I grew up listening to older Jamaican adults encouraging my sister and I to learn how to cook.
“One day, you’ll make a good wife and you will keep your husband happy”.
“No one will want to marry you if you can’t cook”, they would say as we dutifully observed and then tried to imitate the appropriate way to peel an onion, make spinners for soup or peel the skin off of chicken legs and thighs.
My sister would always roll her eyes and say under her breath that she didn’t care about not keeping a husband happy and readily left the kitchen for neighborhood adventures like kick ball and freeze tag.
I, on the other hand, loved to watch and mimic the adults in the kitchen. It didn’t matter if it was my mom or step father washing, seasoning and cooking meat, boiling rice, peeling back ears of yellow corn or shredding carrots- I wanted to learn how to do it all. Apart of it was because I craved the attention of adults and yearned for their approval. Another more pertinent reason for my observation and mimicking of their behavior in the kitchen was because I was, even back then, a foodie! I loved food (and still do!).
I found joy in rinsing fresh vegetables, slicing, chopping and boiling. I relished the aroma of various seasonings coming together bringing our small kitchen on Aberdeen Street alive. The smell of onions and tomatoes sautéing in olive oil, or the fragrant aroma of Jamaican curry mixed with scotch bonnet pepper and garlic lifted me into another dimension of pure euphoria. The compliments and seal of approval from adults patting me on the head and sealing my fate as a dutiful future wife was secondary to the magic that happened every time the stove was turned on.
A second set of euphoria settled in and warmed my heart as I watched my family eat the food I happily prepared (never mind at the time, as a child, I watched more than I actually “cooked”). It felt good to know that I created something with my hands others would appreciate. I was needed and to a certain extent that feeling has never left.
As an adult, I still am gravitated towards the kitchen, it is here I feel more at ease and my true self. The kitchen, where all the magic happens! As an aunt to young girls and as a mentor to a young girl I would NEVER tell them what was told to my sister and I.
The end result to womanhood is NOT to cook well enough to get a husband and to keep said husband happy. I would however, encourage them to learn how to cook in the same manner I would encourage any young girl or boy to learn how to properly wash their own clothes, balance their checking account or the importance of knowing how to change a flat tire. There are certain life skills all young people should be taught. It doesn’t matter if said young person is a boy or a girl. The end result should always be independence. I shutter at the thought that many people, both young and old-Jamaican or not still hold a rather archaic view on what young girls should be taught.
We are living in different times. I don’t want to hear shit about what I need to do to keep a man happy. Rather, tell me and teach me what I need to do to keep myself happy. Your thoughts dear reader? I’ll happily read in between sautéing some veggies for a quick dinner. Blessings!