my mom decided that neither of her boys would be as helpless in the kitchen as our father, so she decreed that we would take turns cooking on alternate Sundays. She'd give us some money (I think it was $5, but I could be wrong), and take us shopping. We were expected to have planned a meal before the shopping trip, then we would purchase all the ingredients for the meal. Any change left from the purchases went into a jar that (she said) could be used for special meals either in or out, once enough change accumulated (I really don't remember using the change for anything…I think it was her personal stash of extra cash!).

                                                                We managed to keep that system up for about a year, during which I learned a lot about meal planning, shopping, prep, and actual cooking.

                                                                2/2A. In California in the mid-70s, Home Ec classes were still pretty common in middle school/junior high, but not until I reached the 8th grade were boys allowed in them. While HE classes were mandatory for girls (as was shop for boys), they were electives for boys. (Girls still could not take shop.)

                                                                I REALLY learned to cook, however, when I was working in a small, family-owned restaurant. I ran the kitchen for a time, and one of my duties every night was to cook the staff meal while the rest of the staff cleaned/restocked. The owners of the place had limits on what I could use, which normally meant that I could use any of the produce that was in the fridge, plus some chicken and sometimes beef, but not very often. If we'd broken down something big that day, I could use the scraps. The staff didn't want the same thing every night, so I had some pressure to make something different, tasty, and cheap every night. It was fun, tho….a lot more fun than mopping the floors and cleaning the toilets would have been!

                                                                1. 1. It became my household duty when I was 8 or so. It was basic stuff. Mashed potatoes or rice from a box, a grilled or "shake and bake" meat, and a steamed frozen vegetable. I remember being tremendously proud the first time I made mashed potatoes from scratch. I wasn't really capable/any good until I was 18, and I didn't start really branching out and making things from scratch until I was 20. Neither of my parents are particularly good cooks, they rely very heavily on processed foods. I developed a passion and learned on my own.

                                                                  2. Freshmen year (age 15) I had a home ec class and we made like 2 or 3 things. They were very basic things and mostly ineffective at really teaching anyone anything.

                                                                  1. I learned the basics of cooking from my parents, who were both excellent cooks, and in general big DIY types.

                                                                    At school - two months of cooking in the home-ec section of the grade 8 sample pack of electives (we got 2 months each of cooking, sewing, woodwork, metal work and computers [Canada]). We learned to make baking powder biscuits, hot dog roll-ups, poached eggs on toast, and a few other things. Not very useful.

                                                                    A few cooking badges in Brownies and Guides along the way.

                                                                    My high school offered home-ec classes. These were generally only taken by people who weren't planning on going to university, as in earlier grades (8-10) taking home-ec (or shop) plus university prerequisite courses (like a second language) would block you from taking electives that would lead to extracurriculars that looked good on university applications.

                                                                    1. Trial and error, mostly: a lot of trying different things and experimenting. My mother hates to cook, and I grew up in the 50s on canned and packaged food (she could make good pancakes, though, the one thing my grandmother, who was a good cook, couldn't do). I started cooking when I lived in an apartment in college in the early 70s: I learned about lasagna (a novelty to me) and apple crisp from a roommate, and there was a lot of experimenting with what was cheap. When I moved to California and discovered fresh vegetables it was a revelation. I started reading cookbooks, and paying more attention to what I was eating and trying to replicate it (that's where I appropriated house standbys like sausage and peppers). Some things came out good, so I repeated and built on them. Some things came out, well, not so good (my free-wheeling style doesn't lend itself to baking). And I cook a lot: after 40 years of cooking at least one meal a day on the average I feel comfortable with my base knowledge that I can make an edible meal with just about anything on hand. There are still failures, though (like the caramel last week that was a leeeetle too caramelized) but I try to learn from them (next time, use a thermometer and don't cook the sugar to that stage if it's going into the oven afterwards).

                                                                      Learning not to be afraid of salt was also an important step: it's an essential nutrient, and if you don't use packaged products much you need to add a little to your cooking at the end.

                                                                      1. Having a stay at home mother who liked to cook and three sisters, we all spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I don't know what the first thing was I cooked, except for making my broiled baloney and American cheese sandwiches. We all helped make dinner and desserts.
                                                                        When I was in Junior High, we had Home Ec for 7th, 8th and 9th grades. That was in 1967-69 in Columbus, Ohio.
                                                                        I know we made simple things, but nothing that was processed or gross. Eggs on toast, spaghetti and meatballs...in fact, the meatballs I learned how to make in Junior High are the ones I still make 40+ years later. (the secret is crushed saltines).
                                                                        I learned what the different cooking terms meant in those classes, and for that they were invaluable. My husband didn't know that mincing, dicing and chopping were not all the same thing, and I've taught him at 60 some years old what they are. I learned in Home Ed to fold in, cut in, and that stirring, blending and whipping are all different actions.

                                                                        By high school, my mother was back to work full time. She got home about 5, so my sisters and I took turns making dinner every school day, and my mother did dishes. Each of us girls had our specialties, some better tasting than others.

                                                                        1. I'm 33 years of age (not feeling old or young tonight), and I first got to cook in Girl Scouts. Day camp, age 8, cut myself good with a paring knife chopping tomatoes for tacos. But seriously, Girl Scouts taught me all about camping food and cooking and PIZZA PUDGY PIES, still one of my top 3 favoritest foods ever.

                                                                          School district culinary education: Some summer enrichment programs in 4th grade, where actually my future husband was in the next kitchen over. He still doesn't really cook. I burned my leg on the oven trying to save the baked alaskas. In middle school we had home ec required for a semester, but our teacher was terrible, so mostly us gals gossiped and watched the boys have fork shooting contests, as in how far does a fork fly after you drop it in a running garbage disposal. .. Pretty far if you drop it right. The teacher was relieved of her duties for poor classroom management.

                                                                          And I really learned to cook when I had my own college apartment and I got sick of cereal and spaghetti with prego. No formal training, just lots of life lessons and a desire to be better. And having an Amazing husband who likes the easy Christmas/Birthday gift shopping with my culinary toy wish lists, I'm a happy girl.

                                                                          1. I watched my grandparents cook as child since they took care of me while my mom worked. The first thing I made on my own was Fillet of Sole Veronique for a class project in middle school. Its been all downhill from there, unfortunately!

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                                                                            1. re: Kat

                                                                              Love it! My sibs and I also learned how to cook/bake/eat well from our grandparents. We also learned how to order properly and behave in restaurants from the same large crowd of elders. Our parents both worked f/t. We sadly lost our parents before our grandparents, Aunts & Uncles all passed. So, their influences were and are far reaching.

                                                                              Food has been a part of my daily ritual since I could reach for it. Influences in every career path, every friendship and every personal interest; food crosses over. The jumble is so complex I don't have a one defining moment. What I have and continue to enjoy is food curiosity. I've taken plenty of classes over the years but just as much for the social aspect as the focus. All of my kids work in some aspect of the industry. So there's no escaping :)

                                                                            2. 1. I learned a LOT of cooking ABCs from my grandmother, who took the reins for our family after my mother died when I was about 8 (brother was 5 and sister about 2 1/2). She was a really good cook (unless she decided dinner would be LIVER)... nothing froo froo, just real food.

                                                                              My Dad liked to cook and introduced us to a lot of different things. He loved beef... especially a tender medium rare steak... the only way to go IMO. He also liked shrimp... not a fave for me back then, but love them now. He was also NOT a liver fan... as it should be!! You were NOT ALLOWED to yuck at something unless you'd actually tried it... know some ADULTS who actually do that?!?

                                                                              By the time I was a jr in college, was living in a big house with 15-16 other girls... most totally Kitchen Klueless?? HOW did they get to be 20 yo and NOT know what to do with a chicken or chicken parts... even with limited kitchen equipment?? Remember going back to school, after a weekend at home, with 2 lbs of frozen short ribs, a big bell pepper & onion, and a can of something tomato. I "smelled up" the kitchen on our floor in a GREAT way & roomie & I ate WELL!!

                                                                              2. Have been a teacher aide for past 3 years working with special needs kids middle & high school age, wide variety of needs). School has an elective "foods & nutrition" class. When I started, went to this class with 2 autistic girls. One would try NOTHING... always had some "story"... not allowed to eat something, "hates" (but never tried) another thing, allergic, etc. Other girl was a little hesitant, but up for trying about anything. One day class made roasted asparagus... olive oil, S&P, and into oven. Three of the 4 in our group munched on asparagus... OH, wish there had been Hollandaise!! Another time they made chicken skewers... chunks of boneless/skinless breast, onions, pepper, muchrooms, soy/teriyaki. One girl just EWed and YUCKed away. The adventurer wasn't sure. Asked do you like chicken. onions, peppers, mushrooms... answer was yes, so just encouraged her to TRY at least a bite... she had NO left overs!

                                                                              3. Graduated from HS in 1967. Way back then, boys took SHOP and girls took HOME EC... half of the year sewing (a skill I still use) and other half in the kitchen. We learned how to use a WASHING MACHINE?? Even then couldn't understand how somebody could be 15-16 yo and NOT know how to do the wash? When "Boys Foods" was started my brother was one of the first to sign up... an EASY A and he got to EAT what he cooked.

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                                                                              1. re: kseiverd

                                                                                As an autistic person I find that most of my brethren have very set ideas about what they eat. I've found one other high functioning autie who likes to eat and cook as much I as do. I applaud your work with special needs children. Just thought I should tell you that.

                                                                              2. 1. When... no idea, really. I don't remember ever not being able to cook, at least at some level. There was definitely not any sort of "learning to cook" moment. It just happened, I suppose. I remember standing on chairs to roll out biscuits and reach the oven, so I must have been quite small. I grew up with the understanding that cooking was the default way of having food to eat, so it never seemed like a separate "skill" as such, any more than answering the phone or knowing how to spell your name.

                                                                                2. The first year of high school (so, roughly age 11-12ish) we had compulsory Food Technology (basically cooking, it was called Home Economics the year before I started high school). The next year, you could choose to do any one of the Design & Technology subjects (so - Cooking, Sewing, Woodwork, or Metalwork - all 4 of which were compulsory that first year). After that, they were just electives you could choose one or none of.

                                                                                2A. I'm 33, and in Australia.

                                                                                1. 1. Learned to cook a little here and there over the years. Mostly by observing. Did some cooking in Girl Scouts, some in home ec and easy things at home. Really becAme a necessity when I moved out at 22. Lots of learning happened in my first apartment. Besides watching family members my grandfather and I used to watch FN once he got sick in 94. I was 9. Ern before that I used to love looking at cookbooks and giving my mother ideas of food to make for us which she never did.

                                                                                  2. Had home ec in grades 6-8 for one quarter each year but it was every other day interspersed with PE or health. This was in the mid to late 90s in MD near Baltimore. Offered as an elective in high school but it was not for the "smart kids". I was busy doubling up on languages. I think my sister might have taken it.

                                                                                  1. 1. I first started cooking at home with my mother to help her out. My first cooking memory is helping her dredge chicken strips into egg and flour before frying. I learned a lot about Greek specialties from my grandma, and from then on I self taught through books and cooking shows.

                                                                                    2. In junior high I cooked a little in a home-economics class, but I don't think it influenced me much.

                                                                                    3. The home-ec class was in the U.S., in 1995. I was 13.

                                                                                    1. 1. I learned from a very young age while growing up in 1950s Bermuda, there were goats, cows, chickens, fresh vegetables, fish, mussels and lobster from the sea around us. The remnants of the banana field is still at the bottom of my garden.

                                                                                      2. There were deadly dull Home Ec. classes in school - rock cakes, cooking for invalids (!).

                                                                                      2a They were in Bermuda in the 1960s.

                                                                                      Just as my parents did, I had my son perched near me in the kitchen from about the age of three and grew up to be confident in the kitchen,

                                                                                      1. 1969, Southern California, Mothers kitchen (I'd been watching her cook, tasting herbs/blends and pestering her to teach me to cook for a year or so), learned the basics like pancakes and eggs from her. Taught myself french, Italian, Thai, sauce making, baking, bread making etc. with books.

                                                                                        I like books and shows that teach technique and why things are done a certain way, TV shows, The French Chef, Molto Mario, and Good Eats have been helpful... Books, Master the art of French Cooking, The Way to Cook, Bread and The Cake Bible.

                                                                                        1. I was about seven when I boiled my first hot dog. I wanted hot dogs instead of chicken. But I really started to enjoy cooking and expand my culinary knowledge in my early twenties. Home ec where I lived was simple stupid things making cinnamon buns from packages, making orange Julius from orange concentrate. It was the late '90s.
                                                                                          I wish it was better. But my Mom and Dad were both excellent cooks and instilled in me a love of learning and a love of cooking.

                                                                                          1. yes, we had home ec in 7th grade (12 yo) but i'd already started hanging out with mom in the kitchen, basically observing ingredients and methods, often amazed at results of both. so, by the time they taught us how to broil a grapefruit for breakfast, i was appalled to imagine that kind of cuisine in our house!

                                                                                            1. I learned to cook from my parents, in Southern California in the late 60's/early 70's. By the time I was about 10, I was responsible for putting dinner (casserole) in the oven or completing prep tasks before my parents got home from work. We ate at home every night, not terribly complicated but tasty food.

                                                                                              In junior high, I had a year of home economics that included sewing and cooking instruction. The cooking was pretty pathetic - I recall making corn dogs and French toast.

                                                                                              During and after high school and in college, I worked in various kitchens, doing prep and preparing meals. In college, I lived in a student cooperative and was responsible for planning/preparing a dinner a week for 45 residents.

                                                                                              1. I'm 42 and raised in Australia. My mother taught me and my brother to bake when we were quite young. I ADORED kiddy cookbooks and read them over and over even though I hardly ever made anything out of them. I learned to cook 'real' food (as opposed to baking) by watching my parents. At 12 I took over cooking the dinners for the family because mama was studying and cooking was not daddy's strong suite. By the time I had a home-ec class a few years later I already knew what I was doing, but most of my classmates didn't so I still think it was valuable. We liked watching cooking shows on tv too. I started with 'traditional Australian/British' cooking (I remember delightful things like Chinese food in a can and instant mashed potatoes) and we gradually became more sophisticated as better ingredients became easily available during the 90s. I don't think my parents would eat any of the stuff that we used to eat when I was a kid, it's just not done nowadays!

                                                                                                PS. The only hard and fast rule my mother made for kids in the kitchen was NO DEEP FRYING. She was afraid we'd burn the place down... so I never learnt to fry stuff until after I was married, and I still don't do it often.

                                                                                                1. Before 1st. grade. I was the kid in the family who was always wanting to cook and explore recipes. It got better as I got older and could read the recipes by myself.

                                                                                                  1. 1. I first started cooking full meals when I was five years old (I'm the youngest of four). My mother was sick in bed and since I was in morning kindergarten, I had more time to cook than anyone else. My mother shouted instructions to me in the kitchen as I stood on a chair to chop the onions and other veggies and, well, cook everything that was required. We didn't do prepared foods of any kind - everything was from scratch.

                                                                                                    As a side note, my mother wasn't a very good cook. And we ate the same thing six days a week - fried hamburger patties, frozen peas or fresh carrots boiled until dead, and boiled potatoes with gravy made from the hamburger drippings. On Sundays, we usually had roast chicken, although sometimes we had other things, like pot roast or ribs. As my sister and I got older, we gradually branched out into other things. By the time I was sixteen, and moved in with my brother in the big city to attend a better school with an honors program, I had completely left my mother's meal preferences behind and started cooking food that in no way resembled anything I'd eaten as a child.

                                                                                                    It's around that same time that my sister (two years older than me) and I started making desserts - cakes, cookies, puddings, whatever. My mother refused to buy sweets, so if we wanted any, we'd have to make them. So we did. We had an old family cookbook that we used all the time - The Mennonite Treasury of Recipes.

                                                                                                    Also, my mother kept a fairly large garden, so we also did a LOT of canning. And my mother made bread, so I learned how to do that fairly young as well.

                                                                                                    2. Yep. In grade seven through nine in the small town we lived in in Alberta, Canada. That would be 1980 to 1983. Home Ec was mandatory for girls, shop was mandatory for boys. We learned sewing and cooking. That was from scratch cooking and, while it wasn't brilliant food, it certainly would have been useful for anyone who didn't know how to cook at that point, which was everyone else in the class. I didn't learn much just because I'd already been cooking (and sewing!) for a long time by then.

                                                                                                    1. 1. My grandmother started teaching me on Saturday mornings after my brother was born. I am the oldest of three, and we're less than 4 years apart. My mom needed a break, so I'd get dropped off for half a day, on what just happened to be my Polish grandma's baking day. I learned yeast breads, cut out cookies, cakes, layered desserts, etc.

                                                                                                      When I was 8, I started 4-H, and they had an organized cooking program, with competitions. I did that until I was 12.

                                                                                                      2. No cooking classes as part of my Catholic school curriculum. We didn't even have gym classes until 8th grade though.

                                                                                                      1. I learned to cook at age six from my grandmother. I worked a pizza joint all through college and my professional career started under Jean Louis Palladin and Michel Richard. At 48, I'm now a retired chef and now I spend my days writing. Maybe you've heard of me?

                                                                                                         
                                                                                                        1. 1. I learned the basics of cooking by shadowing my mom in the kitchen as a child. I believe I started out with scrambled eggs and chocolate chip cookies, probably around 7 or 8. By the time I was old enough to leave the house, I could feed myself rather well. I've taught myself more advanced techniques since moving out, mostly using the internet.

                                                                                                          2. We had a class called "teen living" in middle school. It was an elective for 7th and 8th grade students. In 6th grade, you spent a short amount of time taking every elective in order to pick which one you wanted. I don't remember if I did any cooking during my rotation, but I would have if I'd chosen that class in a later year. (I took art and French instead. We did make French fries once, if that counts.)

                                                                                                          TL;DR - No mandatory cooking classes, but there were elective ones available in middle and high school.

                                                                                                          2A. I'm 25 and live in the US. I lived in Virginia during my middle and high school years.

                                                                                                          EDIT: I seem to recall making elephant ears (huge cinnamon rolls, I guess) in Teen Living. I think that's the only cooking we did.

                                                                                                          1. I learned to cook at a very early age, in self-defense; I was the oldest of five and my mother was (1) a terrible cook (2) at work from 4 to 11 every night. My father worked two jobs. From the age of 5 I went after school to my mother's aunt to help her (she was the housekeeper at a large and busy rectory) and learned to cook as fast as I could. I was cooking dinner myself for the family from about the age of seven. Aunt Tillie was German, a superb cook and baker, and entertained a lot on a large scale. I also was drafted into helping my grandmother (cook at the big boys prep school attached to the local cathedral and responsible for the bishop's entertaining) get ready for dinners for 500+ at a time. Very 1960s food, steak, baked potatoes, gigantic shrimp cocktails, wedge salads with blue cheese dressing. I vividly remember shelling shrimp at the age of five, standing on a stool with an oversized apron while my mother, aunts, and assorted other relatives helped with the prep. Spaghetti dinners for the parish, communion breakfasts, sauerbraten dinners for 200 priests... that sort of thing.

                                                                                                            I took mandatory Home Ec, including some rather lame cooking classes, in high school in the mid 1960s. I had been cooking and sewing all my clothes for years so I was bored bored bored. I'm 65.

                                                                                                            1. I learned to cook when I HAD to cook. I could make a few things growing up but as an adult I have often called my grandmother for help. I wasn't hopeless before, I just didn't have a reason to know how.

                                                                                                              We didn't have any mandatory classes and even our 'life skills' classes skipped past cooking. I recall one hands on experience. I'm 24.

                                                                                                              1. I grew up in the 50's and 60's. My parents were both good home cooks, but they rarely baked, and I learned pretty much by observing, but never cooked a meal or anything for that matter until I was married in 1967. My H. was in grad school and I worked to support us, so money was very tight. I figured out how to make $20 a week stretch to feed us and if I say so myself did a pretty good job. Found economical recipes in magazines and experimented. My first real recollection of a meal was baking chicken in our basement apartment, a chicken that would not cook after hours of being in the oven. I don't know what was wrong with that chicken, but I threw it out. I also remember trying my hand at Boston baked beans. Neglected to soak the beans and we waited an entire day for them to be ready to eat (they never were). We still laugh about it. I think you have to be interested in cooking to begin with. I love it still.

                                                                                                                1. I learned to cook she I was 12. Between Julia Child, my dad and mom, I did pretty well. My cooking has evolved over almost 30 years as I have become comfortable with changing recipes and creating my own.I also took home ec from 8th grade on. They weren't mandatory, but I took them in the US.

                                                                                                                  1. Caroline,

                                                                                                                    First, on the subject of food stamps, my late husband and I were white collar taxpayers all our lives. We ended up on food stamps because I could not find work and we could not survive on DH's SS alone. Unemployment, according the financial observers, is the MAIN reason people end up on food stamps.

                                                                                                                    As for learning how to cook, both my sister and I are self taught, mostly because our mother hated to cook and still does. In fact, the only cookbook she ever owned is Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook Book. No lie. As for sis and I, we love it and are still learning.

                                                                                                                    1. My mother was a prolific and wonderful baker, and I hung around her in the kitchen while I was growing up. She made some efforts to teach me things, or just to tell me what she was doing, and I guess I must have absorbed a lot of knowledge through my pores. But it wasn't like I practiced much--I just wasn't that interested in cooking as a kid. I didn't start trying to bake much myself until I left home. I definitely did call Mom a lot for help, and I also inherited a lot of her recipes. But the thing I think I got from her that has helped me the most is the utter ease and fearlessness with which she worked in the kitchen. Baking was as natural to her as breathing, so I just assumed it wasn't that hard. By the time I found out that some people thought that some of the stuff we made was difficult, I had gotten pretty good at it.

                                                                                                                      My mother wasn't as excited about making meals and savory dishes as she was the baking. She was almost phobic about using herbs and spices, and she tended to cook everything very, VERY thoroughly (her veggies were usually boiled to mush, and I thought gray was the normal color for roast beef until I was grown). She had a few standout dishes--her fried chicken was superb--but our family dinners usually weren't that inspired. I mostly taught myself to cook those things, after I'd left home. I read cookbooks (Joy of Cooking was a major influence) and magazines, I looked things up online, and I experimented.

                                                                                                                      I went to high school in the early 1970's. Home economics was an elective at my school, but I was in the college prep track, and we had a very snotty, elitist attitude about such things. "Our sort" simply didn't take it (wood shop and metal shop, yes--I took those in summer school--but that was mostly about proving we could do what the boys were doing). But our senior year, one of my friends found out that they were giving an exam in the home ec classes, and it was the first-round qualifier for a scholarship offered by General Mills. She insisted that they open it up to the kids in the honors classes and let us compete. A bunch of us took the test, and much to our amazement, I made the state finals. I ended up in the top fifteen that year in the state of California--not high enough to get a scholarship, but General Mills did send somebody to my high school to present me with an award as a General Mills Family Leader of Tomorrow. My friends all fell down laughing about it, since I was about the least domestic girl on the planet at that point, and the thought of me leading a family was kind of scary. It still makes me giggle--I may have learned to cook, but as far as most of the other domestic arts...that award is still a travesty!

                                                                                                                      1. We moved to South America for my Dad's job when I was 13. As time passed I became desperate for certain US foods. My mother's interest in anything domestic was unreliable and the maids didn't have a clue. So the summer I was 15 I went on the do-it-yourself plan. I wanted bakery goods. I studied The Joy of Cooking. An American teacher at school told me how much yeast to use for "a cake of yeast" (you had to buy bulk yeast at a bakery). One afternoon during siesta time I shut myself in the kitchen. The first thing I made was yeast coffeecake. There was enough dough to make three things---one with Streusel topping, one with fruit, and some cinnamon rolls. Everything came out fine and I was hooked. Have now been baking 65 years. Cooking class at school? Briefly in 7th grade. All I learned was to use a nail file before cooking. Mostly I learned from studying cookbooks ("Joy" and many others) by the hour. If I had to name a teacher I'd have to say Irma Rombauer.

                                                                                                                        1. I learned to cook at 20 by doing it when my husband's (then boyfriend's) mother died suddenly and left a family of men (her husband, my 20yo boyfriend and his 15yo brother) to carry on.

                                                                                                                          I had cookbooks and the memory of wonderful down home from scratch food made by my great aunt several states away in a remote part of Maine. I had, of course, seen my mother cook all my life but she was neither a good nor an interested cook. So when the time came that I was needed, I just followed the instructions in cookbooks and magazine recipes.

                                                                                                                          The interesting thing is, it wasn't all that hard if I put in some effort. I thought I'd try a cheesecake thinking after 2 or 3 of them I might nail it. The first one was a keeper and I still have and use that recipe. Other things came harder. I still work at getting the maximum flavor and consistency out of meat.

                                                                                                                          Later, in the early days of the FoodNetwork, people like Sarah Moulton and David Rosengarten expanded my horizons and improved my technique. But, ultimately, I think it was the memory of those simple foods made with love from things grown in the garden in Maine that made it possible for me to envision what I wanted and drove me to learn how to master what I needed to.

                                                                                                                          Now food is central in my life. I have internet friends I made on cooking blogs more than 10 years ago. And it gives me a way to find my place in new social groups when we have to move around the country.

                                                                                                                          I never had home ec but I'm an advocate for it for kids who have no idea anymore that food doesn't come already prepared. …and second rate.

                                                                                                                          1. Have just finished reading through this whole thead. How wonderful, hearing how people learned to cook! It seems that personal example is more important than school cooking classes. And suddenly I thought of this---I have two sons. As they were growing up, I always cooked like a beast and their dad absolutely did not cook. Neither of them showed interest in cooking. But now that they are grown men, both are the primary cook in their living situation (one marriage, one community). Apparently, something "takes" that people want to replicate.

                                                                                                                            1. I am 67, grew up in SF, always loved food and cooking. My mother and grandmother were both excellent home cooks. And we also had live-in help, each with their inborn specialities. One houseboy made the best roast turkey; he went from house to house over the holidays. One cook was Polish/Rissian. Many were very good southern cooks.

                                                                                                                              From my mom, I learned stock-making, béchamel, pies (she couldn't do cakes worth beans), roast birds, roast beef, leg of lamb, jams and jellies, pickles.

                                                                                                                              From my grandmother, scalloped oysters, chicken fricassee with dumplings, all sorts of fresh vegetables, the best biscuits.

                                                                                                                              In college, I immersed myself in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and my housemates and I had many huge French feasts.

                                                                                                                              This Christmas, I made roast goose (fabulous; steam it the day before), and working just from family memories I made the brown goose stock and then the really perfect gravy, no recipes, no measuring, just 60-year-old memories. Madeira in the stock and the gravy, with a little red currant jelly in the gravy. It is such fun to cook by instinct, but I had great teachers.

                                                                                                                              1. Learned to cook by watching, prepping and helping my Mom, and my Nana, a little less so, and started making meals at age 10. I made my first meal for my Dad's birthday when I was ten, Duck a l'orange and Baked Alaska.

                                                                                                                                Had to take Home Ec classes in 7th & 8th grade for a semester each time. This was in CT and about 35 years ago.

                                                                                                                                1. 1. Self taught in college and afterward
                                                                                                                                  2. No

                                                                                                                                  1. I had to help most nights get dinner on the table in High School and I wasn't very good at it. I would get mostly "verbal" instructions, but I screwed up A LOT. No one showed me. (my mom always worked and cooking was NOT her thing)

                                                                                                                                    I got interested though, and started cooking when I was 19 and on my own. I had a cookbook "Cooking for Two" and I tried to replicate some dishes from that and got hooked on cook books. Everything was from a recipe though.

                                                                                                                                    In my late 20s I married into a very ethnic Italian family~~MIL was from Sicily. I learned about fresh vegetables (a revelation) and pastas from her.

                                                                                                                                    I've always been interested in cooking, and entertaining. Have catered some, was a SAHM for many years and cooked every day.

                                                                                                                                    I discovered Martha Stewart early on.

                                                                                                                                    I took a home ec class in jr. high ~~ mid 60s in Pennsylavania. we learned a lot of terminology and how to make a basic white sauce. That's all I remember.

                                                                                                                                    1. In the late sixties early seventies I was a hippy who didn't want to work in an office. I wanted to learn a trade so I enrolled @ the CIA then after graduation I apprenticed under some talented French chefs. After about twelve years working in kitchens I wanted a "normal" 9-5 life so I got into food sales & marketing, so I ended up working in an office after all but it's all good. I never lost my passion for cooking or my interest in food. I cook almost every day now that I'm retired both simple and ambitious meals.

                                                                                                                                      1. I took a job at age 15 at a fine-dining restaurant, washing plates and pots and pans -- by hand. The owner was a certifiably nutty German guy who'd scream and yell at all of us on staff -- but who happened to be a great chef as well as a great teacher. He not only taught me all about cooking methods and ingredients, but he also taught me how to work efficiently in a commercial kitchen. I don't cook for a living any more but his lessons have served me well for the past 35 years.

                                                                                                                                        Cooking classes were offered -- but not required -- by our school district. Shortly after I graduated high school in 1976 the school district began offering cooking courses that were more male-oriented; more of a "life-skills" sort of thing.

                                                                                                                                        1. No cooking instruction as a kid. And my mom couldn't have cared less about cooking,so its probably for the best.

                                                                                                                                          I slowly learned on my own from TV and books esp James Beard's old stuff, which still is instructive.

                                                                                                                                          Our kids have been taught as much as they have requested, ie occasionally...but more as they have gotten independent.

                                                                                                                                          1. I grew up observing. I spent my early childhood days being cared for by my great-aunt who was one of those old school Italian-American cooks - primary ingredient, Love, followed closely by precision. Hoildays were multi-course masterpieces. That kitchen and adjacent dining room will always be ingrained in my mind. At home Mom cooked for a large blended family, every night- dinner was home cooked and on the table at 6 and no matter what drama you sat and ate. On visiting days and weekends my single-dad cooked simply by necessity and grandpa was obsessed with making the perfect carrot cake but otherwise boys did not cook.

                                                                                                                                            College in TX I was exposed to a much larger variety of cusine - BBQ, Tex Mex, Vientamese, Indian etc - my friends were diverse and cooking was a big part of our social life. There were lots of vegetarians in the crowd so cooking meat was fairly rare (my first cookbook was Moosewood)

                                                                                                                                            On graduation I moved back to NYC and shared an apartment for years with one of the vegetarian foodies from college - we cooked often for for each-other and she had an amazing array of high end cookware, I was spoiled but also limited still largely to vegetarian cooking. Fortunately our Queens neighborhood had every imaginable cuisine available in blocks and Mom's house was a short drive away so I never lacked for variety. ( I would occasionally cook a steak when she was out of town but beyond that I never had cooked meat beyond chicken tenders)

                                                                                                                                            Life is all about changes though an I ultimately moved to a "developing" neighborhood in Philadelphia where the options for take out at the time were pretty much pizza-cheesesteak and cheesesteak-pizza- leaving behind both a Demeyere/LeCreuset stocked kitchen and proximity to Mom's freezer.

                                                                                                                                            Time to learn how to cook. Free to experiment in my own kitchen, with my own non precious thrift store cookware, and not bound to vegetarianism I had at it, never looked back.