Many years ago when Mr. Henry first approached a stove with motive and intent, he did not have the confidence he has today. Sweat collected on his furrowed young brow. From the start, however, he felt rookie confidence in tackling the grilled cheese sandwich.
There was the bread, of course, and the cheese, as well as a bit of butter in the pan. Through arduous trial and error young Mr. Henry honed his technique. Unguided and alone he discovered that to achieve even browning one must depress the sandwich lightly so that runny cheese not ooze embarrassingly out the sides. This required finesse with the spatula, a delicate up-and-down, chip-and-putt touch like Greg Norman’s, a touch you are born with, not a touch you can learn.
More important, he found from the beginning that cooking suited his innate talents. He likes to be in control of his own destiny, and he likes to eat. From his success with the grilled cheese sandwich, he strode on ahead to new challenges.
In short order, as it were, he became master of the scrambled egg, too. (Or so he supposed. Now he knows better. Truly velvety scrambled eggs must be cooked slowly over mild heat. After the eggs begin to clump you add a touch of milk or cream to retard the process.)
When faced with more complicated fabrications like soups or stews, however, he wilted. For help he stole peeks at Fannie Farmer or Joy of Cooking, furtive scans in the corner lest a big sister discover him in feminine occupations thereby obtaining premium ammunition for teasing.
In the Henry household, real men did not cook. Mother Henry herself only cooked under duress. Genuine slow cooking – gravies, stews, cakes – was conducted uniquely by women in household employ who closely monitored and roundly discouraged children in their kitchen. That is, cooks shooed kids out the back door.
While the skill of cooking held commercial value, the act itself was looked upon as drudgery. Since maids did not come on Sunday, traditional Sunday dinner slumbered in the freezer, R.I.P. And to think those little prison-issue aluminum trays once held genuine excitement. Ah, yesterday.
Now for Mr. Henry cooking has become a form of recreation and relaxation, a task that fully occupies the mind and the hand, a task concluding in a treat for the cook and his tablemates. Since he works more and more from home, and since he shops for food on foot, the burden of driving the car has transformed into something similar, too, a pleasure and a pastime.
In a completely unforeseen cultural development, TV cooking shows have become the teen-age rage. Once the daily grind of servants, cooking has entered the pantheon of applied arts.
“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Well, today taking the heat has become cool.
Who saw this coming? What does this seismic cultural event portend?
Today’s kitchen is the focal point of the house, its beating heart. Traveling salesman know that if you can get the client into her kitchen, you can close the deal. Someone who allows you into their kitchen has allowed you into their family.
Interior design today usually favors an open plan with no wall between kitchen and living area. The shift in America’s approach to cooking has changed not only living patterns but architecture, as well. Mom standing at the stove in a kitchen cubicle has become Dad standing at the stove in the center of the house.
This happy arrangement leaves Mom free to pursue her destiny – free to discipline the children and pay the mortgage.