When I think of my grandma, I think of her in the kitchen. Whether she was baking bread, making rice pudding, or keeping an eye on her old-fashioned pressure cooker (who knew they’d become trendy again?), many of her days were spent over the stove or at the kitchen sink. A fabulous cook who lived to the ripe old age of 91, she passed her cooking tips down to my mom, who has done her best to share them with me.
Whether we were born in 1900, 1950, or 1990, our grandmas learned to cook through hard work, trial and error, and hours upon hours in the kitchen. Just for fun, I polled a few foodies at Taste of Home for the tidbits of wisdom they got from grandma and still use today.
1. Follow directions first, experiment later
The first time you make a recipe, always follow the directions exactly. Then you’ll know how to tweak it to your taste the next time.
2. Take your time
Rushing is only going to result in a big mess, skipped steps or ingredients, and maybe even the need for a Band-Aid. Although we do think these brilliant kitchen shortcuts that will save you time are Grandma-approved!
3. Make perfect gravy
When you add a cornstarch slurry to a sauce (think turkey gravy), add only a little bit at a time. You never know how thick your gravy will be until it comes to a full boil.
4. Brown first
When baking up a hearty dish, always brown the meat before you put it in the oven. It makes the meat so much tastier.
5. Don’t cry
After cutting an onion, rub your hands on a metal kitchen faucet to get rid of the smell and prevent tears. This one might be a myth, but it’s so sweet that we’ll give it a try.
6. When in doubt, top with chips
Toward the end of baking a savory dish, crumble potato chips on the top and cook it a few more minutes. The top of your dish will be beautifully browned with a nice texture and salty crunch. And that’s far from the only unexpected secret ingredient that will make your recipes way better.
7. Take your frustration out on cucumbers
Smash cucumbers before cooking to remove seeds, tenderize the flesh and help them absorb flavor. Here’s how: Cut cucumbers into 1-1/2 to 2-in. lengths. Lay skin side up on a cutting board. Place the flat side of a chef knife (or a cleaver or rolling pin) over cucumbers and whack down firmly but gently with the heel of your hand, much like smashing a garlic clove. When you’re done, use them in these delicious cucumber recipes.
8. Add some acid
When making lentil-, bean- or broth-based soups, add a little splash of vinegar (1/2 teaspoon) or squeeze of lemon at the very end of cooking to brighten the flavors. The little touch of acidity brings the dish to life. We’re willing to bet Grandma knows some of these quick and easy fixes for common cooking disasters, too.
9. Get creative with your eggs
The secret to making creamy, soft scrambled eggs with a rich, salty pork flavor? Add some minced Spam. Yep, Spam.
10. Be prepared for last-minute guests
Who can forget Grandma’s old saying: If you drop silverware, it means unexpected company is coming. A fork means a female visitor, and a knife means a male visitor. That’s why you should always have something on hand to serve unexpected guests. You can start with these grandma-approved old school recipes.
11. There’s a smart way to do the dishes
Always clean your countertops before you do dishes, so if there’s a big pot that won’t fit in the rack, you know you have a clean place to set it.
12. Clean the fridge (and what’s inside it)
To keep your refrigerator spotless, always wipe off the tops, bottoms, and lids of your jars, food containers and milk jugs (don’t forget syrup and condiments!) just before putting them back in the fridge. This little step will help keep your fridge surfaces sparkling.
Finally, this is perhaps the best bit of wisdom passed down by any grandma: Cook for people and they will know you love them, and they’ll remember it long after you’re gone. So true. Thanks, Grandma. Celebrate Grandma with something sweet with these 20 delicious recipes just like she used to make.