I didn’t grow up in the kitchen, learning how to make home-cooked meals from scratch. Between school, sports, and the fact that my mom was required to work a full-time job, homemaking skills weren’t a primary focus in my childhood. Years later, the result was a twenty-something year old young woman who found herself eating mostly out of the freezer section, “JUST ADD CHICKEN!” kinds of boxes, and pre-seasoned foods, with her ideas of cooking being whatever recipes were suggested in a magazine she may be reading. So you can imagine why I felt a bit intimidated when my husband (then-boyfriend) asked me if I would make him some sweet tea. Not pour it into a glass for him. Like, turn water into tea. He may as well have asked me to turn it into wine. But I didn’t want to show my panic; we were newly dating, and I wanted everything about me to impress him…the odds were stacked against me, big time.
My husband grew up in Alabama, in a time and place where garden-picked vegetables were the norm, and biscuits from a can were unheard of. So he didn’t think anything about asking for a simple glass of sweet tea. Me, on the other hand…I’ll never forget what happened.
We were sitting there watching TV, when I asked him if he needed anything. He said some tea would be nice. Excited at the opportunity to do something for him, I said, “Sure!” and jumped up to head to his kitchen. I opened his refrigerator and was a little confused, because there was no tea in it. Not thinking much about it, I returned with the news that he had no tea. Not realizing that I thought this meant we had to run to the store, he figured I just meant that I needed him to show me where he kept his tea bags and sugar. So that’s what he did. At this point, all I could focus on was not letting him see me sweat. He went back to the living room, and there I was, staring at some tea bags and sugar. Ok, I can do this. I mean, it’s tea. It’s tea.
I remember poking my head out from around the wall, and I asked him, “How much do you want me to make?” This seemed like a normal question to me. I realized it wasn’t when he kind of made a face like it was the first time he’d ever been asked that. He shrugged and said, “Just a gallon?” “Ok,” I said, and disappeared back into the kitchen. I had no idea how much water made a gallon, so I did the logical thing, and filled the tea pitcher up with water. There. A gallon of water. Now, to find a pot big enough to hold all that water.
Somehow, out of the three pots and pans Steven owned, one of them was a one-gallon pot. I know this, because the water from the tea pitcher filled it all the way to the top, with almost no room to spare. I placed the tea bags in this huge pot of water, and turned the heat up. I was beginning to feel proud of myself. Then, with a inward moment of relief, I suddenly had a vague memory of someone mentioning that they add their sugar to their tea while it is simmering. “It helps the sugar dissolve better,” I remembered them saying. Thank goodness I remembered in time!
So I proceeded to add sugar to the very full pot of water…juuuuuust enough so that it didn’t run over. Alright. There it is. My first gallon of sweet tea beginning to brew. I felt triumphant. I walked back into the living room to wait.
Then it happened. About 5 minutes later, we both jumped up at the sound of his fire alarm going off! Scared to death, I ran behind him to the kitchen, where we both saw his stove top on fire! The sugar-water had boiled over, and the water had evaporated, leaving the sugar to burn. And burn it did! He immediately shut off the eye, put out the fire, and as he turned around to face me, with a laugh said, “You set tea on fire??!!”
I was mortified and at a loss for what to say. I’m not one to get really emotional, but I felt the tears of embarrassment and shame sneaking up on me. I wanted to be anywhere else! I guess he could see it all over me, because he picked me up with a hug and a laugh, and then made some silly joke about feeling more like having a Coke anyway.
More than 12 years later, that is still one of our favorite stories to remember. Part of the reason it’s so fun to think about is that it really shows how far I’ve come as a homemaker and cook. Nowadays, I make everything from scratch. I haven’t bought anything pre-mixed or pre-made or pre-frozen in probably a decade. When we have holiday dinners, our extended family wants me to prepare the meals, and I love it. My children’s favorite thing about their birthdays is getting to choose everything I cook for them that day, from breakfast and dinner, to any kind of cake they can dream up, and I get as excited about it as they do. I love cooking so much now.
The reason I say all this is to hopefully encourage you, at whatever point you’re at along your homemaking journey. Whether you’re just beginning, or you’re further along in the recipe-experimentation phases. You can do this, and be awesome at it! With trial and error, and a few pointers from others who’ve been-there-done-that, you’ll soon find yourself knowing ahead of time if a recipe needs more sugar than it actually calls for. Or you’ll know before your bread ever goes in the oven if it’s going to be as firm as a rock. You’ll know when a cake is done by the smell rather than a timer, or when your griddle has gotten too hot to even attempt making pancakes on it until it cools down. You’ll be there before you know it. So don’t get discouraged; I’ve prepared my fair share of meals where the chicken was crispy on the outside, and raw on the inside; I’ve made potato soup that was more accurately described as runny mashed potatoes. I’ve been there! I hope that reading this embarrassing story of mine makes you confident of one thing: If I can become a good cook, ANYONE can!!!