July 23 • 05:51 AM

Good cook's prerogative

October 11, 2017
My mother once confessed she was a messy cook. "I can't put food on the table and wash pans too."

As a youngster, I didn't notice the disorder Mom left in her wake. My senses detected only the finished product—the scent of fried chicken, for instance.

Then I reached the height she deemed sufficient to wash dinner dishes—my induction into the age of enlightenment. I learned the painful truth that my mother didn't clean up after herself. Much worse, she assigned my older sister and me to the job.

Linda and I alternated washing and drying dishes until Mom drafted our younger sister Libby to our crew. "You clear the table," Mom told Libby, and walked away from the scene for the three of us to duke it out.

We rotated the

clearing, washing, and

drying with relative

maturity until Aunt Goldie arrived from Kentucky for another visit. I jumped with glee because our spinster aunt always washed dishes while she lived with us. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Believe it or not, she sang gospel songs while she scrubbed Mom's pots and pans.

"You girls could get the dishes done faster if you didn't argue," Aunt Goldie said.

But I've never seen anyone scrub a kitchen fast and spotless like Granny, Mom's mother. It felt like a vacation when Granny helped Mom cook and clean.

In eighth-grade, my Home Economics teacher taught my classmates and me some proper dining etiquette. For one thing, the knife, fork, and spoon have a certain place beside the plate. And a good hostess sets the kitchen aright before she serves her family and guests.

Wait a minute, I thought. Mom's the best hostess I know and she never washes her dirty pots before she sits down for dinner.

To test what my teacher taught, she divided our class into groups and graded us on how we set the table and cleaned the kitchen after making a simple meal. I remember a sense of satisfaction with my group's score.

In Mom's defense, I followed her kitchen habits after I married. However, I modified her method of using serving bowls on the dinner table. Plating our meal from the stove saved time and dishes. For special occasions, my Dessert Rose tableware with serving bowls made their show on the dining room table.

When their time came, I taught my three daughters how to set a table with our everyday Corelle strawberry pattern, and enlisted them to kitchen duty when tall enough.

All went well with one exception. My youngest daughter finagled her way out of her duty by faking some ailment. Her father caved.

In 2012, my Home Ec teacher came back to haunt me in Richardson Wright's The Gardener's Bed-Book. One of his 365 pieces concludes with "a solemn rule that no good cook stacks her pots—she washes each one as she is finished with it."

Dear Reader, like my mother, I believe in the end, stacking pots is the good cook's prerogative.

Email Iris at

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