I love homeschooling by happenstance! Oh, sure, we have the regimented schedule (at least five minutes of violin practice, several pages of math, history, and science textbooks each day, and so forth); but we also have a lot of unplanned extras to fill in the edges.
One day when I was rushing through the library, chasing down an active two-year-old, I spotted a display of books in the children’s section. This collection was subtitled Exploring History Through Simple Recipes, and I grabbed all four on display. (Apparently there are eight books in the series. I’ll have to hunt down the others.)
I organized the titles in rough chronological order, and marveled at the overlap with our current studies, seeing as we’d just finished reading Story Of The World: Volume III and begun Volume IV. (Yes, I know the classical method recommends spending a year on each topic. We just read through until we’re done, and then go on to the next thing.) It’s wonderful how learning to cook contrives to shore up our study of history.
Each book had about a dozen recipes, so I selected two or three meal’s worth from the array of main dishes, sides, breads, and desserts. We started with Southern plantation cooking, reading through the sections that gave historical context and learning why certain foods and methods of preparation were so suitable to each region and time period. I had never eaten shrimp creole before, nor prepared fried chicken and okra, so that was a new experience for me as well as for the children. These dishes were all a big hit, so I suspect we’ll be making them again.
Next we tackled Oregon Trail cooking, which was so much fun. My kids had no clue what I meant when I kept saying things like, “This should be enough to feed us, since we’re all on meager rations this week,” “We won’t bother with the venison stew, since everyone knows we’re not going to have any luck with hunting,” and of course “No one wants to trade to-day.”
A friend emailed to see about getting together one night. I wrote back, “We are working on the Oregon Trail this week, so dinner is beans and rice with salt-rising bread. It may taste horrible.” At least the Donner Party wasn’t on the agenda.
We had a pause from historical cooking to celebrate the holidays and all the specialized feasting that goes with (I did make the point that turkey and corn had historical implications specific to their own time period), and then we were back to the late 1800s with Cowboy Cooking. This was a favorite for my husband, who appreciated the simple and hearty meat-and-potatoes fare that cowboys once enjoyed on the cattle drives. We had chuck roast (well, what I pulled from the freezer was a T-bone steak, but it roasted up all the same) and gravy, fried potatoes, sourdough biscuits, beef gravy over biscuits, and cowboy chili, a soup so hearty and full of meat that it didn’t even need beans. Did I mention that this was my husband’s favorite week?
The cooking school was a successful endeavor, even though I probably hovered and interfered too much for it to be an independent and comprehensive learning experience. I’m sure the kids would learn quickly on a plan starting with simple recipes, basic techniques, and familiar foods. The advantage of our meandering menu experience is that it really put cooking into historical perspective, and introduced us to some dishes outside of our normal repertoire. Judging from the reception they received, many of these meals are going to be joining our regular rotation. We’ll continue to practice cooking skills, of course. Now I’m curious to see what the Lewis and Clark expedition has to offer.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images by Rose Focht.