Women's History Month: Women and Cooking

As is most likely apparent by now, one of my personal interests is in women's changing relationship to food and cooking. My own interest in cooking came at the end of my graduate school study: once I had completed thousands of hours of reading and writing, I gravitated out of my office and towards the kitchen. Cooking had always been something my mom did from the time we were young, to feed our family and friends. I didn't learn to cook at an early age, nor did I ever show a preternatural talent for it: my family will happily tell you stories of me chopping and discarding the "wrong" end of the very pricey asparagus, and forgetting to drain the pasta water before adding the cheese to my Kraft macaroni. 


After I finished an intense three years of writing and reading about love, and the infinite expectations we receive from TV, movies, and music on what love is “supposed” to look like, I began participating in one of the clichés myself: being a woman/girlfriend/wife in the kitchen. But this time, unlike my past experiences of projecting love stories onto a relationship, I was inhabiting this role fully conscious and by choice. I wanted to be there, with my hands sinking into soft dough, pounding and twisting it to the right consistency. I embraced new things: if my learning curve was going to be steep anyway, might as well try anything! Duck that takes two days and two processes to cook, breads that rise two or three times and take all day, attempting to catch and feed wild yeast in the form of sourdough starter, caramelizing onions for hours to tease the right color and taste out of them.


Throughout history, women have not been given a choice to cook. They have often been expected to cook, whether they liked it or not. This should not be the case. Dinner will always have to get on the table somehow, but the responsibility should not be defaulted to the woman/mother. For me, my frustration with cooking comes with the fact that it takes time. No matter how simple the dish I choose, it takes time to plan, shop, make, and clean up. As I also run this business, I have to manage my time in that arena.


While there's no easy solution for navigating schedules, making time for cooking in a world that has myriad dining out options, or finding joy in cooking without feeling burdened by it, I'll end this entry with a photo from one of my mom's notebooks. Also not someone who grew up cooking, when my mom moved away from her parents' house, she missed the tastes of home. On a trip back to her hometown, she asked her eldest sister and her mom to teach her – no, to show her – the native recipes. In a notebook, now water-stained but still legible, she jotted down notes as she watched over the shoulders of her sister and mom. There are few measurements, just notes of the process and ingredients she observed. She didn't grow up cooking; but she grew to love it.