Boil first, then mash


Last year, British schoolchildren (ages six and seven) went to a farm and were baffled by the long, pointy, orange things. (Those who specialize in plant biology have a special term for these strange objects: carrots.)

Their older siblings don't seem to be faring much better. A three-year study revealed that modern Scottish schoolchildren lacked skills such as understanding clothing care instructions, sewing a button, and knowing that you boil the potatoes before you mash them.

Okay, but let's look at those clothing care instructions. Do you know what it means if you have a square with a solid circle inside and two underlines? What about a triangle with two diagonal stripes? I don't know either. (They mean "Tumble dry, gentle cycle, no heat" and "Use non-chlorine bleach as needed", respectively. More symbols deciphered here.)

And while it's true that I can sew a button, I am unable to sew a straight line or with constant tension.

I'm sure every generation bemoans lost skills. Our ancestors probably shook their heads in disappointment when their grandchildren demonstrated themselves unable to churn butter, wash clothes by hand, or operate a mangle.

On the other hand, you really ought to know what a carrot looks like and that you boil first, then mash. I doubt carrots and mashed potatoes are going to go out of style any time soon.

Comments (40)
  1. Frank says:

    A friend – she was at university – once asked me "Should you boil potatoes in water?"

    I once asked in a cloth shop to explain me the care instruction symbols. The question surprised them – they could not help me.

  2. Kevin Jump says:

    "I doubt carrots and mashed potatoes are going to go out of style any time soon."

    ah, but "for Mash get Smash" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/572903.stm)

    ok it isn’t anywhere near as nice, but I bet home churned butter tasted better than margarine.

  3. Richie Hindle says:

    Recently I bought some broccoli at my local supermarket. I had to tell the checkout boy, who was about 17, what it was.

    (Mind you, I’ve just used a spell-checker to find out how to spell ‘broccoli’ 8-)

  4. Carlos says:

    In the UK our potatoes are mashed before we cook them:

    http://www.premierfoods.co.uk/brands/smash.cfm

  5. RoseTintedSpectacles says:

    I learnt about carrots & potatoes by spending time help my mother with the cooking.

    These days everyone is encouraged (peer pressure & government incentives) to be as productive as possible for the economy. One point of view is that in doing so we squeeze out time for important parental / child bonding and learning. There also appears to be a trend towards placing greater responsibility on schools to provide all the education a child needs (thus freeing parents of the responsibility and the need to "waste" productive time).

    In the One Minute Manager Meets The Monkey, there is a discussion of the consequences of inappropriately assigning responsiblities. All too often the parent/child relationship is reversed meaning that children are given no responsibilities. Parents accept responsibility for everything and in doing so disenfranchise their children. An example would be

    Kid: "Mum, my button has come of my shirt"

    Mum: "Okay, put it on the top of the pile"

    This could suggest to the kid that only mums can do the sewing. If they are given the responsibility (note this takes time and won’t ensure a strong button first pass) then they will gradually learn how to do these things.

    Perhaps the children should decide which skills they keep once they have grown up. If parents make explicit (or implicit) decisions about what to not teach their children then what happens if we forget to teach them important things?

    There was a recent case in the UK of 3 sisters 16, 14 and 12 who have all had babies. Their mother was quoted as saying "I think the schools should give better sex education".

    I’ll shut up now…

  6. kbiel says:

    Yes, my grandfather died heartbroken, knowing that I would never know how to drive a team of horses pulling a wagon.

  7. JamesW says:

    @Frank

    ‘ A friend – she was at university – once asked me "Should you boil potatoes in water?" ‘

    I had a similar cookery wtf at university: ‘How do I know when the water is boiling?’. Arts students.

  8. Ben Hutchings says:

    Raymond wrote: "Do you know what it means if you have a square with a solid circle inside and two underlines? What about a triangle with two diagonal stripes?"

    They mean "buy something that’s easier to look after". I have a few items of woollen clothing and some silk ties but in general I buy clothes that can go through a 40°C or 50°C wash cycle.

    When it comes to cooking, though, I cook more-or-less from scratch because prepared foods tend to be either unhealthy or very expensive (or sometimes both). Thankfully I was expected to help with the cooking in my parents’ home and to cook one dinner a week from some time in my teens (I forget exactly when).

  9. (6) says:

    One of my housemates (he’s 21) has recently started cooking. Recently he asked three unbelieveable questions:

    1) How do you boil?

    2) (Pointing to the cooker) Which knob is for boil?

    3) Which pan do you use to fry?

    I don’t think I ever had to ask any of these questions! :)

  10. James Schend says:

    Instant mashed potato is nasty.

  11. Matt says:

    Andreas, that’s pure genius! Please invent such a machine. I’m sure I would have far fewer pairs of pink underwear if such a machine existed.

  12. Ryan says:

    Maybe it says something that my first thought was "Great, Raymond’s favorite HomeBrew receipe."

  13. baljemmett says:

    Andreas: my washing machine and tumble dryer both have symbols on the controls that match those on my clothes; they’re slightly different from the set Raymond linked to though (for the most part, the one or two bars underneath the symbol are replaced by a single bar, or a single bar divided into two or three segments). Maybe it’s a regional thing?

  14. Scott says:

    " Maybe it says something that my first thought was ‘Great, Raymond’s favorite HomeBrew receipe.’"

    I’d think that he’d be smart enough to know that with beer you mash and then boil. Although, I do like seeing the homebrew recipes that engineers come up with.

  15. Mike Dimmick says:

    Laundry symbols used in the UK: http://www.ariel.co.uk/cl_allsymbols.html. Note the use of specific Celsius temperatures rather than "Cold", "Warm", "Hot".

    You still end up consulting the washing machine’s manual to find out exactly which buttons to press to achieve the desired result, though.

  16. Tony Cox [MS] says:

    UK clothing care symbols show the correct washing temperature in degrees C. Unfortunately, now that I live in the US, I am faced with a washing machine which only lists things as "warm" or "hot" on the controls, which isn’t terribly useful.

    Furthermore, a lot of the clothes I buy in the US also list the temperature (being European imports and the like). So it’s not as though my wardrobe will gradually match the hardware as I buy new stuff.

    And I have absolutely no clue what "perm press" means…

  17. When I go to buy vegetables and stuff, I need the clerk’s help to find the more /esoteric/ stuff like lettuce & cabbage (I always confuse those two), not to mention stranger stuff.

    But then, I don’t cook.

  18. Jerry Pisk says:

    Unlike Tony I actually find washing clothes in the US much simpler than in Europe. I never knew which one of the 22 available programs to use. Now I just split my clothes into two piles (underwear and towels into one and the rest) and wash them on hot and warm, usually with perm press as that’s what the default seems to be. If I only have whites I add bleach. Much simpler.

  19. David Heffernan says:

    Actually the best things to do with carrots are:

    1. Steam.

    2. Slice very thin and cook slowly in butter.

    3. Grate and eat uncooked as salad.

    Boiling is actually a really bad thing to do to a fresh, tasty carrot but sadly boiling the taste out of vegetables is a British speciality.

  20. Andreas Haeber says:

    Laundering would be *so* much easier if the laundry machine used the same symbols as the clothes are marked with.

    Even easier would be RFID-marked clothes so the laundry machine could find the least common denominator from the laundry and wash with that program. Or deny the combination :)

  21. kats says:

    There’s nothing wrong with using a lazy-evaluation technique to learning these skills. If you ever need to know what a carrot looks like, just google it.

  22. Gareth says:

    "perm press" is short for permanent press – which is a chemical treatment applied to fabrics to reduce wrinkles and creases from appearing. According to wikipedia, the chemical used is methanol (the simplest alcohol).

  23. Jason Spiro says:

    operate a mangle

    What is a mangle?

  24. Alexey Kats says:

    There’s nothing wrong with using a lazy-evaluation technique to learning these skills.

    > If you ever need to know what a carrot looks like, just google it.

    That might not help at all when you are faced with reverse problem – what is it you are looking at? What’s its name? You know it’s long, orange, but if you try to google for "long and orange pointy objects" will it help?

    It’s much easier to map name to description than other way around.

  25. Norman Diamond says:

    British schoolchildren (ages six and seven)

    > went to a farm and were baffled by the long,

    > pointy, orange things.

    Well they can hardly be blamed for that. A few months ago I read about some of the garbage that British schools serve their schoolchildren, and surely no one except school administrators and their victims would think of it as food. Real food belongs to a completely different universe.

    > I am unable to sew a straight line or with

    > constant tension

    That’s what machines are for. But I must admit I don’t know how to use that kind of machine, I use other kinds.

    > or operate a mangle

    Hey I can do that. Start with one computer running Windows and one external hard drive.

  26. Tony Cox [MS] says:

    "perm press is short for permanent press – which is a chemical treatment applied to fabrics to reduce wrinkles and creases from appearing. According to wikipedia, the chemical used is methanol (the simplest alcohol)."

    You miss my point. Knowing what the process is, in fact, supremely unhelpful. What I really want to know is: if I set my washing machine or dryer to that setting, how hot is it going to be?

  27. Michael J. says:

    Tony Cox: "UK clothing care symbols show the correct washing temperature in degrees C. Unfortunately, now that I live in the US, I am faced with a washing machine which only lists things as "warm" or "hot" on the controls, which isn’t terribly useful."

    There is an explanation for that. Most American machines are of antiquated top-loading style, and they use two inlets for "hot" and "cold" water and they mix "warm" out of the two. I used the quotation marks because it depends only on your apartment water heater how hot water is. And if the heater is far away, you may fill half of the tub with cold water even if you selected "hot" cycle.

    American machines do not have built-in water heater, which makes exact temperature marking meaningless. Because of that a regular American machine cannot pre-wash in "warm" cycle to make enzymes work, and then heat water up to make bleach and other components work. In short, American washing machines suck big time.

    Apparently, they are specially designed to pursue people to buy more cheap T-shirts and to throw them away after couple of washes and to buy more. This is how american economics works.

  28. NickFitz says:

    A housemate of mine at university, having never had to cook for himself before, attempted to make fried egg and chips (en-us: fries). He couldn’t understand why the egg didn’t come out whole and flat after he’d dropped it into the deep fat fryer on top of the chips :-)

  29. AndyB says:

    <i>You know it’s long, orange, but if you try to google for "long and orange pointy objects" will it help? </i>

    Asking that on the internet will help, but only if you’re, erm.. having marital issues.

    When I go to the supermarket and buy fresh(ish) food, the wrapper always has cooking instructions on it. Green beans? ‘simmer gently for 5 minutes, or microwave in a pan of water for 10’ – kind of thing. As long as I know the very fundamentals (what does ‘simmer’ mean?) then I’m fine.

    Even my microwave comes with cooking instructions for all kinds of foods, including plain old veggies.

  30. Asd says:

    What is a mangle?

    A mangle is a device that you tell your younger sibling to put their fingers in and then turn the handle :)

    I’m always amazed at how few people really understand what milk is. And how no-one seems to be disturbed by inter-species homoerotica/paedophilia in milk ads.

  31. greenlight says:

    I thought you boiled them, mashed them, and stuck them in a stew?

  32. Moz says:

    "These days everyone is encouraged to be as productive as possible for the economy."

    Exactly. That means paying for as much as possible, because GDP only counts what you pay for. Anyone cooking their own food, or heaven forbid, actually growing it, is cheating the system by not circulating money. They’re also bilking the taxpayer because there’s no sales tax on homemade stuff. Heretics. Burn them all!

  33. Adrian Garside says:

    My wife is a teacher and had one student who asked ‘Is France a city in England?’ (we’re British). She isn’t especially dumb or anything – she’s just clueless. A lot of the children my wife teaches have some amazing gaps in their general knowledge. Mind you, this particular one asked almost the identical question 6 months or so later…

  34. Adrian Garside says:

    BTW – it was the student that was clueless, not my wife :). I’d never say that about my wife. At least, not anywhere within right hook distance :).

  35. Anonymous says:

    You could think of this as the advanced version of Darwin’s law. As people get more and more specialized on their own thing, they’ll be more and more clueless on general facts of life (for instance, cows are not violet, even though many kids in Europe might think so [1])

    Eventually, they’ll get so specialized that they will be wiped out by cataclismic events such as recession periods in the global market. A knowledgeable person will never be unemployed.

    Being a bit too cynical, it’s cool that some people are stupid enough (and kind enough) to wipe themselves out of the gene pool[2], thus improving the overall level of intelligence in human populations.

    [1] http://www.dw-world.de/english/0,3367,1430_A_1264713_1_A,00.html

    [2] http://www.darwinawards.com/

  36. Paul says:

    You know it’s long, orange, but if you

    >try to google for "long and orange

    >pointy objects" will it help?

    It does now; Google turns up this thread. :-)

    (I think I have ‘safe search’ turned on; experiments with it off are best not done from work.)

  37. Oh geez, yet another "I Think Amercian <thing> Sucks, Thus All Americans Are Dumb" post.

    First, you can buy front-loaders if you want; piles of each are five minutes down the road at Sears. Choosing between the two is a tradeoff. Having lived in Europe for a while, I came to hate the slow, tiny front-loaders. I can’t imagine using one for a family of four; I’d need to buy two. Oh, and they cost 2-3x as much.

    Even so, my "antiquated" top-loader has this crazy newfangled thing called a thermostat, which measures the temperature and mixes the hot and cold accordingly to achieve the right temperatures at different points in the cycle.

    The manual says distinctly (paraphrased) even if you only plan to use cold, be sure to also hook up the hot intake, so the proper temperatures can be regulated. Cold is regulated at 75F, and warm regulated 100F. Hot is kept as hot as possible, and depends on the intake temperature.

    So, you can most certainly do a warm pre-soak, and follow with wash. (And since my water heater is about 5 feet away, I can control the hot temperature too, anywhere from "lukewarm" to "first-degree-burn"). In fact, there’s a button for it that will automatically do it for you.

    After all, the ground water might be too warm in the summer. Only an idiot would buy a washing machine without a built-in water cooler.

    If the silly idea "American washing machines are designed only to wear out clothes" was true, then "front-loaders are designed for people who like dirty clothes that smell bad" is equally true. But note they’re both false ;)

  38. Michael J. says:

    "Oh geez, yet another "I Think Amercian <thing> Sucks, Thus All Americans Are Dumb" post."

    Could you please quote, where did I say this? Is your reading ability affected by holidays and uncontrolled amount of beer?

    "First, you can buy front-loaders if you want; piles of each are five minutes down the road at Sears."

    Not exactly piles. You would not see many brands and sizes in a regular store, maybe LG, Siemens/Bosch and Kenmore/Frigidaire. I found only one small front-loader by Frigidaire in the area where I live, and the quality of its rubber, plastic and drum was below standards. Most other front-loaders are of large size, 3 cu.ft. and more.

    "Oh, and they cost 2-3x as much."

    The cheaper the better, right?

    "Even so, my "antiquated" top-loader has this crazy newfangled thing called a thermostat, which measures the temperature and mixes the hot and cold accordingly to achieve the right temperatures at different points in the cycle."

    So, it just pumps the water through the machine until it gets hot. Almost as rational and environment-friendly as Chevrolet Avalanche.

    "So, you can most certainly do a warm pre-soak, and follow with wash."

    Did you actually read my post? First, you cannot precisely control the water temperature in top-loading machine, period. Second, it does not work without hot water, because it does not have built-in heater. Third, if you want to hot-wash your clothes, you may need to adjust the main house heater, I guess you find this convenient. Fourth, without built-in heater you cannot start with cold water, and then heat it up during the wash. Why start with cold? Because enzymes are destroyed by hot water, so for them to work one should start with warm wash, and then to heat up the water to make bleach and other components work. You can google the word "enzymes". Consequently, sixth: front-loaders wash longer but better. Fifth, front-loaders use less water, thus friendlier for environment.

    "If the silly idea "American washing machines are designed only to wear out clothes" was true, then "front-loaders are designed for people who like dirty clothes that smell bad" is equally true. But note they’re both false ;)"

    Strange deduction. My last paragraph probably needed a smiley. Anyway, front-loaders do wash better, so your statement does not hold water.

  39. Matt,

    I’d still have the same amount of pink underwear, but I wouldn’t have as good an excuse when I got caught.

  40. Scott Tringali says:

    Oh I can’t resist…

    Not enough? Only 31 to choose from at Sears: http://www.sears.com/sr/javasr/search.do?BV_UseBVCookie=Yes&vertical=APPL&cat=Laundry+Care&displayTarget=Subcategory&pageNum=2&subcat=Front+Load+Washers

    But it’s not just cheap. There is a difference between a $150 no-features washing machine, a $500 front loader that has a large capacity and good features, versus buying one or two front loaders at $1200 a pop to cover the same capacity/time washing.

    So, is the difference is worth the $1000-2000 price differential? Maybe moral superiority is worth it for some.

    It’s sort of like buying an electric hybrid car; it only makes financial sense to do so the price you save in gas outweighs the price you pay for the special engine and service when it breaks. You can argue eco-friendly all you want, but other people may prioritize convenience or value over that.

    The pre-wash runs at whatever temp you want. Thus, if I had something ridiculously dirty, and I actually needed a pre-wash — something which never happens because I work in an office, not a farm — I could run the pre-wash on warm. Then, do the regular wash on hot. Believe it or not, there are knobs for that. (Yup, it uses a bit more water. See above.) But it’s not impossible.

    But… I’ve never needed to do any of the strange acrobatics you recommend, and yet my clothes are clean. The only exception is my tux, which is, uh, dry cleaned so that don’t count.

    It feels like saying "Word is terrible compared to Emacs, because you cannot precisely control the memory allocation algorithm via a customized LISP function." Sure, great, but… who cares? Hot-warm-cold is good enough for me.

    My last deduction/joke was based not on that front-loaders don’t wash well, but they are small and slow. I’ll be the first to admit that front loaders wash better, and are more efficient.

    I’d just never keep up with the laundry that way – not with a big family. I remember wasting entire *days* when trying to do a few loads of laundry when I lived in Germany.

    But sometimes, technically superior things don’t win. It doesn’t mean the user is stupid, or their countries economy is broken. It means they have a different priority than you thought. Consider VHS and beta. Why did it win? Well, you could fit a movie on a VHS.

    Being a brewer, I’m aware how enzymes work! It’s just that I care more about beer, than a maintaining $20 of pair of jeans 3 years vs 2.5 or whatever the difference is.

    Whoa… I’d never thought I’d get into an washing machine debate! Time for that beer.

Comments are closed.