I just had a great conversation with a friend who said something in passing that had me thinking…
She said that although she had made homemade cheese, bread, pasta, and made all sorts of different foods over the years, she added that she was “over the experience” of it all. At first I didn’t know exactly what she was meaning…but after walking through the parking lot and driving back to my office, it struck me what she was actually saying. Come to find out, she spent part of her childhood in Italy where she learned to cook from her mom, grandmother and so on. This is where she learned to make many of these food items, not merely because she saw someone do it on TV, or even as a form of “personal growth” but rather as a means to survive.
This whole thought is interesting to me. Cook to survive. Not just because it is a fad or that there is now an uptick in the “coolness” factor these days. The reasons we should learn to cook, I maintain should be different than that.
I have always been fascinated with really good food, especially food that is relatively new to the US. For example, various ethnicities throughout Asia have carved a culinary niche in America, especially in the Seattle area, a proverbial gateway to the Pacific. Asians from all over that big continent, are bringing not just national food, rather, they are bringing regional, even pockets of regional cooking to our great country. Most of this food is fairly simply prepared, and even when not a quick meal, the ingredients are typically easier to come by, either grown, bartered for, or found in local markets. Many of the great meals are made with lower cuts of meat, homemade stocks made out of old bones, limp veg, and blasted with brilliant herbs that in a lot of places can be found in the wild. Peasant food. Certainly other regions of the world, even in our own country, can boast similar contributions to cuisine. What was thought of as “poor folks” food, food that the “elite” and “nobility” refused to eat, are very often some of the best bits and tastes in the world. Why is that? Well, I think it is in Chrisa’s story above. Grandma, mom, and now daughter learned to cook because they HAD TO, with whatever was available. Have cow, sheep or goat’s milk? Find a way to stretch that into mozzarella, or homemade ricotta, or some other cheese. I imagine when the chickens gave up extra eggs, there were double and triple batches of pasta made. Just like today, late August and early September bring a crushing amount of produce from the gardens and farms. These families literally couldn’t afford to waste, they found a way to can, freeze, or barter with other families for missing pantry items. They learned to cook because they had no other choice but to do whatever they could with the resources they had available to them. Lets put it this way, they weren’t going to be able to find a tomato from Chile in January.
I like the idea that a lot of people have become great cooks out of necessity. To me, this is reason number one as to why people cook. Necessity. Purely to survive. I think it is good to learn to adapt, be resourceful and otherwise find a way to stretch out the food around us for our cultures, and ultimately our families.
As I think about raising my sons, I worry that if I don’t teach them something about cooking, about how to handle a knife, and about what other cultures contribute by way of good, high-quality, and many times, simple foods, they may never learn. Sometimes, when the funds are low, I too have to think about how to make food stretch, how to get more out of less, how to “think ahead” and make things that will serve multiple purposes and meals, how stocking a pantry with homemade versions of things I can easily buy (granola, stock, bread, even cheese), can not only keep the monthly food bill down, but can also help ensure I have some say in how my sons’ eat.
This too, is becoming a necessary reason to cook. Living in uncertain economic times, as well as being confused as to the very origin a lot of our food. Not to mention the fact that we are being inundated with media, blogs included, giving us more information about the harmful affects of various foods, and what foods we really should be eating, it is easy to see why it is overwhelming and most people just throw their hands up and head for the nearest drive-thru window. The idea of being raised in an old Italian village, learning from Grandma sounds appealing, even romantic. But we must remember the reason she cooks. It is because it was necessary then, and now more than ever, to learn to cook.
Stay tuned for a future post where I want to share another reason I think we should learn to cook…