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210503 May 3, 2021


Learning to Cook - Episode 2
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

        Last week I ended my story with the feat of learning how to cook a grilled cheese sandwich. More dishes soon followed with the mastering of frying eggs, bacon, and of course fried bologna. All of these were not complete meals but only main dishes at the time.

        Soon afterward my association with the Boy Scouts began, and with that I learned how to cook outdoors. The first main dish I remember learning to cook was what is called by many a “hobo steak.” This was accomplished by ripping off a large piece of aluminum foil (still called tin foil at the time by my grandmother) and placing it on a flat surface. The construction was done in tiers, with the first tier being a layer of thinly sliced potatoes. That was followed by a similar layer of carrots. Most people added a layer of thinly sliced onions next, but I avoided that layer since onions and my digestive system never seemed to get along. The next topping was a “minute steak” or what many call a cube steak today. That was a hamburger shaped piece of meat which had been treated with something that poked a plethora of tiny holes in it. Atop the meat I added salt and pepper and then repeated the vegetable layers, finally wrapping the top of the aluminum foil over the pile. The next step was easy as I simply carefully placed the aluminum package into the embers of the roaring campfire. After an untimed period it was turned over to cook on the other side. After a while it was removed from the fire and tore open from the top to leave the rest of the foil as the plate from which I ate. A meat and two (or three) vegetables – a whole meal.

        One of my favorite campfire treats was an apple pie cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven. The pie was assembled in the cast iron pot and then the lip was placed on the pot. It was inserted into the campfire and using a small shovel a heap of glowing embers was shoved atop the lid. Again, I let it cook for a while and the top of the pie was brown and crusty from the embers on top of the lid while the rest of the pie was cooked by the embers below. It was not hard for me to earn my Cooking merit badge. I took my skills for granted until I went to the Air Force survival school and saw that many city fellows has never even built a campfire, much less cooked on one.

        Back at home my menu was also growing. I think my first complete meal was created with the help of a famous Italian chef – Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. This was about the time I became aware of the introduction of a complete Italian meal all in one easy to prepare package.  The kit which was bought at  Kroger’s was a small box which included spaghetti noodles, sauce, and even a small can of cheese for a topper. I found it fun to cook from the kit, but soon found TV dinners gave me more versatility.

        I think the first pizza I ever ate was also courtesy of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, when he introduced his pizza kit to augment his spaghetti dinners. Again, this was long before freezer isles were filled with frozen pizzas or you could call any number of places and have them delivered.

        So I conclude my learning to cook tales as I share some of the comments I received after last week’s story. I posed the question:

What was the first thing you learned to cook by yourself?

Tom Gilbert, LHS '67, "Eggs."

Dianne McClure, LHS "64, "Cornbread. I was 12 years old my daddy made good cornbread and I wanted him to teach me how to make it. I mostly taught myself to cook using a Better Homes and Garden cook book. It was a graduation gift from the doctor I worked for when I was a Senior at Lee."

Joy Rubins Morris, LHS '64, "Popcorn. I was about 10 and Mom was too busy so she told me I could do it. This was the old stove and pot shaking method."

Betty Jo Key (Scholter) LHS '65, "Bacon and eggs."

Maura Farrell Daniell, LHS '68, "Tuna Puffs, Baked Alaska. My younger sister Chris hated tuna puffs! Refused to eat them, causing supper time wars with our dad. After that, all I had to do was threaten to make tuna puffs. Instant leverage. Its a good thing she can laugh about it now!"

Gail Brady Ayres, LHS '66, "Cornbread. I was 8, we had corn bread every night and with a new baby sister Mom needed help cooking"


        Memphis, TN -   Thanks again to all my classmates who continue to contribute to "our" story. A lot of things we take for granted today were really an experience back then. I am sending out a special request to you this week. If any of you have a copy of a telephone bill from the 50s or early 60s I would love to have a copy of it. Kids today would never believe what we paid for long distance calls back then.