During a recent visit to my mother's house, I unearthed my very first cookbook, a spiral-bound wonder of the 1970s called Kids Are Natural Cooks. I had forgotten about the hours I used to spend with this book but as soon as I spotted the rainbow-colored cover, I felt like a wide-eyed six-year old again, learning about seasonal cycles, wholesome ingredients, and even mise en place. Best of all, this book taught me to have fun in the kitchen, using my own two hands to nourish myself and my loved ones.
Created by the Parents' Nursery School in Cambridge, Mass., Kids Are Natural Cooks had full, step-by-step recipes (Sesame Honey Candy was a big favorite!) as well as looser, improvisational guidance for foods one might have around the house. I remember poking around in the pantry and then consulting chapters like "What can you do with popcorn?" or being inspired to make fruit pudding for my younger brother.
The really wonderful thing about this book was the way in which it instilled a sense of discovery and possibility in the kitchen. I still smile at the playful illustrations by Lady McCrady featuring singing gingerbread people, cakes with fluffy cumulus clouds of frosting, and people shouting "hooray" at the sight of beautiful homemade bread. Cooking, I learned, was joyful, creative, and full of love. As I consider the things I'm thankful for this month, my first cookbook is certainly on the list.
Emily Ho is a writer, recipe developer, and educator. She lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches classes on food preservation, wild food, and herbalism. Emily is a Master Food Preserver and founder of LA Food Swap and the international Food Swap Network.
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