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The Two Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

Henry James got it almost right. Those two words are surely summer morning, not summer afternoon.

A summer morning cool, heavy, washed with dew and birdsong and with the promise of untold delights ready to unfold. Who knows what a day might bring?

First go get the newspaper from the mailbox near the road, then check all the little gardens. They’re all looking a little better, and the soil is gradually coming to a lovely, friable state

The weather is so crisp this morning that I have two thoughts: First move laptop and papers to the deck, then think about possibly, perhaps, just maybe cooking something like a fruit pie or roasted zucchini, yellow squash, and onions with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh herbs from the little herb garden.

Both my mother and grandmother taught me to cook, each in her own way.

My mother taught me the same way she was taught in home economics class. Make sure your counter-top is clean and clutter-free. Lay out your measuring cups and spoons. Start reading the recipe from top to bottom, then take out the ingredients one-by-one and line them up in order of use.

After adding and properly measuring, of course, put each ingredient back in its place and swipe the counter with a sponge between ingredients to wipe up the slightest trace of flour or oil. By the time you’re finished mixing, your kitchen will be as orderly as when you began, and you can start to wash the numerous bowls and spoons in the sink. Pop your creation in the oven. You didn’t forget to preheat the oven to the precise temperature, did you? Now time to turn your attention to the next project.

I doubt my grandmother ever measured anything in her life or followed a recipe. Her method involved a jumble of jars, cans, bottles, bags of sugar, and a dusting of flour everywhere. Those were the days of sifting the flour and distributing it all over the counter-top.

Stir with a big wooden spoon in a wooden bowl to “about this consistency.” Now add a handful or two of flour, about “that much” warm water if the dough is too dry. Wash, dry, and flour your hands and knead “like this”—turning the dough a quarter turn with each forward push of the heels of your hands.

Along with the metal flour sifter, for pie crust, a pastry cutter was essential to reduce pats of butter to lumps “about the size of small peas” coated with flour. Then add ice water, and out comes the wooden rolling pin to roll out pie crust between sheets of waxed paper on a wooden slab. Dot the fruit with little pats of butter, dribs and drabs of flour and sugar. Pull the pie out of the oven when it’s done, “just like this.”

If you’re not sure about the readiness of a cake, the broom straw test will tell you the truth. If the color is not too brown and the broom straw comes out clean, your cake is just right.

Not so much science as art.

I may or may not get to the cooking part today, but I enjoy living simultaneously in the richness of both past and present, and remembering those exciting days of learning something for the first time.

6 comments

1 Dora { 07.27.08 at 8:50 pm }

Your description of learning to cook from your grandmother brought to mind watching my grandmother make biscuits from scratch. I always tried to get her to quantify the recipe for me but she had made biscuits for so long by touch that she would never even think of measuring anything. Unfortunately, I never mastered the nack of her biscuits and have been searching ever since for a recipe that approximated hers that had milk straight from the cow, lard, Martha White flour, leavening, & salt to the best of my recollection. She would stir them up, pat them out and then cut them out with a Bama jelly jar. They baked up perfectly in the old woodstove that she had before she got her gas stove. They were perfect every time. What I wouldn’t give for one of them today!

2 Ellen Moore { 07.27.08 at 9:37 pm }

Ummmmm, Dora, you’re making me hungry! Sounds as if our grandmothers were sisters of the hearth. I can’t help but think that a big portion of that heavenly taste must have been the lard, the rich-with-cream milk, and the wood stove. And the love, of course.

Ellen Moores last blog post..The Two Most Beautiful Words in the English Language

3 danfromnh { 02.01.11 at 5:03 pm }

Sorry Ellen, James got it wrong. The two most beautiful words in the english language are “Dinners ready”

4 Ellen Moore { 06.12.11 at 1:52 pm }

I think you’re right! You nailed it.

All good wishes–

5 Ross Parisi { 07.16.11 at 2:08 am }

Ellen,

I for one believe your right, “Summer morning” represents new beginings in the circle of life, with the wonder of what the future brings because even though life is a cycle, not one day repeats itself.

Your personal reminiscences help me understand the time in our history where we had it right. When food was grown nauturally and eaten naturally. The way people used to cook food, it was simple yet satisfying. That was it. But it was an art, you couldn’t learn it in a book, it was brought forward from generation to generation with interation from family members and friends and took years to master.

I belive that quality takes time, and greed takes that away. Greed is what changed our foods to what it is today, we mass produce all our food for what, greed and money. Everytime we change our food to be able to make it faster and to make quantities to triple to what we need, is when we start to lose our quality and lose our satisfaction.

Which brings me to my next point that we should eat only what we need to eat for complete satisfaction. Understanding that is a beautiful thing.

It would be great if we could all realise this so that we can return our earth to its natural state rather than mother nature having to correct our Earth herself.

Our Summer mornings are beautiful and I hope that my boys and future grandchildren will have the chance to experience these simple yet beautiful things life has to offer.

Ross.

6 Ellen Moore { 07.18.11 at 12:08 pm }

Thanks, Ross, that’s beautiful and so true. I’m hoping things are beginning to change, with more people eating locally, and with the slow food movement.

I juderstand that Australia is far ahead of us here in the US with regard to healthy living and eating.

My very best wishes for you, your family, and your future family.
And “amen” to living in harmony with nature.

Ellen

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