The kids cook: white sauce

‘When it’s black, it’s done,’ advised a friend, in reply to my asking if anyone’s parents had taught them anything about cooking.

My Facebook thread had captured imaginations, and the recipes my friends shared evoked a mixture of nostalgia and surprise… ‘Veggie Bolognese with split peas, tamari roasted nuts and gomasio,’ said one. ‘Eggs with a jar of curry sauce,’ said another.

One friend woefully recalled the time her mum offered up a Christmas lunch of Quorn mince and mash with the words, ‘if there are vegetables in the pie, there do not need to be vegetables served with the pie’.

But the most revealing aspect of my survey was the number of people who said a parent had taught them how to make white sauce. The link between parenting and white sauce tuition seemed so conclusive that my veg pie friend, who has never made one, said she was ‘starting to get a complex’.

As I fondly recall my own mum directing me how to make white sauce, I begin to wonder why it seems to be such a popular milestone in teaching kids how to cook?

It could be because white sauce, or béchamel, is a dish that crosses classes. In other words: it’s super cheap to make, but you can’t go cordon bleu without a roux. You can posh it up like Delia by infusing the milk with herbs and spices, or you can just paste plain flour and melted butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, and drizzle milk in slowly, stirring all the time.

You can use white sauce to make macaroni cheese or croques monsieur; as a topping for lasagne or moussaka; or you can mix it with herbs as a sauce for fish, chicken or vegetables. One friend said it was the only recipe her mum had taught her, ‘hence my current range is limited to six meals: all involving mince.’

But six mince-filled homemade meals are better than none, and one more than is currently being advocated by the Leon Cook 5 campaign. I mean, from Jamie’s School Dinners to Green Kitchen Stories, foodie media is buzzing with talk about how we ought to educate our kids about cooking.

I wonder, though, maybe it’s enough to teach our kids how to make white sauce? It has a milky yet savoury taste that is well liked and a great means to introduce flavours: a vehicle that makes strange veg or spiced meats less weird tasting.

The value of white sauce isn’t just the number of meals you make with it, but the principles of good home cooking that it represents. Making white sauce teaches kids to be watchful, patient and creative in the kitchen. It involves transforming basic ingredients into comforting, healthy meals for those you love, and this can only be a good thing.

And if your white sauce is always lumpy, no matter, for in the words of another friend: ‘My mum was a terrible cook, but I love her anyhoo.’

Did your folks teach you how to make white sauce? What do you most remember cooking as a kid? What do you think are the best dishes for teaching kids how to cook? Please share in the comments.

This article was originally published as a guest post for BritMums.

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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