Never too old to cook
By Judy Buchenot Buchenot@comcast.net July 5, 2012 11:26AM
Bea Harmon, a 94-year-old Aurora resident, shows her caregiver Jean Gates, one of her favorites.
Bea’s Culinary Cue
When measuring shortening, use a 2 cup glass measuring cup. Place one cup of water in the measuring cup, then start adding shortening. When water rises to desired measurement, drain off water and use shortening. For example, to measure 1/2 cup shortening, add shortening until water rises to the 1 1/2 cup mark on the cup.
Updated: August 7, 2012 6:08AM
When Bea Harmon and Jean Gates get together to cook, it isn’t always clear who is helping who.
Gates is a friend and caregiver for Harmon, who is 94. One of the many ways they pass the time together is cooking. Gates fetches the ingredients and puts items into the oven while Harmon does the measuring, mixing, stirring and testing. The two have made coffee cakes, candies, cookies and breads that Harmon can then share with her children and grandchildren who live close to her Aurora home.
Although Gates is supposed to be helping Harmon, it is often Harmon who helps Gates. After cooking for more than 80 years, Harmon has learned a few tricks that she shares with her caregiver.
“Last week we were making a cheesecake and I accidentally measured 1 1/2 liters of milk instead of 1 1/2 cups,” recalls Gates. Figuring the recipe was ruined, Gates was ready to throw everything out and start over. However, Harmon, a woman who survived the Great Depression, is not one to waste food. She instructed Gates on how to add flour, cook down the mixture to thicken it and then sweeten it with sugar.
“She saved the cheesecake,” says Gates. “I learn things from her all of the time.”
Harmon admits that she has made a few errors in her time, like the day she accidentally started a fire in the oven. She had made a cake in an angel food cake pan with a removable bottom and some of the mixture had leaked out into the oven. Harmon forgot to clean up the mess and a few days later, mixed up a batch of monkey bread. Some butter from the monkey bread leaked out of the pan, hit the forgotten spill and started to flame.
“I looked inside and saw it was burning so I shut the door real fast and waited for the flames to stop. The house filled with smoke but the burning stopped. I opened the windows and then went to a party at church,” recalls Harmon.
One of Harmon’s most treasured possessions is her “International Cookbook” published in 1929. Her mother sent her to the local hardware store where the books were being given away free and Harmon has used the cookbook since. “It has everything in it,” she says. “Even information on how to set a table.”
Harmon has written several other recipes on blank pages and keeps dozens of recipe cards inside the well-worn covers of the book.
Harmon loves to bake sweets and her family loves to eat them. She recalled one day when her son was suffering with pains in his legs as he walked home from school. “He said that he didn’t think he would make it home but when he got close, he could smell the cream puffs baking and was able to climb up the hill to our house,” says Harmon, smiling at the memory.
“Bea always has to make sure the mix is right,” says Gates. “If it is something sweet, she needs to taste it multiple times. Last Christmas, we made so many cookies but they kept disappearing so we kept baking more. After being with Bea, I am wondering if sweets are the secret to a long life.”
Harmon shares her recipes for cream puffs and filling. She says that the secret ingredient to everything she makes is TLC. “If you love to make things for the people you love, they will always taste better,” sums up Harmon.
Know someone who really likes to cook and is good at it? Contact columnist Judy Buchenot at Buchenot@comcast.net.