Thoughts on Food via Lee

Lee’s put up a review of a review of a cookbook which inspires me to think out loud a bit about food.

The points raised about cooking are spot on—that is, cooking is an essential skill that Americans need to know. My mom made me learn when I was young and I got experience in Boy Scouts in planning meals, buying food, and cooking it over propane and open fires (and starting said fires, of course…). Both M and I love to cook and we try hard to make the grand majority of our food from scratch.  The result is food that tastes good and where we have  control over the ingredients.

There’s no question that it takes longer to prepare than take-out—but it also costs less and that’s been a huge factor in the course of our life together given our various situations. Again, workinmg from home gives me some flexibility there; I’ve chopped onions and stirrd risotto while on conference calls.

To get back to Lee’s post and the book to which it refers, I was struck by one of the sensible criticisms of it:

It can be easy for someone like me to forget that many people would see Bittman’s plan as untenable, since the kinds of foods he recommends aren’t sold in affordable chain or fast-food restaurants or available prepared or frozen in every suburban supermarket. Some of his advice — carry nuts and fruit around with you for snacks, so you can avoid vending machines — may be tenable for them, but some of the rest will seem even less practical than the Atkins Diet.

This got me thinking about some of the cookbooks I’ve acquired recently that seem to focus on what I consider novelty foods—fruits and vegetables not easily acquired or found outside of run-of-the-mill food stores.  I wonder what we happen if we took sober account of what actually can be grown locally and what foods would be available at various times of the year. Yes, I can cook quite well—but I’ve never looked at recipes weighing whether I could get their ingredients easily locally at all times. I’ve not given much thought to food preservation cooking. Using fresh veggies is great and preferable—but where do cucumbers come from for a January salad? I see three main options if you’re going to remain committed to low-energy, local food options:

  1. You don’t make salads in January, or
  2. they’re called “pickles”, or
  3. start building your greenhouse…

Now I’ve always been a fan of cooking “peasant food” which I define as basic ingredients with big flavors (we don’t go in for delicate flavors so much here). A perfect example is one of our cold-day favorites: potato soup. Potatoes, onions, and garlic sauteed in bacon fat with broth and the cut-up rendered bacon and croutons. Hmm—all ingredients that could be stored and/or harvested through the winter… Imagine that…

Yes, I think it’d be a good idea for people to start acquiring cooking skills, but I wonder if it wouldn’t help to orient them—and even those of us who already know how to cook—back toward the basic recipes and ingredients that make sense based on where you are and what your climate is.

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Food via Lee

  1. lutherpunk

    This is a tough balance to strike. For instance, one of our favorite from scratch meals is fish tacos, generally made with tilapia. Now the tilapia generally makes it hear from the Gulf or the Atlantic, which doesn’t make it all that odd since we are in a state that at least borders the ocean. Where it gets tricky is that we like to top it with mango habanero salsa. I grew some habaneros this year, but the quest for mangos…in Georgia…in DECEMBER…was a good reminder for us about the value of local foods. We could have just as easily made the salsa with some locally grown peach preserves, instead of from mangos that were carted here from the southern hemisphere at huge cost.

  2. bls

    We always ate the seasonal stuff when I was a kid, because “just-in-time” (or whatever it’s called) shipping didn’t exist. This has happened in about the last 30 years or so, no more – and everybody survived very well.

    That means root vegetables in winter (with the occasional treat of a crate of oranges from Florida – probably for Christmas); milk from local dairies; apples over the winter, mainly, because they kept well; pea soup; stew. One walled-off area in the basement was called “the fruit room”; it was uninsulated and below ground, and it kept potatoes, onions, apples, corn, and anything else cold and kept them longer than you could elsewhere. Nuts, dried fruit, rice (OK, that was shipped, but it kept well since dried), bread and butter, pasta. Macaroni and cheese (some cheeses keep very well – the hard kinds, mainly).

    And of course, there were still ice wagons in my mother’s generation! It really hasn’t been that long since it was ordinary and common to do this – and a luxury when you didn’t.

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