You may have heard the old adage that things get better with time. I believe that it’s true.
Growing up, my mother did all the cooking because my father didn’t like to cook and didn’t know how to. Mom came from a large family where all the kids, boys and girls alike, were taught to cook. It was natural for her to encourage my brother, both sisters and me to learn to cook. In fact, she encouraged us to experiment. The only stipulation, and it was a reasonable one, was that we had to clean up our own mess.
My recipes are the result of having learned how to cook. Becoming a cook and then head cook at an extremely busy full service restaurant, and then a pizza maker and later a manager at a busy pizza parlor simply gave me extra skills that I wouldn’t have learned any other way.
There weren’t many dishes that I wouldn’t cook at home, given the chance, and the same was true of my brother and sisters. Each of us developed our own specialties. One sister is excellent at cooking meatloaf and is the cookie baker in the family, especially with peanut butter cookies. The other makes fantastic spaghetti and such wonderful pies that it is hard to limit yourself to just one slice. My brother is the barbecue king, particularly when it comes to barbecuing seafood. My expertise is with sauces and zucchini bread.
All four of us learned from an early age how to use herbs and seasonings to enhance and bring out the flavor in whatever we were cooking. I can’t even imagine making a sauce without using herbs. However, by the time I was in my late teens and cooking in the restaurant, I began to take it all for granted. I’d eaten my mother’s cooking and that of my siblings. All of them used seasonings constantly. Granted, there weren’t a lot of seasonings used at the restaurant, but that was on purpose, since some people don’t like seasonings in their food.
I got a wake-up call when I met Ella, whom I married shortly after I met her. I was quite taken with her, obviously, but I remember the first meal she made for me. I was honored and she did go to a lot of trouble to make pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans. I told her how great it tasted, but that was a half truth. The only seasoning she used or knew how to use was salt and pepper. To say that the meal was bland would be understating it. I didn’t let on that this was the case, though.
Turn about fair play; a few days later I made her dinner. It was all day spaghetti, similar to my mother’s but still unique and using a nice, thick sauce that really did take most of the day to cook. Ella ranted about how great the spaghetti was (and it still wasn’t as good as my sister’s). Ella asked me what my secret was. I was honest and said that there wasn’t a secret, but if there was one, it was in the herbs and spices that went into the sauce.
Over the coming weeks, as we stocked the cupboards with a good selection of herbs, Ella would cook something and ask me what seasoning to put in it. Sometimes I’d cook and she’d just watch to see what seasonings I used. One thing she noticed is that often, I would open the bottle of seasoning and smell it. I’d then smell what I was cooking. Then I’d add the seasoning or put it away. She finally asked why I did that. The question took me by surprise, because I’d never thought about it.
It was something my mother always did and I explained to Ella that I knew what the dish was supposed to smell like when it was done. By smelling the herb and then the cooking food, I was able to gauge how much of that herb needed to go into the food to make it smell right. (Don’t laugh, it honestly does work. Remember, most of your sense of taste is actually your sense of smell, which is why things taste bland when you have a head cold and your nose is stuffed up.)
Before long, I noticed that Ella was smelling the herbs, then what she was cooking, before adding seasonings. Her cooking improved drastically and in a hurry. All of that happened a long time ago, but I’m proud to say that she has become a very good cook through the years. She’s even come up with some excellent tasting dishes that I wouldn’t have even dreamed of.
To this day, though, if she’s making a sauce, she asks me to spice it. That is particularly true of spaghetti and pizza sauce. I don’t mind at all and find it highly complimentary. Still, the saying is true. Things do get better with time, for instance, my wife’s cooking. She might say that I’m responsible for that, but I just showed her what I did, I didn’t tell her how to do it. She figured that out on her own.