I didn’t have a bulletin board in my bedroom when I was a senior in high school, but I created a reasonable facsimile that could have been mine back in the day. The centerpiece is a mimeographed (ooh, remember getting a fresh copy and sniffing the ink?) recipe from my home economics teacher, Dixie Gross. Don’t you love that her “Home Ec. Molasses Cake” is written in cursive rather than typed? What an artifact!
I had home economics every day because I was heading off to college to be a home ec. major. Foods, nutrition, textiles, consumer economics, interior design, clothing construction, diet therapy were all awaiting me. I was going to be a home economist. And I took a lot of crap for that, let me tell you. Good-natured kidding to be sure (My Dad would consistently harass me when I came home from college during semester breaks and when I didn’t help my Mom clean up or cook he’d say, “Oh, I guess doing dishes is a graduate course.”). He laughed when he said it–so did I, but then I laughed at everything he said–but the comment reflected home ec’s PR problem. For many it was just cooking and sewing.
But not so fast. Home Economics–known since 1994 as Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS)–had and has much to offer. Back in the 20s, the curriculum had a more homespun identification. It was sometimes called Domestic Science, but this splendid booklet from the Reading, Pennsylvania, school district lists home economics as part of its department of Practical Arts. That woman on the cover looks very artistic, I must say. She’s choreographing quite a meal there.
Tease us home-economists all you want. We’ve got the low-down on what you need to live healthfully. In a 2010 American Medical Association article, “Bring Back Home Economics Education,” by Alice Lichtenstein and David Ludwig, the authors conclude that “girls and boys should be taught the basic principles they will need to feed themselves and their families within the current food environment: a version of hunting and gathering for the 21st. century. Through a combination of instruction, field trips and demonstrations, this curriculum would aim to transform meal preparation from an intimidating chore into a manageable and rewarding pursuit.”
Their paper reports that obesity among poorer Americans may, in part, result from a “lack of knowledge about how to prepare nutritious food at home with inexpensive ingredients.” Middle and upper class Americans, however, own such slick, “smart” appliances that limited cooking skills are required. It makes you wonder how children from either environment will ever learn to make a grilled cheese, scramble an egg, toss a salad, or even identify a cantaloupe. Friends who teach FCS tell me startling things that their students don’t know, like identifying basic fruits and vegetables, washing dishes, how to set a table (Who eats at the table? Everyone’s in front of the TV). These same kids think scratch baking means opening up a cake mix and adding water, oil and eggs. And last year a middle school FCS teacher reported that many students in her school were blowing off a real breakfast in favor of quick-to-chug energy drinks. No wonder our adolescent obesity rate in the U.S. is up to 35 percent.
These kids need Home Ec–oops FCS. And this cake isn’t a bad place to start. It would get kids in the kitchen, and the end result would be a decent snack, dessert, even breakfast. Especially when served with a tall glass of milk alongside.
Home Ec. Molasses Cake
(1 square pan 8″ x 8″)
2 cups sifted flour 1/2 cup soft shortening (I used butter)
1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger 1 egg (beaten)
1 teaspoon cinnamon 3/4 cup molasses (the recipe called for ‘Grandma’s’ brand)
1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup water (microwave for 1:30 seconds)
1. Sift together flour, soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
2. Cream shortening thoroughly in mixing bowl. Add sugar gradually and cream together until fluffy.
3. Add egg and molasses to shortening mixture. Blend. Then add flour mixture and water alternately, a third of the amount at a time. Beat after each addition.
4. Bake in prepared pan (spray with cooking spray and then dust with flour) in slow-moderate oven, 325 degrees for 50 minutes or until done.
5. Cool in pan.
6. Serve plain or with topping of hot applesauce, whipped cream or ice cream.
Note: This is a very thin, runny batter, but you’ll be rewarded with a rich, moist, delicious cake. Unbelievably good. And easy–even a senior in high school could do it.