Joni Woolf: Home economics — it moved beyond cooking and sewing, a long time ago

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, January 13, 2016

When I was a ninth-grader at Quitman High School in Brooks County, Georgia, all the girls in my class took home economics — what we called home ec. We learned a little about cooking, were required to sew together one piece of clothing (I chose a print gathered skirt, which of course my mother had to complete for me), and we had the extra advantage of having a few of the popular football players in the class. It was considered a very easy course, and one they could sit through while they watched the girls agonizing over sewing a straight seam (I think none of them made a piece of clothing).
How things have changed since the 1950s! Earlier this week, I had a delightful interview with Caitlin Reid, a bridal consultant with Minick Interiors, who studied home economics — and much more — at the University of Georgia. As soon as we shook hands, I liked her: she didn’t just offer the three middle fingers that so many women do: she grasped my hand in a real handshake, and I knew right away that she was a young woman who was sure of herself — one who knew what she wanted out of life.
Caitlin grew up around adults who knew how to turn a house into a home, learning through family lore how her grandmother, Ella Pryor Reid, a farmer’s wife, created a loving, welcoming home on the family property in Sumter County. It became the place where everyone wanted to be — and where Caitlin learned that families deserve special occasions, with style. She apparently inherited that love of the homeplace, of wanting to make guests comfortable, to entertain in a fashion that was both relaxed and stylish. Her grandmother, she said, even catered weddings, and could put on a sophisticated party that was the envy of friends.
Now with a degree in family and consumer sciences in dietetics from the University of Georgia, Caitlin is helping young brides and grooms make choices related to the kinds of entertaining they hope to do when they are settled into their homes, and how to maintain good healthy habits for long and happy lives. Her degree not only covered home economics; she also studied consumer foods, journalism, nutrition and dietetics. In practical terms, it is a broad education in the art of a healthy life-style, one with statistics to back up the information Caitlin puts on the table when she is discussing lifestyles and entertaining with young couples.
The entertaining — including the cooking — that is done by young married folks today is far more casual than their parents’ style. Often the cooking is done around an outdoor grill, or stir-fried over the stove while the guests gather in the kitchen so they can all share the experience. They buy less silver, less fine china. But they still want to present a colorful, happy mix of tableware, linens and utensils. There may be less silver, but there’s no less style — it’s just their style, not their parents’.
My generation could learn something from the younger ones: Make it a little less trouble, a little more casual, and we may find that we have folks over more often, worrying less about the perfect silver and china, and more about the ambiance of a pleasant room with a few wildflowers in a vase — and a host of friends all around. I look forward to learning more from Caitlin, about health, exercise, entertaining — a host of issues she’s on top of. In the meantime, ask a few friends over and serve this easy pot roast that can cook all afternoon, untended. If guests ask what they can bring, perhaps a loaf of good bread and a bottle of red wine would be nice accompaniments. When guests arrive, just toss a salad, bring the roast from the oven and voila! You are ready to entertain.

Pot Roast
1 3 to 4 pound chuck roast
Flour, salt and pepper to cover both sides of roast
2 onions, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup cold coffee
1 cup beef bouillon
5 Irish potatoes, cut into large pieces
6 carrots, cut into large pieces
Salt, pepper and flour roast on both sides. Brown in olive oil in skillet, along with chopped onions. Place in Dutch oven, pour coffee and bouillon over roast and cook for 5 hours at 300 degrees F. After 3 hours, add the potatoes and carrots around the roast, pushing down toward bottom of Dutch oven. When done, remove to platter and cut meat into serving pieces. If more gravy is needed, after everything is removed from the pot, dissolve 1/2 cup flour in one cup water, add to pot, and stir over low heat until thickened. Add more water as necessary. Delicious.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at