Thursday, April 22, 2010

We threw out the baby

I went to grade school in the 60s, which meant the boys took shop and the girls took home ec. We wore skirts to school, and boys had to have their shirts tucked in. We learned ballroom dance and always wore white gloves when we dressed up. Shop meant that the boys learned how to change the oil in a car, basic carpentry like use of a band saw and a table saw, simple construction (bird house), and how to wire a lamp.

The girls made a sewing sampler, and a couple of simple garments both by hand and machine; we learned how to set a table, talk to the servants (this was Philadelphia's Main Line after all), arrange a luncheon, and meals from simple- chicken soup- to complex- a souffle. We learned how to write a household budget and how to balance a check book.

Unfortunately, when women developed consciousness in the late 60s and early 70s, all the "girl" stuff got thrown away. It wasn't valued. The boy things we kept-- now everyone took shop, and no one took home ec. Message received-- things that boys do are good, and things that girls do are bad. Baby, meet bath water. Someday we'll maybe manage a society where every contribution is valued, whether it's done traditionally--girls in the house, boys in the world--or new age, where you work where your talent and your inclination leads you.

I remember Home Ec very clearly-- how to make chicken broth, how to use a percolator (this was decades before Mr. Coffee). We made salad dressing--everyone did in those days. There was no such thing as off-the-shelf salad dressing. We made souffle, at the age of 12, and omelettes.

When you teach children to cook at school, you remove the emotional content and it becomes a normal thing that people do. Especially now, when so many mothers don't cook from scratch anymore, cooking at home, especially for tweens and teens, becomes fraught with political correctness, or parental weirdness. Teach the kids to cook at school--boys and girls--and it moves into the background noise of Things We Should Know.

The first thing we made, on the first day of Home Ec, was cinnamon toast. Seems silly, doesn't it? But how many people reading this blog buy their cinnamon sugar already mixed? That is what seems silly now. Buy your cinnamon from a reliable spice shop, and put as much or as little real cane sugar into yourself. Cheaper, more reliable, no fillers, and custom made for your preference.

Other than that, I remember this cinnamon toast as being the best cinnamon toast I ever made before or since. I don't recall any more how they did it, except that it was toasted in the broiler, not a toaster, and it was bubbly and crisp and exquisitely delicious. Here's my attempt to duplicate it here, on my own homemade wheat bread.

Whole wheat bread
from the American Home All-purpose Cook Book

1 3/4 c. milk
1 T. sugar
1 T. sea salt
1/4 c. honey
2 T butter or shortening
Yeast-- 2 cakes compressed, 2 pkgs active dry, or 2 tsp bread machine yeast
1/2 c. warm water (105-115F)
4 c. whole wheat flour
2-2 1/2 c. white flour

Combine milk, sugar, honey and shortening in a saucepan and heat until bubble appear around the edge and butter is melted; cool to lukewarm. If you are using active yeast, at this point crumble it into the warm water in a large mixing bowl and stir to dissolve, then add the lukewarm milk mixture. For bread machine yeast, add the yeast to the flour or to the milk mixture.

Stir in the whole wheat flour until completely moist. Add 2 cups of the white flour, work in well. If needed, add enough additional flour to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured board and knead about 5 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. It will not feel as smooth as white bread doughs.

Grease a large bowl, and place the dough in it, rotating the dough a couple of times to make sure it is coated with oil. Cover with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours, til doubled in size. Punch down, let rise another 30 minutes or until almost double. Grease two 9" loaf pans. Punch dough down, knead briefly to pop any air bubbles, divide in half. Shape each piece into a loaf and place in pans. Cover.

Let rise 50 to 60 minutes or until doubled. Bake at 375F for 25 to 30 minutes.

Cinnamon toast
2 T softened butter
2 tsp cinnamon sugar (about 3:1 ratio cinnamon to sugar. Add a little clove or a tiny pinch of cayenne for a kick.)
2 slices of bread

Mix the cinnamon sugar into the softened butter, spread on the untoasted bread. Place cinnamon-side up on a cookie sheet or a broiler pan, place in broiler and cook at broil heat until butter is bubbling and edges are lightly toasted.


  1. Because my dad was so hell bent on me going to college, I had to take college prep type classes and had no room in my schedule for shop or home ec. I probably would have taken shop because that's where my interests lie, but a home ec class would have been more useful, in retrospect. My mom never taught me to cook and I still feel like a bull in a china shop in the kitchen. (Well, except when baking. That's alright.)

  2. Oh I almost forgot

    Here with my weekly reminder of your link party going on over at the kinderGARDENS contest. Anytime between now and next Wednesday you can share any post you have pertaining to gardening with kiddos!

    Have a super day, Kim

  3. I took home ec...and hated it! I had been raised by a mom and grandma who gardened, cooked, canned, sewed, knitted and all things domestic. When I took home ec I already knew more than the teacher thanks to my mom! It was so boring. When I complained and asked to switch to shop class I was not allowed...ughh! Luckily I married a guy that taught me how to use a table saw!

    BUT as much as I hated it I must say that young people today have no clue about real food from scratch...when sons went to college they had to teach their friend how to do laundry and cook things as simple as spaghetti...???

    So we definitely need these classes in school or we will raise a bunch of kids that go to McDonalds or eat Ramaen Noodes all through college because they have no clue how to fend for themself Kim

  4. Excellent-- had my first bunch over on Monday!

  5. Hi Xan,

    My kids had a different experience in the Western Suburbs - we lived in several school districts from late 1980's through late 1990's when my 4 were in Jr High...later called Middle School.

    For part of each year all 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, male & female, learned to cook basic foods, some nutrition and food safety, started out sewing flat handle bags, moved on to stuffed animals or pillows and eventually made jackets, made clocks and decor in woodshop, learned to write a check and saw the inside of an engine - human life skills.

    We're in Texas now - I don't think that the kids here had this kind of program- wonder if they're still teaching this way in Illinois?

    Your cinnamon toast story is teasing my memory - there was a 1960's teen mystery story where cinnamon toast is made in cooking class...maybe Donna Parker?

    Guess I'll have to go make bread so we can have cinnamon toast tomorrow!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Good grief...verification word is buthed