I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve been asked, by people who can see, how
I carry out many of the basic kitchen tasks without any sight. The
answer is, that I’ve learned how to do things safely over many years. My
tuition really began when I was a little girl, in the kitchen with Mum when
she was preparing meals. This was at the time before the availability
of many of the convenience foods that are around today. We would have
been able to open a packet of frozen fish fingers or peas, and, of course we
could use tinned food along with dried packet mixes, but, in the
mid 1950’s, there was not a complete ready meal in sight. It was
a case of making a nourishing meal from home grown, good wholesome natural
Mum would talk to me and tell me what she was doing as she worked, whilst
peeling the potatoes and vegetables, making pastry or a cake, scrambling
eggs, etc, and, knowing me, and this has since been confirmed, I always
wanted to try to help her with absolutely everything. As a totally
blind child of 2 or 3, this meant using my hands along with Mum’s words to explore
and identify ingredients and utensils by touch, learning as much as a
small child is able, about each stage in the preparation of a meal until
every task was completed. Suddenly, somehow, soft pliable pastry and gooey
cake mix became magically edible. As a child, this seemed fascinating
and miraculous to me. I learned a great deal as well as having fun. I’m
certain that this is where my love of cooking really began.
Later, I took the advice of professional domestic science teachers and also
found my own, safe way of doing things. I was taught all the basic
cooking methods whilst at school together with my other friends. This
tuition was carried out in a supervised, but orderly kitchen environment using
mostly ordinary, unadapted, readily available equipment and utensils.
I will never forget my first cookery lesson, I was 8 years old, as along
with the other girls from my class, I was taken to see the new domestic
science room, we were going to learn how to make ham sandwiches and a
pot of tea. As I write this, the smell of the brand new wood, in
the brand new cookery room mingled with the steam rising from the kettle on
the gas hob comes straight back to me now! Firstly, with great excitement, I
remember being taught how to spread the butter on new soft bread for the sandwiches
and carefully measure out the water to make the pot of tea. Without being
able to see, I had safely poured boiling water from a steaming kettle into a
teapot, then into a cup, what’s more I’d used a small sharp knife to slice the
ham sandwiches. Then we all sat around chatting and enjoying the end result.
As I think back now, how innovative and brave a decision it was both of the
education authority and staff at school, to take the initiative and have the
courage to teach totally blind children these potentially dangerous but vitally
important life skills. It is a pity, in my opinion, that more children,
both with and without sight, aren’t taught them in all schools today.
In the lessons that followed, I made breakfast, starting with porridge in
a saucepan, and toast under a grill, this was in the time before electric
toasters were readily available. The more I did, and the more lessons
I had, the more my confidence grew. I moved on to the preparation
of other traditional full English breakfasts cooked on the hob and under the
Next came my introduction to the oven with casseroles and easy meat dishes,
followed by the more adventurous cakes, pastries and complete 3 course meals!
People who have their full sight, either take the time to work out how
they would prepare food and cook a meal if they couldn’t see, or they are completely
baffled and are convinced that pouring tea or making toast would be impossible,
whilst baking a cake or cooking a full meal because of their complexity, would
be absolutely out of the question. This is because they immediately imagine
themselves in the unthinkable unlikely situation of suddenly. Not being able
to see. What would they do if they were left on their own in the kitchen
without anyone to help, after all, they must eat to live!!
If someone was discovered to be gradually losing their sight, the local rehabilitation
officer or other professional worker would be contacted to come in to the home
and help them re-learn domestic and household skills. A person who has
and will always have, full sight, couldn’t possibly imagine what it would be
like to be blind. When one has little or no sight, it takes
time and patients to learn all the necessary domestic skills and to ensure
the safe use of equipment, in order to become fully functional in, what
could potentially, be a very dangerous environment.
In the following pages, I hope to dispel the myth that blind people cannot
or should not cook, and that, cooking and the preparation of food, if learned
in a familiar environment where everything is kept in its place and tasks carried
out methodically, is not only safe but fun too! Not to mention
that there will always be, the certainty of producing that satisfying,
tasty meal in the end!
The only way to build confidence and gain those skills is by repeating the
same task over and over again, until you feel that you could “do it with
your eyes closed.” I use this expression quite naturally as it is often
quoted, tongue in cheek, meaning that what is being learned has been achieved
to its full potential without any hesitation or fear.
I am simply going to tell you, in my own words, how I learned initially,
to carry out those basic cooking tasks and then leave you, through experience,
to find your own method of working with your favourite equipment and utensils.
I would never say that there is only one way of doing things, what I write
here is just to give you advice and lend a helping hand wherever I can.