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Industrial Cooking


Fri, Mar 30th, 2001
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Monday, March 26, 2001

You may have heard of "old wives tales". I have an "old farmer attitude" when it comes to cooking. When it is my turn in the kitchen, I tend to press on to get the job done regardless of obstacles. If I donít have an ingredient that the recipe calls for, I either substitute something similar or leave it out entirely. If the batter or dough is not quite right, I crank up the torque and put more mixer power to it. If the muffins wonít brown, I pour more kilowatts into the firebox. If some mixture stuck to the sides of the bowl the last time, this time I add more grease. This attitude has been the undoing of many an otherwise promising recipe.

I got a lot of practice with making breakfast on the farm. Breakfast is easy as I just threw a few eggs in the frying pan and a couple pieces of bread in the toaster. Things started to get more complicated when I got out of college and had to cook more extensively. Lemon meringue pie is one of my favorites so I tried my hand at that. Most people struggle with the fluffy white stuff on top or find it hard to get a crispy crust underneath. I had trouble getting the filling part to solidify. I ate quite a few pies by scraping the meringue off the top, drinking the filling from a glass and eating the crust with my fingers. Finally, I mentioned this minor pie problem to a friend. She asked me if I had followed the directions. I told her that I had except the part where the recipe has you add all that water to a little bit of cornstarch. I told her that I knew that much water couldnít be right, so I kept reducing the amount of water in hope that eventually the filling would be more like filling and less like yellow dishwater. I was inadvertently breaking several laws of cooking chemistry. My friend politely suggested that I would do well to try not to outsmart the recipe and do as it suggested. My next pie turned out perfectly so I quit making them. There was no challenge in it after that.

Our oldest son is away at college and seems to be living up to my legacy. One Sunday afternoon this winter he called from his rented basement lair. We chatted a while as he went about baking chocolate chip cookies. He remarked that he was having a few problems with his baking. His mother came on the line to help out. He complained that his cookies kept falling through the cookie sheet and dropping to the floor of the oven. His mom figured out that he was using the ovenís grilling rack instead of a flat solid cookie sheet to bake on. Here at home he had always seen cookies sitting on the counter on their cooling rack, so he just assumed that is the way they were baked. We gave him a cookie sheet for Christmas and I have not heard of him making cookies since.

Hereís a kitchen tip that I discovered that may come in handy as rhubarb season is just around the corner. I will share this with you so you donít have to learn the hard way. A couple seasons ago, I got the idea that making rhubarb sauce would be a lot easier if I didnít chop the stalks into half-inch pieces before I drowned them in sugar and boiled them to mush. I tried making sauce with six-inch pieces of rhubarb. Well, hereís the science behind this mistake. Those stringy ribs that run the length of the rhubarb stalk donít turn to mush. They stay pretty much the same no matter how long you cook them. It was difficult to eat this sauce as it tended to hang off the sides of our spoons like spiderwebs off a haybarn rafter. The strands were too slippery to wind around the tines of our forks as you might try to eat spaghetti. It wasnít a big hit with our rhubarb-loving family, so I tried the "old farmer" method of fixing it. I put the offensive mass into the blender and laid the steel to it. The blades did their work. The subsequent gelatinous material was far worse to the palate than its previous form. Without getting too graphic, one of my non-appreciative offspring likened the result to having had a cow blow her nose in his bowl. Ever since this kitchen catastrophe, he approaches my creations with a new sense of caution and respect. Good advice to everyone.

Bon appetit!

By Wayne Pike

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