Chemist in the Kitchen

I scanned the hundreds of spices and other baking ingredients in mom’s kitchen cupboard and wondered what a scientist would want in her laboratory. Reaching up, I took down the cinnamon box and tapped some into a shot glass. I had two more shot glasses to fill and several doll-sized teacups. I regretted not having more scientific looking equipment, but that couldn’t be helped.

Slowly and methodically, small samples of baking soda, salt, the entire contents of a cherry flavored Kool-Aid packet, sugar, tap water and vinegar filled the various small containers. Several trips to the laboratory (living room) moved the supplies where I planned to experiment.

Satisfied that I had everything I needed, I sank down onto the floor next to the child-sized kitchen cupboard that Daddy had made for my big sisters when they were little. The off-white cupboard with small clusters of flowers painted on each cabinet door and the shelves painted red, didn’t look much like a laboratory for a scientist, but it would do. Empty paint-by-number vials would serve as test tubes.

Hosting imaginary tea parties didn’t interest me when I was nine years old. I wanted to grow up to be a scientist. I wanted to be someone who did experiments and discovered amazing things. For the next hour I happily mixed various powders and liquids in the small vials.

My final experiment for the afternoon had me tapping Kool-Aid powder, salt, sugar, and flour into one of the little vials. Topping it off with several drops of vinegar, I snapped its airtight cap on and began to shake it. Suddenly the little capsule’s top blew open and red Kool-Aid splattered everywhere. Amazed, I sat with my mouth hanging open for a few moments. I had just discovered chemicals that exploded!

When I grew up, I didn’t become a scientist, I became something better. I became a wife and mother who does a lot of cooking and baking. Unlike a scientist working in a laboratory, most of my experiments are edible and nothing I’ve made has exploded since I was nine years old. That’s a pretty good track record when you consider that I entered marriage not knowing how to make anything other than popcorn, fudge and poached eggs.

My new husband insisted that I cook some meals in a cast iron skillet. The brand-new pan he bought for me came with instructions to season it before its first use. Not totally sure what that meant, I put oil, salt and pepper in the pan before I placed it in a hot oven. I’m glad I didn’t put anything that would have pitted the cooking surface before even using the pan for the first time.

Every meal taught me new lessons. Straight up pumpkin from a can requires eggs, milk, sugar and spices to taste good. Never-ever make seafood casserole for a young meat and potatoes husband, or serve bratwurst that was in the refrigerator too long. One will make him angry; the other will make him very sick. Failed bread-making experiments may be laughed at, but the hard, little loaves were forever after referred to as “moon rocks”.

Since my family likes to eat three times a day, over the years I’ve gotten lots of experience. As I grew in confidence as a cook and baker, I kept trying to improve the recipes and thinking about substitutions, wondering, “If I exchange this ingredient for that ingredient, how will it turn out?” I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.

The other night while doing some baking, I discovered I was out of baking powder. A little research showed mixing cream of tartar and baking soda in a 2 to 1 ration would substitute for baking powder. When I told my daughter what I had done, Tammie commented, “When you’re in the kitchen, you’re a scientist like you wanted to be as a child.”

Nodding, I pointed out, “The 1967 King Arthur Flour catalogue had an article that said, cooking is an art and baking is a science. It described cooking as a form of art with colorful presentations and tasteful variations, but baking requires exact formulas or the product will turn into a disaster in the oven. So, in a sense, I really am the scientist I wanted to be!”


One thought on “Chemist in the Kitchen

  1. Clever chemist! I appreciated your sweet article. I have several of your ‘older’ copies when you were in the local paper. I would send them to you to read again & do as you wish with them—enjoy our ‘older’ work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s