I have been cooking since I was in 5th grade. It all started one day when my mom (who was working in our family owned greenhouses and flower shop) told my sister Carla and I that she wanted us to make a meatloaf for dinner. We were to follow the recipe on the back of the Quaker Oats box. I don't know what we did wrong (maybe two cooks working together wasn't such a good idea) but it was a disaster. The only one who would eat it was Blackie, our German shepherd.
Fortunately, we didn't give up, and my mom continued to let us experiment in the kitchen. I would call her on the phone (even though the flower shop was on the same property) and ask her how to make something, and in between customers she would tell me what to do. That is how I learned to cook.
When I was in 7th grade, it became "my job" to make dinner and clean the house. I loved this position--it meant I didn't have to report to the greenhouse anymore like my other siblings at 4pm (after we got off the school bus) and I could stay at home and watch my favorite programs while I cleaned and made dinner--Andy Griffith, Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch, Dick Van Dyke, I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, and Family Affair. (You can tell what generation I grew up in). Working in the greenhouse was hot, sweaty, and dirty work--I didn't like it then, but I do now. I had worked in the business too, but the housework seemed to suit me better.
I was also in charge of shopping, so my mom would hand me a $20 bill from the cash register,(wouldn't go too far today) and have one of our employees take me to the local IGA grocery. I would pick out the meat, side dishes, and occasionally a dessert to make. My dad was a meat and potatoes man, which meant no casseroles (maybe as a side dish, but a working man wants his meat).
I appreciate the fact that my mom wasn't afraid to let me learn this way. She gave me total freedom in the kitchen. We had a large family, there were eight of us altogether, so I learned to cook for a crowd. I learned my mom's method of cooking--a pinch of this, a dash of that--until it tasted good. When I needed a recipe I would consult the Betty Crocker cookbook--the only one we had, and it is still the one I use the most today. When I married I took it with me (sorry mom).