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Culinary Half-Pints

The kitchen is the hub of the Hadden home. "The table is where everything happens," Carolyn Hadden says.

But in millions of American homes today, the kitchen table may be simply for show.

The Haddens are remodeling their 1929 Jacksonville, Illinois, kitchen. "When we looked at floor plans, we were told most new kitchens don't even have a table," Carolyn says.

This mother of four sons has four granddaughters to help her in the kitchen: Lauren, 14, Caitlin, 12, Paige, 8, and Meghan, 7. "They measure ingredients, crack eggs, cut up vegetables, and read recipes," she says. Culinary arts have been passed down this way for generations.

But American women began straying from the stove after World War II. Soon food companies launched ads inviting women to throw off the shackles of made-from-scratch meals.

Cooking skills have deteriorated over the decades, culminating in a pre-packaged, ready-to-eat culinary climate.

But physical and fiscal health concerns are prompting a rediscovery of home gardens and cooking. "Women Take Back Food" exclaims a Ms. magazine cover.

Unfortunately, our skills are rusty. Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen, and The Lost Art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger are only two examples of cookbook authors rushing to fill the void.

Pie is a hot blog topic at The World Needs More Pie. And you can read how to pickle green tomatoes on Mrs. Wheelbarrow's blog.

Despite the popularity of recipe books, blogs, and The Food Network, you can't learn to cook by reading or by watching TV. Cooking schools are a recent phenomenon. Women pay $50 to $75 (or more) per class to gain skills they lack.

The concept of paying to learn culinary skills is alien. I grew up in a home where we didn't use cake mixes, and pie was a Sunday dinner staple.

As I watched two 4-Hers demonstrate how to make their grandma's krumkake recipe at the state fair this year, I wondered who would carry on my family's culinary traditions?

I enjoyed cooking and baking as a teen, and I assumed my daughters would, too. Not so much! They're too busy. And I probably don't make it fun. After all, it's not always easy to learn from your mom.

But all is not lost. My mother-in-law, Betty Lingren, has stepped up to the plate -- literally. She's helped my girls with 4-H exhibits -- from pie crust to cherry jam and apple bread. The girls have
gained hands-on skills, along with priceless memories of kitchen time with Grandma.

And my sister's daughter, Jennifer Petersen, surprised me last summer when she said she had spent four years perfecting her coleslaw recipe. "My barbecue sauce is a work in progress," she told me.

This wife and mother of three who works away from home relies on a slow cooker. "Sometimes supper is at 4:30 p.m. to fit it in," she said. "Family meals are important. And it's cheaper at home."

Jennifer even said she wants to see my boxes of heirloom family recipes.

Our on-the-run world still hungers for home cooking. Our challenge is nurturing the next generation's culinary know-how.

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