Cooking Hints from the Cookery Maid

I believe I’ve mentioned before that there was plenty of singing in the Busk household when I was growing up. We sang while we did the dishes, while we did Saturday morning house cleaning, and while we went on long family drives. The songs we sang were the ones our mother taught us. Evie had the lyrics to hundreds of songs lodged in her head. As for our father? He listened but didn’t participate. As my brother Arlan once said, “There are eighty-eight keys on the piano, and Daddy sings in the cracks.”

So today we’ll start with one of my personal favorites of Evie Busk’s songs.

There once was a maiden to cooking school went, Vive la cookery maid.
On dishes delicious her heart was intent, Vive la cookery maid.
Her apron was spotless her cap it was neat, The figure she made was distractingly sweet, But the stuff she concocted a goat couldn’t eat.
Vive la cookery maid.

She started with doughnuts that didn’t cook through, Vive la cookery maid.
She toyed with the soup and they used it for glue, Vive la cookery maid.
The used her plum pudding to poison the rats, Her griddle cakes could have been used for door mats, With her biscuits her brother disabled three cats, Vive la cookery maid.

At last she made something, a pie so she said, Vive la cookery maid.
’Twas hard as sole leather and heavy as lead, Vive la cookery maid.
She put it away and retired to bed
A burglar broke in and upon it he fed.
When they came in the morning, the burglar was dead, Vive la cookery maid!

See there? Even as a little kid, I loved murder mysteries!

But the truth is, I grew up to be a walking talking ‘cookery maid.’ In a high school Home Ec class I mistook 1 tablespoon for 1 teaspoon. The resulting chocolate cream pie was inedible.

At Pima Hall, there was a good reason I didn’t sign up for any of the cooking duties. I didn’t want to poison anyone.

I managed to pick up a few cooking skills during my first marriage and while I was divorced—I was especially good at pancakes, but once I married Bill, he did most of the cooking. I made occasional pies—pumpkin in the fall and rhubarb in the spring. I also took charge of Thanksgiving dinner, but Bill was usually the one at the helm in the kitchen, and he was very good at it.

All that changed four years ago when a sudden onset of health issues put me in charge of the kitchen for the first time at age 75. It’s been a long learning curve. I own an InstaPot but I haven’t exactly made friends with it. My failed effort to make chicken curry in that was definitely a one-and-done affair.

But I’ve kept at it. My initial efforts at making breaded pork chops were always spectacular failures. One day Bill found a recipe for wiener schnitzel which he printed out and handed to me. I’m accustomed to starting rattling pots and pans about 5:15 in the afternoon in order to have dinner at six.

That’s what I did that day, too, but then I read the recipe. You dose the pork cutlets with lime juice and salt—then you let them rest for half an hour. Then you dose them with flour—and let them rest for half an hour. Then you dose them with the egg batter and crumbs—and let them rest for half an hour. Then you cook them over a low heat.

Dinner wasn’t ready at six pm that night. By you’d better believe the coating stuck. I’ve since breaded pork chops with everything from potato chips to Cheez-Its. Trust me, that hour and a half of resting is what makes it work. By the way, the same technique can be applied to coconut prawns.

Somewhere during the pandemic, I gave French toast a try. Last week I gave my grandson a choice between a trip to Burgermaster or Grandma’s French Toast. He chose the latter. Whoo-hoo!!!

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I made short ribs in my trusty CrockPot while the InstaPot continues to gather dust. They were delicious, and I tasted them as I went. If you decide to give short ribs a try, be advised. You’ll have to spend half an hour or so ladling grease off the top of the gravy.

While the ribs were cooking, I boiled a big pot of potatoes and mashed them—with plenty of melted butter and sour cream. That’s what Bill and I had for dinner last night—short ribs and mash. During dinner I noticed there wasn’t enough color to the mix, so after dinner I added a bag of frozen peas to the ribs. Then I grabbed five plastic takeout containers and dished up five meals worth of short ribs and mash. They’re in the freezer now, and we’ll be having those for dinners here and there along the way when I’m ready to press the easy button rather than rattling pots and pans.

I’m sure Miss Rosewarren, my high school Home Ec teacher, is spinning in her grave at the idea of my writing a blog update full of cooking hints. My Phys Ed teachers would be equally astonished at the idea of my becoming an on-line fitness advocate. Please note I didn’t say “coach.” As far as I’m concerned, the coaches I met in my past life were anything but encouraging!

As for tonight’s dinner? We won’t be having short ribs and mash. The menu for tonight is egg salad, with the eggs cooked in my six-egg egg cooker—which works like a charm, by the way. In my past life, I’ve burned up more than one pan while boiling eggs. As long as you remember to unplug it when you’re done, the egg cooker doesn’t overheat.

By the way, don’t ask me how I happen to know that last small detail.

It wasn’t pretty.

40 thoughts on “Cooking Hints from the Cookery Maid

  1. This was fun to read! For really great Instant Pot recipes check out

  2. I’m sitting here chuckling about that last comment, as “Let’s all get together and join in the fun, Vive la Compagnie! We’ll laugh and we’ll sing when our day’s work is done, Vive la Compagnie!” hums itself in my head. I’ve certainly burned a few pots or pans in my time. As a youngster, I would pop a batch of cookies into the oven and then go off to the piano to practice or play while they baked. Of course, I would forget all about them until I smelled the smoke of their burning. Nowadays, stoves have timers on them–I just have to remember to SET the timer. And here’s a tip from a not-so-good cook: in making poppycock, you need to use real butter, and not margarine. I discovered that one time when I was trying to cut financial corners in the kitchen.

  3. Ha! Ha! Ha! I can identify with many of the mishaps! My mother was a magician in the kitchen but that gift skipped me and went straight to my daughters. I bring the paper goods and bagged coffee to the gatherings! Suits me fine! ?? Thank you for sharing.

  4. It’s a great story. My wife and I were dragged kicking and screaming into using certain new cooking methods, but when it comes down to certain dishes she will drag pans and cooking pans out to do what needed to be done.

  5. This is a day brightener! Thank you for this story-it made me smile, because I have struggles too!

  6. Oh my gosh, she not only writes great mysteries but she can tell great stories to make me laugh. Love your blogs, they are so true to life.
    Thanks for starting my day off with a chuckle.

  7. I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I’m not a great cook but some people even enjoy my cooking. The problem is I’m wearied of meal planning. After 46+ years of planning a menu, I’m just worn out. The next time I ask my husband what he’d like for dinner and he tells me “it’s up to you”, I’m going to make some eggs and toast just for me. Then he can figure out his own meal.

  8. Greetings and Salutations from Yuma…
    Thanks for the breading tip. AND the short ribs and mash idea for dinner. That’s going in the next meal plan rotation.
    Did 5 miles today. Don’t have a step counter, but do track miles.
    Going to sing Vive la Cookery Maid for weeks now..
    What a great influence you are!!!
    Your Favorite Yuman,

  9. LOL. I use my instant pot almost exclusively for hard boiled eggs. Sometimes when I want potato salad I also chuck halved potatoes in. 3/4 cup water, seven minutes and done beautifully. And you don’t have to remember to unplug it. You just have to remember that you cooked them!

  10. Wonderful story! I’m from a long line of feral farm housewives but I finally mastered the Instant Pot! I was nervous about pressure cooking because my grandmother used stove top pressure cookers which blew up about once a year in her farm kitchen–family would gather to clean up the kitchen, buy another pressure cooker and Grandma would carry on. I wanted to try it.

    1. Don’t use cookbooks written for the IP or the preset buttons on th IP. Those all seem to be broken. I think of what I want to cook & google for it, then I read a few recipes for the dish. I use the recipe that reflects the closest to a consensus among the recipes for the amount of ingredients & timing. I do like to read cookbooks but I learn concepts from books like Salt Fat Acid Heat, Falastin, Jerusalem, Masala Lab, and anything by the Ottolenghi group–

    After I discovered rule 1, I had pretty consistent success with some occasional burn ups that could happen in my case with any kind of cooking and then I started adding IPs to my kitchen and discovered rule 2.

    2. The 3 qt pot seems like a good idea but it never yielded an edible meal. I never found a recipe for which the 3 qt technology, size, etc., worked. 6 qt is minimum size worth taking a risk on. I think it has to do with the volume of the pot, the pressure, and maybe the weather here in Seattle.

    3. The controls & materials on the low end IPs are adequate but inconsistent so some failures are guaranteed. I had a quantum leap in my success rate once I purchased a Pro model, but not the Duo Pro, which seems demon possessed. The 6 & 8 qt Pro models have much higher quality flat stainless steel dishwasher safe liner pots with heavy bottoms that cook evenly, upgraded steam vents that I don’t have to remember to toggle to make sure the vent is closed when starting my pot and wonderful handles on the sides of the liner pot which make it much easier to get the pot out. I prefer the Pro Plus because it’s WiFi enabled and sends messages to my iPhone when something is complete or if something has gone wrong!

    I love my Instant Pots now, and during the pandemic stay home when I got all that time back from the time bank, I cooked my way through the cuisines of various African countries, India, Korea, Japan and most recently returned to recipes from the American South. My grandma and all the grandmothers of the world are with me when I cook, making suggestions and Grandma Lyndel says “I’ll declare–” every time something wonderful turns out.

    • I have upgraded my bread machine over the years for very little money. Typically they are available at Goodwill for about $12. I went from a basic one to dual paddles and real loaf size. It was a West Bend that was about 20 years old. unfortunately it sounded like the hammers of hell while it was kneading. I finally bit the bullet and bought a new Zojirushi for $300. Quiet as a mouse and bread costs less than $1 per loaf. I would imagine that Insta pots might be available also.

    • I enjoyed your IP tips, crockpots are more my speed but a cooking device that trills “soup’s on” sounds like fun! (I gotta go, my Instapot is texting me!). Home Ec was a form of torture for me but I actually like cooking on my own terms….

  11. I loved this! Again, thank you for a great start to my Friday! I do love to cook, and so does my husband, but years ago I had an experience with eggs… Raising 5 kids, I always looked for shortcuts on Sunday mornings as we got ready for Sunday morning church. One Sunday I put a dozen eggs to boil (on high heat, as I planned to turn it off when we walked out the door, to let them cook while we were gone), in my favorite pan with a twist on lid. Went to finish getting everyone ready, walked out the door, and totally forgot about the boiling eggs. Came home to a red hot burner, pan partially melted all over the burner, and eggs exploded all over the ceiling and everywhere! I was so thankful it hadn’t started a house fire! And I lost my favorite pan… But many years later I found another pan just like it (I’ve never found or seen another one like it!). As to your poem, I have a daughter this fits totally, even though she thinks she learned to cook from me – lol! Thank you again for a super Friday!

  12. Here is my way of hard boiling eggs that always works. Put two or three eggs in a small pan and cover with cold water. Let come to a boil. Shut off the heat and put a lid on the pan. Let cool. I usually do this far ahead of when I want a hard-boiled egg.

    When the water is cold use it to water plants. The calcium in the water from the shells is good for them.

    I don’t go in for special gadgets like an egg cooker. They just clutter up the kitchen.

  13. Instant Pot – press manual put time on 5 mins. Put one cup of water in pot. I have a basket, if you don’t have one, purchase it. Put in a dozen eggs. Shut the instant pot so it sealed. When your time of 5 mins is up, let rest for 5 mins, release any pressure (you shouldn’t have any) take eggs out and put in ice water for 5 mins. Perfect boiled eggs!

  14. Agree completely that some of us were not made for cooking (our skills lie elsewhere!). Kudos for all your great books! I have become best friends with the George Foreman grill and an air fryer but still need to look up recipes and follow to the letter. Got a great kick out of reading today’s blog. Can’t wait for the next book!

  15. Vive la cookery maid, JA Jance extraordinaire! LOLOL

    I am still guffawing, especially how you left us hanging at the end.

  16. Hahahahahaha! My kids once got me a frying pan and lid made of glass so I could “see what I was burning.” Ouch!
    Also was nervous making pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law’s house and had inadvertently put a new bag of salt in my empty sugar container —-
    poor guy stuck his fingers in the filling while I was preparing for baking – he said something wasn’t quite right. I was insulted because this was one thing I made really well! (Poor man) I baked the 2 pies and just to be safe I tested a tiny piece (easily masked) and OMG – a cup of salt instead of sugar can certainly make a difference in a pumpkin pie. Sigh.

  17. Loved your story. Laughed so hard at your Moms lyrics that I had to show my husband,. He had the same reaction! Look forward every Friday for your posting

  18. We added some of T. C. Taco’s (from Tempe, AZ) avocado/jalepeno hot sauce to our last batch of egg salad and mmmmm!

  19. I sat here laughing at your funny song, such a marvelous talent, Love it!!

  20. I’m still smiling over that cooking blog. I don’t trust the instapot either and prefer my crockpot.

  21. I was not a bad cook, but didn’t care for it much. Paul does 99% of the cooking here. I had to take over a few years ago when he broke his leg, and I was so glad when he was able to get a walking cast and actually get back to the kitchen. I do all the cleanup. When we moved to New Mexico, our house didn’t have a dishwasher, so I’d wash them up after every meal. One day, he kept getting inspired, and after having cleaned up about five times, I yelled “STOP COOKING!” after he took out a mixing bowl at 10 at night. He did.

  22. Love your stories. I still remember making a hamburger rice pie and using regular rice instead of instant–didn’t know there were two kinds of rice. It was crunchy. And, my father-in-law came for dinner as mother-in-law was in the hospital. This must have been back in 1966-67, when I was still a new bride. It was awful. But, he and Dave (husband) ate it and said how delicious it was!!!

    I’ve never made it since.

  23. I love that song!
    However, I had the uncomfortable feeling that I could well be the “Cookery Maid.”
    My Sicilian-American mother-in-law was a wonderful cook- I could never live up to her example- My mother was an O.K. cook, but she was not big on comfort ingredients, such as gravy- So getting through her meals often felt like a penance-
    I really admire you for becoming the cook after years of relying on Bill-
    We usually order in, alternating between Italian and Sri Lankan-

  24. When my sister and I were in high school we belonged to 4-H and also had home ec in school. Our dad’s favorite pie was lemon meringue and one day Ruth made one. It was very good altho the crust was a little tough. Mom asked her how long she had baked it? Dead silence. Ruth hadn’t baked the crust before putting the filling in the pan. It only cooked a bit when the meringue was browned. We never let her forget this faux pas.

  25. Thank you for making me chuckle. I just love your family stories. And the cooking exploits brought back a memory. When my husband of almost 60 years and I were preparing to be married at the ripe old age of 19 we were poor as church mouses with a baby on the way. We were getting married in our small rental home with just family and a few friends. 2 days before we hosted a dinner with my lifelong best friend and our minister friend who was performing the marriage. I was making Spaghetti and sauce one of the few things I knew how to cook. I was also making a salad. I had a package of Italian dressing mix but no oil. Well I thought melt Crisco. So that’s what I did and stuck it in the fridge. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what it looked like when I pulled it out of the fridge! Needless to say there was no salad for dinner 🙂 I’m a much smarter and better cook now but I still have my moments….
    Anyhow thanks again for always making me smile and laugh.

  26. Yum! Try double mash (carrots and potatoes) or triple mash (carrots, potatoes and parsnips). You can steam an egg in a steamer basket for 10 minutes for
    a slightly soft egg (so good) or put eggs in boiling water, put on lid, turn off the heat and leave on burner for 18 minutes for hard boiled eggs. Put in ice water after they are done for easy peeling.

  27. This hit close to home. Our daughter is a Pampered Chef consultant, and as a result we have pretty close to a PC kitchen. I really like the items that make food prep easier for my old, arthritic hands.
    I do like their Air Fryer and Quick Cooker exceedingly well. The only problem is we sometimes forget how we cooked in the old days (pre PC). For example, we decided to have hot dogs for dinner one night and my husband was searching through the instruction booklet on how to cook hot dogs. When he couldn’t find any, he resorted to the internet and found a few. I asked him what was taking so long to find how to cook hot dogs. He mumbled about not finding the right temperature, cooking time, etc. I looked at him and asked, “How did you cook hot dogs before we had all these gadgets?” He looked at me, dumbfounded, and said, “I forget…” So sometimes technology and new products are helpful, and other times, they help us forget how we managed meals in the old days.
    PS – for those who are wondering, we used to either boil the hot dogs in water on the stove, or if we were really creative, we grilled them on the BBQ. How quickly we forget.
    PPS – one very positive result of the Quick Cooker and our new PC mixer – which has a wonderful timer and several settings (and is tons lighter than our old Kitchen Aid one!), he’s making and baking a lot of different breads!

  28. This is way too funny!!! I even figured out the tune for your mom’s song from the lyrics…. Keep up the good work in cooking but don’t forget about writing… I’m waitin for the next Joanna Brady mystery.

  29. Judy,
    You need one of those “pitchers” that removes grease. The spout is on the bottom so, when you pour off the broth, the grease stays in the “pitcher”. Mine is pretty small so sometimes I have to fill it twice, like for a whole, butter basted turkey. Good luck. It saves a lot of time.

  30. Home-Ec! I loved it, but loved the sewing/tailoring way more than the cooking. Thank you to our teachers, Miss Barbara Boyd, and Miss Patricia Dwerlkotte!
    These days, I do more cooking than sewing, even though the kids are grown and I’m a widow. (Hate that word.)
    My favorite dishes are chicken and noodles, beef and noodles, and of course short ribs. All with herb and butter mashed potatoes. Instant ones if you can find them. (They are like dessert to me:) Strangely, I only weigh 114 pounds. Thanks, Dad, for the thin genes!
    I season and brown the short ribs in a Dutch oven (any large pot with a lid that is oven-safe), in a little oil, then add 1 cup water and cover and bake 3 hours at 300 degrees F. Then remove from oven and let set (on stovetop) for 1 hour, to cool and absorb juices. This works great for a beef brisket, also. (Not a corned beef brisket, just a good cooked-from-raw one.)
    Gravy I learned from my husband. He did great breakfasts when we first met also. I am a pie baker, and homemade crust is sooo much better than the boughten ones!
    Well adventures in life and cooking are fun to remember. Some are only fun in retrospect years later!
    Two days ago, while dog-sitting, the bigger younger dog got into it with a skunk. The crazy noisy dog and me screaming and yelling didn’t even raise the attention of any neighbors. Pretty sure they smelled the aftermath, though. Luckily I only watch dogs at THEIR house. A lot of excitement for me. Also lucky that I was minutes away from going home, but stayed a little longer because the dog went out through the dog door, and I wanted the other one to go out, also. Yikes, SKUNK!!! I managed to keep the skunked one from coming back in and skunking up the whole house. Owner got home shortly, and she took over from there. A story that will stay with me!
    Have a good day, J.A.!

  31. I was traveling when this one showed up in my email inbox. so I didn’t get around to reading it till today. What a hoot!

    My parents used to tell stories about my mom learning to cook when they were newlyweds. She became a good cook but was always a recipe-following sort. She made sure we all knew how to handle most basic kitchen equipment. I seem to have taken a bit of a detour from her methods, though. Spent much of my 20s experimenting, and now have a tendency to toss things together without consulting recipes at all. My kids used to call it “Mom-cleaned-out-the-refrigerator spaghetti sauce”. I do stir fries and frittatas the same way — whatever needs cooking goes into it, and I have a pretty good sense for using seasonings that work.

    By transferring from Catholic school to public school after 8th grade I managed to miss home ec. Having my mom as my girl scout leader meant that I had already acquired those skills, so I didn’t miss anything except the angst.

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