Friday, February 22, 2013

What's cooking?

Have had a couple of conversations prompted by the horsemeat hoo-ha lately, about how so many people seem to rely on processed food. Considering the number of cookery programmes there are on the telly, it's difficult to understand how anyone can plead ignorance in the kitchen, said my son. Yet many do. In a recent Channel 4 episode of Superscrimpers, a couple was shown how to save money by cooking some of their favourite meals from scratch instead of using prepared ingredients. The stupid husband, who would only buy branded packets and sauces in the supermarket, insisted that home-made pasta sauce would be inedible. In a blind tasting, he had to admit it was better than the processed stuff. The culinary-challenged who take part of the programme are taught how to cook healthy, inexpensive meals by an older woman who was brought up to be thrifty. None of them have a clue what to do. Are there really so many non-cooks out there? Polly Toynbee seems to think so. She's claimed that poor families are forced to eat processed meat products, like burgers, which might have had horsemeat in, because they're "all they can afford". Utter nonsense.

It's not just poor families. I live in a village where a majority are comfortably off. A friend goes through the books donated to our recycling centre for ones that are good enough to sell on Amazon - the money benefits the village school. Her husband observed that quite a few cookery books don't appear to have been used. You'd expect good cookery books to have pages marked with ingredients, he said, with splashes of gravy, beaten egg or sauce on the pages referred to most often. Pristine pages may be good from a fund-raising perspective, but what does that tell us about how much cooking is going on?

My mum, like many of her generation (she was a wartime bride), wrote recipes in an exercise book that got progressively tattier. It occurred to me this morning that I must start my own recipe book, since I've accumulated lots of scraps of paper and cuttings in an untidy folder. During and immediately after the war it was unthinkable to waste food because there just wasn't enough to waste. One of my favourite meals was a baked cheese and tomato thing Mum made with semolina. There wasn't a lot of cheese, but it tasted good just the same.

I don't have much sympathy with those who complain that they can't eat well on a low income, as I do, when it's apparent that they expect to do that on a supermarket trolleyful of processed meals. If you're hungry enough, you'll learn. There's no shortage of advice. It's especially galling to see how much food is wasted by fussy eaters who don't plan ahead - see the Love Food Hate Waste website. As food prices escalate, we're all going to have to think about what we eat, maybe learning from our great-grandmothers who fed their families in wartime.

Now I must make some soup.
Preserve label © M Nelson 2000

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