When I went to high school, just girls were required to take home economics. I told mom I did not want to take that class because I already knew how to cook and sew. Mom was a good cook and made some of our clothes, and I thought by watching her I already knew how to cook and sew.
Mom told me I had to take the class anyway because I didn't know much about cooking and sewing. She was right! I learned a lot in that home economics class, taught by Mrs. Burke. She was pretty stern, strict and harsh at times. But she taught us a lot about a lot of things. Not only cooking, but setting the table, placing crystal water glasses in the proper place and where the linen napkins went, placing the silverware in its proper position. We cooked a meal, served the meal, and washed all of the dinnerware properly. Washed glasses first, the China dishes second, the silverware third, and then the pots and pans. She taught us how to polish the glasses and silverware. She also taught us how to sit properly and lady like at the table. She had us make beautiful fresh flower centerpieces, in crystal vases. We baked bread, rolls, cakes and cookies. And we learned about the cuts of meat. And how the nutritional pyramid worked.
The next semesters she taught us how to work with leather and to etch aluminum trays with acid. I loved to work with leather and made many billfolds and belts for all of my family. I worked with leather for many years.
The next semester we learned to sew. That was in the1950s, circular and pink poodle skirts were in style. I picked out a pattern that had 6 1/2 yards of material in it. It had a circular skirt, the top had a large collar and three-quarter length sleeves with a cuff. It also had a 3 inch wide belt. The sewing on the sewing machine went fairly well, but to get a proper grade, we had to hand stitch the hem. I spent days and days hand stitching at least 5 yards of circular material. When just part of it was done, Mrs. Burke examined my work, and she made me tear it all out again. So I spent more days hand stitching, tearing some out and then finally getting it right. My sister tells me that she tore hers out so many times she could not wear the dress. She has no fond memories of home economics class, neither does my girl friend.
The big collar had heavy stiffener on the inside. I lost count of the times I tore it out, sewed it in and tore it back out before Mrs. Burke said it was OK. Setting the sleeves into the arm holes was another nightmare. However, when I finally finished my aqua, waffle weave dress, and the sewing course, I had learned a lot. I got a B+ for my efforts. I do not believe Mrs. Burke ever gave anyone an A.
I still apply the sewing methods that I learned, to this day and I marvel at the fact that mom knew exactly what she was talking about. However, I earned an F later on, by flicking a wet dishtowel at one of my girlfriends. It made a big popping sound as it smacked her right on the butt just like my dad had done to us! He was a good teacher! Didn't I KNOW that was not lady-like? ( No!)
One of the semesters involved how to take care of your fingernails, how to apply polish to the fingernails and learn all about the color wheel. We had to know what color complemented our complexion. I was so disappointed when she told me I could never, never wear yellow, as it made me look pale and ill. I loved yellow and red together! She taught us how to stand and walk properly. She also taught is how to sit like a lady and to fold our hands in our lap. She taught us about nutrition and cleanliness. And how to bathe and care for a baby. That came in handy too!
She was an efficient teacher and I learned a lot from her. When I graduated from high school she gave me an old cookbook that I loved to read when I had extra time in her class. I still have it today after 50 some years.
It is called the "Cyclopedia of Valuable Receipts: A Treasure House of Useful Knowledge," Copyright 1885 and 1897. It has everything you would ever need to know in the olden days on the Prairie and for Homesteading, from how to make explosives and fireworks, perfume, health and disease, how to build barns and houses, cooking, preserving, medicinal liquors, mechanical parts and recreation, child rearing, and breeding livestock. This is the book started my love affair for cookbooks, especially regional books.
It is truly my number one favorite cook book (and I have many!).