No one wants to make tiny pasta bowls after work

No one wants to make tiny pasta bowls after work
                        

There's book learning, which is invaluable, of course. You can learn just about anything new by burrowing into a stack of books or plunging down an online rabbit hole. But there’s also the knowledge of practice and experience.

You can read all you want about playing the ukulele, but you’re not gonna get it until you spend quite a lot of time strumming. Or so I’ve discovered and have the dusty uke on the shelf to show for it.

Cooking is something about which you can learn quite a lot by reading, looking at pretty pictures and bingeing YouTube videos. You can then take what you’ve seen and read and start to practice.

You really only need to watch someone dice an onion once or twice to see how to do it properly. The rest is doing it over and over again. With any such task, you do it until your hands know what to do before you ask them and while your brain is occupied with the next step.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay close attention while there’s a knife in one hand and fingers on the other, but over time the task just gets done without much thought needed because you’ve done it repeatedly.

But I’m convinced there are some cooking tasks that absolutely require a live, in-person teacher. No matter how much you read or watch on a video, you have to see it done, and someone has to do it several times for you, let you have a try, correct your mistakes, show you again and so on.

Strudel. What a disaster I made of strudel. And I so confidently plunged into making it one fine autumn years ago. After a lot of what I thought, from my reading, was careful rolling and stretching, the result was an apple-stuffed brick. It was only then I looked up some video and realized strudel is something requiring a live teacher. I understand my wife’s maternal grandmother made a fine strudel, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to learn from her.

Pasta shapes, specifically, orecchiette, look like tiny, lopsided bowls and are deceptively hard to make from scratch. Even after a dozen video tutorials with big, gruff Italian women scraping out hundreds of orecchiette every minute with nothing but a cheap, dull knife, actually doing it was maddening. It’s another thing for which you need a gramma teacher.

Charcuterie. They’re the dried, fermented, uncooked, preserved sausages I love so much. I’ve wanted to try my hand at a sopressata, but in speaking with people at Hand Hewn Farm over the weekend who’d mastered the craft, it would be a fool’s game without a proper instructor. “A whole muscle is pretty much idiot proof,” I was told. “If it goes off, you’re going to know it. Dried sausages are another matter and require some knowledge.”

It makes sense. One is just a salted whole leg, hung in the right environment to dry slowly. The other is a collection of ground muscle meat, fats and flavorings. Curing meats is something you really need to learn firsthand.

Fewer and fewer families pass this kind of practical smarts down to the latest generation. It seems like we’ve passed through a century of lost knowledge and skills. As our grandmothers and mothers went to work in jobs away from home, they rightfully turned to convenience. No one wants to screw with making tiny pasta bowls after an eight-hour shift.

Still, who will teach us now? If you’re fortunate enough to have a relative who knows the things, get them to show you. You can’t learn that stuff in a book.


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