Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The children's turn to cook

When it came to teaching my boys to cook, I fell sadly short. I had never learned to cook from my own mother – I literally couldn’t boil an egg. But I was a girl, and inevitably (this was the 1960s) it wasn’t long before cooking caught up with me. As a very young (19) new wife, I simply assumed it was my job to provide our meals. If I’d been able to consult (surreptitiously, of course) Margaret Brooker’s excellent cookbook for children, It’s My Turn to Cook, I would have learnt the basics a lot faster. And my children would have benefited greatly from it too.
         It’s not just me singing her book’s praises. Last month it beat five other finalists to carry off the Golden Ladle for Best Children’s Cookbook at the prestigious seventh Le Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards.  But she didn’t do it alone. Here’s her delightful tribute on the first page to her co-authors, aged 10 and 8 when the book was published:
          “As my child consultants, advisors, peer reviewers and recipe testers, my daughters Alexandra and Charlotte have been key in the writing of this book. Much as they enjoyed the cooking, and the eating, there were times when they would rather have been playing than donning aprons to test yet another recipe. I thank them profoundly for their goodwill, sound sense and perseverance.”
           Most children’s cookbooks rely heavily on snacks and treats. There are sections on snacks and sweet things here too (and cookies do feature on the cover). But what I like most about the 40 recipes in this book is their focus on real meals, from breakfast and lunch to dinner and side dishes: pancakes and French toast, Tuscan vegetable soup, kedgeree, Moroccan lamb, roast chicken, broccoli cheese – and baked beans with sausages.
           When I talked to Margaret, she said this was important. She believes very strongly in children sitting down to eat with adults, not eating separate “dumbed-down” meals by themselves, and learning to cook not just now and then for themselves and their friends, but for the whole family.
           The skills involved – such as grating, chopping onions, cooking rice, separating eggs – are simply and clearly explained, with pictures. What’s more, all the equipment used is very basic (and cheap). No food processors, electric beaters or microwaves. The ingredients are basic too. There’s also a great section on food safety – in her other life, Margaret is a lawyer with the Food Safety Authority.
            Margaret sees cooking skills as essential for everyone. “I’ve heard of people giving the book to their teenagers when they go flatting. And I was told about an elderly man who used it when he needed to learn to cook for himself.”
             But she also understands children. So the section at the beginning called “Why cook?” highlights the fun and pleasure, popularity and pride, that comes from knowing how to cook well.

It’s My Turn to Cook
Margaret Brooker, with Alexandra & Charlotte Stephen
Photography by Paul McCredie
New Holland, 2007, large hardback, $24.99

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