My mother recently gave me a small time capsule of items from when I was a kid, including this book Cooking, Knitting and Sewing For Girls. Oh, the memories!
I went through a classic Irish convent education, which meant I was in an all-girl environment and taught by nuns and non-religious teachers. In primary school (that’s up until the age of 12) There was an emphasis placed on teaching us practical skills as well as the usual maths, reading, Irish, history etc. So, I was taught to embroider, sew, knit, crochet, and I also learned to play recorder and piano. My mother did a lot of cooking and baking when I was a child and she taught me that. These are all fine skills and crafts for anyone to learn, but there was a clear gender assignment and indoctrination going on. My brothers were never taught any of the ‘domestic skills’ in their schools. There was never a major push for the boys in the house to cook because there were three women around for that (although my father always cooked a full Irish breakfast every Sunday morning).
All of this is taken in so simply when you’re a kid that you don’t realise how much seeps into your mind about what is supposed to interest boys and girls. The great thing is that you can call it all into question later on in life – if you’re the kind of child that queries things. While I was one of those nerdy liked-to-study kind of girls, as I got older I asked a lot of questions. Teachers tended to like me because I was a good student, but they weren’t so keen on my refusal to accept answers that struck me as illogical.
Getting back to Cooking, Knitting, Sewing (is) For Girls, I liked this book a lot when I was younger because it had lively cartoons on every page and clear instructions. I plan to keep it as if I ever have a hankering to knit and sew again this would be a great book to prompt my memory on the basics. Each section is written by a different writer, the cooking section is by Elizabeth Sewell, the knitting section is by Judith Dine, and the sewing section is by Gill Wallis. Alas, the illustrator is uncredited, but through a bit of online digging I believe it’s Jan Howarth.
Good on Sewell who in her introduction says “Cooking is a wonderful hobby for girls and boys alike.” In the cooking section the cartoons all have a boy and a girl consuming/preparing the dish for which there is a recipe, and sometimes the boy appears to be helping out. This vanishes in the knitting and sewing sections, which are much clearer about them being activities for girls alone, or to do to garner the admiration of boys.
One of the recipes is for a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, and I have a vivid memory of making that dish because it was unusual, and called for an exotic item: pineapple. I remember my glee when I turned it upside down and the cake popped out with the carmelised pineapple rings intact on top.
Then, the waiting! I must have wandered away for a few minutes and during that intervening period a friend of my mother’s dropped by to have a chat. Imagine my consternation when I discovered the two women sitting at the kitchen table, each with a slice of my cake in front of them.
The first slice always goes to the chef, everyone knows that, especially when it’s the first attempt at a new recipe. It being Ireland however, guests always get the best of everything: the first cup of tea from the pot, the largest slab of pie, so the rules of hospitality preempted my desires. I had to bottle up my frustration out of manners because we had company, but I expect my expression remained cross.
I think I harboured grudge against that woman for years afterwards.