LESLIE CRISS: Advice book conjures thoughts of home ec class

By Leslie Criss / NEMS Daily Journal

“Housework, if it is done right, can kill you.”
- John Skow

“Well, where’s your cake?”
– Barbara Watson

Several months ago a little book landed on my desk. I gave it a cursory perusal and set it aside, where it became the base of a pile of paperwork on one end of my desk.
While in search of something last week, I came across the book and gave it a second look. Everything I read made me smile and took me back several decades to a class I took as an eighth-grader and again as a sophomore in high school: home ec.
The book? “Home Economics: Vintage Advice and Practical Science for the 21st Century Household,” compiled by Jennifer McKnight Trontz.
The book’s contents page is enough to turn over the ticklebox, with such chapter titles as “Your Body, Your House,” “The Happy Way of Doing Things,” “The Beauty and Utility of Left-Overs,” “The Happy Working Kitchen,” “Eradicating Household Pests” and “Making the Most of Time Off.”
Every drawing in the 175-page book is of women dressed in clothes fashionable in the ’50s. No men appear on the pages, not even to help eradicate those household pests.
Or to grace the arm of the woman when she’s “Making the Most of Time Off.”
The book took me back to junior high and high school, to Mrs. Watson’s home ec class.
Eighth grade is fuzzy, except for the skirt we all had to make – all us girls. We all followed a similar pattern – a plain skirt with an elastic waistband.
In 10th grade, we could choose whatever we wished to sew. I foolishly decided I’d make a blazer. The material was red, white and blue striped seersucker.
I did not become friends with my sewing machine during the course of the project, as our teacher encouraged. I found it uncooperative at best, and I spent at least one class period ripping out seams that looked like I’d been nipping on some cooking sherry in the home ec room’s kitchen area.
I finally finished the blazer and it hung in my closet for two or three years before I got rid of it. It was never worn and I don’t even remember what grade my effort received. I was just happy it was completed.
My favorite part of home ec in the 10th grade was something Mrs. Watson called Home Experience.
It was a project of our own choosing – cooking or sewing – we were to do every six weeks. A certain day was set aside for us to stand before our teacher and our classmates to tell about our project.
Mrs. Watson’s one rule was that we bring to class some tangible example of our work.
If we cooked something, we were to share what we cooked.
A classmate stood up one Home Experience day and began to tell the story of how she’d baked a homemade cake. She told us how she’d lined up her ingredients prior to proceeding, preheated her oven, greased and floured her pans.
Suddenly, as the baker was weaving her culinary tale, Mrs. Watson asked loudly, “Well, where’s your cake?”
My classmate’s explanation followed: “I put a toothpick down in the cake before I put it in the oven, but it never did rise up to let me know it was done.”
Surely, all these years later, she’s mastered the toothpick technique.
But, just in case, I’ll send her a copy of this book and dog-ear one chapter: “Baking the Perfect Cake.”

Contact Leslie Criss at leslie.criss@journalinc.com or (662) 678-1584.