Have you heard this story? It's probably an urban legend, but it amply demonstrates a point:
A new husband was adoringly watching his young wife cook the Sunday roast. He noticed that she cut a slice off the end of the roast and carefully placed it on top of the joint before popping it into the oven. He asked her why she did that. His wife looked at him in puzzlement and said, "That's how you cook a roast. That's what my Mom always does." The young man expressed surprise, explaining that he had never seen it done that way before (he carefully did not say that his own mother didn't do it that way). The wife gave it some thought and realised that she had no idea why her Mom did it that way, just that it was what she did.So there are times when we do things a certain way because 'this is the way its always been done', without stopping to question whether this is the best way.
So she phoned her mother.
The mother explained that that was how one cooked a roast. Her own mother had always done it that way. "But why?" asked her daughter. The mother realised she didn't know the answer to this question, just that this was how it was done.
So she phoned her mother.
The grandmother was puzzled for a moment. She had no recollection of doing any such thing and could see no reason why anyone would handle a roast in this way. But as they spoke, the middle aged woman and her elderly mother, the light dawned. "Oh!" explained the old lady, "I remember! I had five children, so I had to buy a big joint. The problem was that I had a rather small oven and a small roasting pan, and the joint was too long to fit, so I used to take a slice off the end and put it on top. But, goodness! As soon as I got a bigger oven, I stopped doing that."
But there are some things my Granny knew.
I still make tea the way my Granny taught me. As the eldest grandchild, it fell to me to make the morning tea when the family was all together in the holidays. I was well-schooled. You use fresh water every time - you don't just reboil the water that's in the kettle. You use a fairly large teapot, to give the tea space to move. You heat the teapot before using it. You put the tea into the pot before adding the water - you do NOT add the tea to the already poured water. And, when you pour the water into the teapot, it must be absolutely boiling - it must not have been allowed even a moment to go off the boil. Tea can be served with or without milk (note: NOT cream) and sugar or lemon. The one rule I break is that I use mugs instead of cups... only because I like a generous portion of tea. My ludicrously small kitchen does, however, include a few teacups, although I regret they are not paper-thin porcelain.
People who take real pleasure in a cup of tea - usually those of advanced years - often remark that I make a 'nice cup of tea'. My Granny would be proud.
I checked. There are reasons for each of those steps, and they still apply.
My Gran also boiled eggs in a specific way... and I have only just learned why. She used to bring the water to boil in a saucepan, then she would add a generous amount of salt, and gently pop the (room temperature) egg(s) into the water. If she was boiling more than one egg, she would write numbers on the eggs with a pencil and place them into the water in numerical order, and remove them in the same order.
I did what the two younger ladies in my first story failed to do. I thought about it and could see no reason to do it this way. I found my own way to boil eggs to my liking.
I keep my eggs in the fridge, because we eat fewer of them nowadays than in my Gran's day, and so need to store them there to keep them fresh. Taking an egg from the fridge and putting it into boiling water is a sure-fire way of cracking the shell. Now the salt in the water is supposed to help congeal the white, so that it does little more than bulge out a bit from the crack. But I have found that all this can be avoided if you just pop the egg into cold water with salt, and then bring it to the boil. Once it has come to the boil, 3 minutes will give you a soft yolk and 5 a hard yolk. Job done.
But wait. There's a thing my Gran used to do with boiled eggs when she was preparing finger snacks that involved the eggs being cut in half lengthwise, the yolks being removed and mixed with a few other ingredients and then piped back into the egg whites. Apparently (and this is the bit I only learned when speaking to my aunt during my recent trip back to South Africa), if you put the egg into already boiling water, the yolk stays in the middle of the egg! I have to confess that my yolks are seldom, if ever, in the middle of the egg, which has meant that my attempts to make my Gran's egg thingy have always looked somewhat amateurish.
But now that I know... just you wait until the next time I am asked to prepare finger food for a church do! I shall produce a perfect batch of my Gran's egg snacks... and even though she's been gone for 23 years, I shall no doubt shed a sentimental little tear as I picture her approving smile at my efforts.
Some things my Granny just knew.