What You Learn in Home Economics

August 30, 2010

I took Home Economics class my 8th grade year, mainly because I’d heard it was an easy A.  My lazy ass needed a good grade to cancel out what was sure to be my mediocre grade in Geometry.

Unlike many Home Economics classes, the one at my junior high school did not involve sewing, which was a bonus on two levels: a) I suckity suck at sewing and b) boys weren’t averse to taking the class.

In fact, a lot of boys took Home Economics back then (but not nearly as many as those who took typing; the typing teacher, Miss Schuler, had a ginormous rack). My dad was wicked excited for back-to-school night the semester I took typing.

I can’t even remember the name of our Home Ec teacher, but I can tell you that she was a strange creature. She wore more makeup than a Zulu warrior and had an affinity for wearing plastic objects (eg: fake fruit, flowers and ornamental birds) in her elaborately coiffed bun. She was like some Nora Desmond/Carmen Miranda hybrid.

She also had a crush on my history teacher, Mr. Deuth, and she used to swoop into his classroom several times a week, depositing “leftover” treats from Home Ec. on his desk. Mr. Deuth was a short, shy man who seemed rather beleagured by her ardor, but he always thanked her politely, which made me fall in love with him, too.

Although I’m not good with names, I do remember a boy named Jeff who sat at my table in Home Economics class. He was a year older than me and was one of the Gearhead Guys. Gearhead Guys only attended regular classes in the afternoon; in the morning, they were shipped off to the technical school to work on cars and carve wood and manipulate dangerous machinery like buzzsaws. G. G.’s always had dust on their jeans and smelled a little sweaty and looked you in the eye a little too long. It was a heady mix, let me tell you.

Jeff had black, tousled hair and light green eyes with heavy, hooded lids. In retrospect, he was probably stoned to the gills, but I just thought he was mysterious. I remember one afternoon, after we’d made chocolate pudding, he tipped his chair back on two legs, watched me lick my spoon clean and said slowly, “You eat sexy.”

I’d never been called sexy in my entire 8th-grade life. I looked into his gecko eyes and felt sweaty in places I didn’t know could feel sweaty. I dropped my spoon as if it were on fire, annoying the petite gymnast named Debbie who also was assigned to our table. “You have issues,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

Debbie, Jeff and I were not accomplished cooks. Many times, our table cooked up the worst product in class, such as the purple pancakes.  Who knew that when, adding canned blueberries to pancake batter, you needed to drain them first?  Apparently, not us. Miss Desmond/Miranda actually publicly criticized us for that little error, much to my embarrassment.

Jeff didn’t seem fazed by it in the slightest.  The following week, I saw him open one of the running clothes dryers in the Home Ec. room, reach into his pockets and throw in several handfuls of fluffy, jumbo-sized marshmallows.  I shook my head at him, slack-jawed, but he just smirked, tilting his chair back. Blessedly, our teacher never found out who the Marshmallow Vandal was.

We made some interesting things that semester–unexpected things like crepes and stroganoff and caramel sauce. I tasted those dishes with a mixture of wonder and accomplishment, feeling somehow worldly. Of all of those dishes, though, my favorite was Cheese Souffle. Watching an emulsion of eggs and cheese turn into an ethereal puff that boasts, just for a moment, and then falls back down to Earth?  That’s exotic stuff for a girl from North Dakota.

Looking at that recipe now, I can see that it’s certainly dumbed-down for novice cooks. There’s no separating of eggs or folding in beaten whites, but still, it’s a tasty facsimile. And believe me, it beats the Hell out of purple pancakes.

Simple Cheese Souffle*

serves 6

6 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

dash of freshly ground nutmeg

3/4 cup grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese

3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425. Beat eggs vigorously until thick and light. Mix in whipping cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Fold in all cheeses. Pour into a very well-buttered 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until puffy and set. Serve immediately.

* Where’s the picture, you ask? Sorry, dudes, did you see that cup of heavy cream called for in the recipe? Backside Suicide. I may have handled it at 14, but at 40+? Forget about it.  Make this when you are under forty, or on a day when you run, like, five miles or something, or have someone to impress.

ps: Any memories, good or bad, about Home Economics class? This post was written via a prompt given by Serious Eats (in the Talk section). Some of the responses were hilarious, so head on over if you’re curious. But I’d love to hear your memories;  you know I love to hear y’all talk.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

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I dropped my spoon as if it were on fire, annoying the petite gymnast named Debbie who also was assigned to our table. “You have issues,” she said, wrinkling her nose. | :P


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