A Cooking Legacy

While in college, my friend Tzippy and her family generously hosted me for many a Shabbat and Yom Tov. Tzippy’s mother didn’t expect her to help in the kitchen; she told her that she would have plenty of time later, and now she should study and have fun. The mother was right; Tzippy did get married and learned how to cook. I’m sure she consults her mother frequently about the family recipes.

Still, I’m glad to have had a different childhood experience. I left home at 17, never to return for more than a month or two at a time. My mother died when I was 26. I so appreciate the fact that she shared the legacy of her unique blend of Eastern European cooking and modern American techniques with me. The recipes would have survived, but most cooking secrets aren’t found in recipes.

I understand people who don’t have patience for kids in the kitchen. Every mother (and father) has her limits, and knowing that you “should” do something is of no use if you don’t enjoy it. Thanks to my mother, I feel I have something special to share with my children in this particular area, but there are many areas in which parents can share their experience and knowledge with their children.

I probably spend more time cooking than on any other household task. As my older kids grew into teenagers cooking regular meals became almost a full-time job in itself. Even when I do the actual cooking, I can always use help peeling and cutting vegetables. At the very least kids should be able to prepare simple meals for themselves, like scrambled eggs, and know basic safety rules.

Check out the website that I opened in 2009, to help home cooks save time and money: Cooking Manager.


  1. Ari Kinsberg says

    i still have not forgiven my mother-in-law and her mother for banning my wife from the kitchen. not that my wife does not cook today, but my mother-in-law and her mother, who are both from russia, cook european style. you just can’t learn that from a cookbook.
    (maybe my mother-in-law knew what she was doing. if i did not rely on her for her awesome food, i probably would take my wife to her every sunday afternoon.)

  2. My mom started us off in the kitchen really early – by the time I was 14 or so, I could make a Shabbat meal by myself.
    More importantly, she let us all experiment in the kitchen – the only rule was that we had to clean up after ourselves. There are 5 of us, and we’re all good cooks (the boys too.)
    My husband especially appreciates the fact that I know how to make super-simple foods – that I can make a whole Shabbat dinner starting 3 hours before Shabbat and still have time to hang out with him during that time.
    I’ve literally spent less than 20 minutes preparing food for Shabbat and still served a decent meal. (not including the time that stuff has to sit in the oven).
    I think it’s absolutely crucial to teach kids cooking basics when they’re young and living at home.

  3. I was never allowed into the kitchen and was never allowed to touch anything or help in any way. I very much resent that because when I got married I had no clue what I was doing. While I was engaged my mother showed me some basics and I picked up more things along the way. Now I cook with the kids. They help me make lots of things. They love it and I love it. I don’t mind that it takes longer or gets a little messier.
    My mother cooks very elaborate meals and I cook very differently. I make quick and easy meals and only occassionally use one of her more complex recipes.
    There are so many things that I wish someone would have taught me in the kitchen before I got married.

  4. I find it hard to believe that some Moms won’t teach their daughters how to cook! Shopping and meal preparation day in and day out are my biggest household “tasks.” To eat well is indeed a blessing. And it does take time to prepare yummy and delicious and healthful meals. My daughter is the only one of her three college roommates who cooks. The others eat junk food, take-out, fast -food, frozen pizza etc. They’re the ones that are astonished that my daughter cooks and makes real lasagne and slow-simmered soups. She’s vegetarian and we’re not, by the way. So the no-meat thing is also a great impetus to her to cook regularly. Of course, she does keep some “fast” stuff in her repertoire. It’s not just making dinner and Shabbat dinner, either. Cooking also is an integral part of Jewish life as we entertain guests, both strangers and friends. It’s being able to host parties that are memorable for the guests. It’s being able to take meals to those in mourning or who have immediate needs for someone else to cook. IT’s being able to lay out a nice kiddush lunch at shul when necessary. (OUr shul always has elaborate full-meal type buffets after Shabbos morning services. ) And it’s also knowing how to make edibles for potlucks and informal gatherings as well. My daughter eats much more healthily and deliciously than do her roommates and I know she spends far less than they do on food/board. I think any parents who don’t teach their kids how to cook are doing them a big disservice. BUt, YMMV,
    Los Altos, California

  5. Growing up, I was never really asked to contribute much to the family cooking effort, but I did enjoy watching and asked join in a bit. I don’t resent my mom for it, but sadly, I barely knew how to make coffee or macaroni when I got married.
    My kids will definitely be more cooking-savvy, mostly by virtue of the fact that they always put themselves at arms length as soon as I go into the kitchen. They stand together on a stepladder next to me if I’m so much as making an omelette.
    And there are lots of things I let them attempt. If there’s truly a moment without any toddler potential, I give them a bowl of water and a fork and tell them they can “practice their mixing technique for getting all of the ingredients incorporated.” Hearing a 3 year old say back the word “incorporated” makes the mess worthwhile! 🙂

  6. Regular Anonymous says

    As a child I peeled a lot of potatos and helped around the kitchen but never really learned how to cook from that. My finicky brother learned to cook as he refused to eat most things my mom made.
    Once on my own I became IMVHO quite a proficient cook with no help other than the ability to read a recipe.
    I find coming up with ideas for easy, inexpensive, nutritional, tasty meals that all of us enjoy, which also survive unpredictable delays after I announce “dinner is ready” to be a much bigger challenge than actually cooking them.

  7. it is not really such a big deal.. we never helped my mom cook when we were little. we had all sorts of chores, but she did the cooking.
    I do not cook much, but I do enjoy it. It is not hard to pick up and if you start with a recipe book and an open mind understanding what you are putting into the pot, you can easily move on to adjusting and creating your own recipes for the flavor you particularly enjoy…
    most of my siblings enjoy cooking, and none of us grew up cooking.

  8. I cooked from a young age, but I don’t really remember how I learned. I know I didn’t include my kids enough.
    Great post.

  9. My mother allowed me in the kitchen, but she grew up in a canned food household and didn’t have that much to share unfortunately. But she is a far better chef than her mother was, and I sometimes feel bad when my mother is here helping me and I have to give her instructions.
    I am looking forward to getting a new living arrangement because our current arrangement just does not allow me to let my kids get as involved as they would like to be. IUnfortunately our kitchen is just not set up properly (and it can’t be fixed without a good $10K). But the new one will be set up properly and that should make the helpers able to help and the teacher able to teach without episodes of crying and yelling.
    One of my few luxuries is treating myself to cookbooks. I have a ton and pull receipes from various places. We definitely enjoy a lot of variety in our diet. .. . all within a budget, of course. 🙂

  10. TrilCat-There is definitely a learning curve. I’ve become very quick and always surprise myself by how quick I have become. Lucky for you, you already had the experience before getting married.

  11. If you don’t mind sharing, Mom, what sorts of things do you make for dinner (on a regular day, not Shabbat or chag)? I need some new ideas!

  12. mominisrael says

    So many comments, so little time! LOL.
    Ari, enjoy having your MIL so close by! I want to come too.
    Trilcat, I don’t think I experimented much, nor do I encourage my kids. Something to think about!
    BB– Maybe her not teaching you allowed you to develop your own style.
    Helene–Yes, there are a lot of skills involved in running a kitchen. Your daughter sounds amazing–must be all that nursing!
    RM–Today my daughter inserted herself between me and everything I tried to do! She helped me separate the cabbage leaves from the core.
    RA–I have the same problem. But I’ve resigned myself to the fact that not everyone will like what I make, most of the time. My younger kids eat a much wider variety of foods though–I learned a lot from my mistakes!
    Rafi, you may have learned more from your mother’s cooking thank you think you did. You definitely can learn to cook from a cookbook, but my mother taught me so much more, including hosting, shopping in season, using up leftovers, storing food properly, balancing menus, knowing when food is done, time management, using appliances efficiently, etc. Everything can be found in books but it’s not the same. When I read something new (it happens) I know how to evaluate the information because I have the basics.
    Muse–I thought you would like it.
    SL–Cheaper to buy cookbooks than eat out. Motherhood has a way of teaching efficiency, doesn’t it?
    RR–Maybe I’ll make that question into another post.

  13. Peeling cabbage leaves is a good one. There’s also always my old standbys for toddler kitchen jobs – I need someone to put the peeled potatoes into the water or to smell the vanilla extract 🙂

  14. mominisrael says

    RM, I remember my oldest could identify all the spices by smell.

  15. almost forgot. the first thing my mom let us make was cranberry sauce around age 3-4.
    2 cups water, 2 cups sugar, 1 bag cranberries, stir until the peels pop off all of the cranberries and the water turns a rich pink. It takes constant stirring, so an eager kid is a big advantage, plus it’s a very nice-smelling experience.
    I enjoy making it more than I do eating it…
    BTW, when I talk about experimentation, I mean new recipes from tv, cookbooks, etc. I’m also into imitating things I tasted at other people’s houses, even without the recipe.

  16. Mama O' Matrices says

    My mother firmly believed that everybody in the house should be able to cook at least one meal. I remember my youngest brother, who settled on orange juice trout and chocolate chip cookies as his ‘meal.’
    As the sole preparer of food in my house, I completely empathise with my mum. Everybody *should* be self-sufficient enough to cook something (age-appropriate, of course). What if the mama gets the flu?
    In our house, ordering in is simply not an option…