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My black bottom pumpkin pie.

It’s happened twice in the past couple of weeks and I’m grinning like Christmas morning just thinking about it. The first time: a pair of college-aged girls was standing rapt at the display of pumpkins in my local health food store. The pumpkins were pinkish and large and squat like cheese pumpkins, so I knew they’d make great pies.

Girl 1: ‘Oh, LOOK at them! We have to get one!’

Girl 2: ‘But…what do we do with it?’

This is when I swooped in like a miniature superhero in Simple brand sneakers. ‘They’re baking pumpkins. You slice them in half, put them cut side down on a cookie sheet, put them in the oven at 375 or 400 for a half hour or 45 minutes until you can pierce them easily with a knife. Then you take them out, let them cool, scoop out the goo, puree it and drain it in a sieve over a bowl, and then you bake with it. Makes AWESOME pies.’

They squealed. College girls do this.

Girl 1: ‘Omigod we HAVE to make one!’

Girl 2: ‘Thank you so much for your advice!’

This made my day…not even kidding. Then it happened again today at an apple orchard.

20-something-or close-enough guy reading the sign: ‘Whaaaaaaat the hell is a CHEESE pumpkin?’

I swooped in again, this time rocking Eastern Mountain Sports hiking boots.* ‘It’s named that because it looks like a cheese wheel. Have you ever seen a big wheel of cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano? Someone thought these looked like a whole cheese.’ ‘Wow…!’

Then I gave him the same instructions, ending with the requisite, ‘…And they’re AWESOME for pie.’ He grinned and said thanks. I saw him a few minutes later with a cheese pumpkin teetering on one shoulder, heading for the checkout.

All of which got me thinking about the chronology of cooking.

Here in the U.S., from the mid-century back, people (usually women) were in the kitchen every day making three squares for their families. Some enjoyed it and some didn’t, but it had be done either way. Prepared foods and restaurants weren’t commonplace, so if you wanted to eat, you cooked.

War-time brought many women out of the kitchen and into the workforce; someone had to take over the jobs the boys serving overseas had left behind. Convenience foods saved working women time, and was a boon to those who’d never liked cooking. I think of a friend’s grandmother who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania in the 1920s, which translates to limited or no plumbing or electricity, a gaggle of animals to take care of, a similar gaggle of siblings to take care of, and oh right, cooking 100% from scratch every single day, all year.** She became a mother in the early 1940s, moved to the suburbs, and worked as a beautician while her husband served in World War II. I looked through her recipe file and let me tell you—once convenience foods became available, she jumped on them and never looked back.

Then the women’s movement happened in the ’60s and ’70s. And for all its virtues and heaps of blessings, it had a bastard child: some mothers who associated cooking with being chained to the stove deliberately didn’t teach their daughters how to cook. They didn’t want their daughters to suffer the same lot they had, and instead told them to go to work and never again to give a glance back into the kitchen.

I am not blaming those mothers; they thought they were protecting their children. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater, because many, many girls in that generation don’t know a peach from a nectarine. So while those girls may have been spared one fate, they suffered another. For what is more basic than real food, and what is more grievous than being distanced from it, and thus crippled? We’re talking about what we live on here.

Things are changing in the food industry; we read about new developments every day in the world of organics, GMOs, farm to fork and more. But the most rewarding, for my money, is what’s changing in kitchens. People are beginning to occupy them again, and not just to twirl a bowl of Spaghetti-Os in the nuker. They are becoming curious again. In some families, daughters are teaching their mothers how to cook, those same women who were chased out of the kitchen and told to go to work. Usually the learning goes one way, forward. But lovely, isn’t it, the learning going the other way?

I’d fallen for the young ‘un stereotype, that they subsist entirely on Ramen noodles and Taco Bell. I’m wrong. They want to learn. They want to farm—I’m reading and seeing more of this every day. They want to cook. Maybe they’ll be the generation that can find balance between work and proper cooking. They were fascinated, and I was fascinated right back.

(I’d also like a 30% kickback from the health food store and apple orchard. After all, it was my sweet talking that sold two pumpkins for them.)

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*I vary the shoes during my superhero workday. Kind of a calling-card thing. Crap, now I’m giving away all my secrets.

**And remember that in those days and in that time, if you wanted chicken for supper, you started on it at noon. With a hatchet.

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