So, I’ve been reading Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. Like Omnivore’s Dilemma, the book is divided into four sections that, one way or another, look at the anthropology of eating from a historical… ish(?) perspective. Meaning, of course, that This Is My Bag, Baby.
In this particular case, he’s looking at four different types of preparing food – as charted by the Four Elements (so us kitchen-magic types have something hella handy to work with here – Think: Make a braise to woo your beloved, but bake good communication into a loaf of leavened bread) – along with looking at the course of Food History, and how food (and food preparation) link us to our families, communities, and cultures.
In discussion the preparation of food, however, he’s also talking about what qualifies as “cooking” these days (these days…) and what doesn’t. Now, I do realize that the man lives in California, where “winter” just means “rainy and about 8 degrees celcius”. So his cult-of-freshness ideals aren’t entirely unusual. However, I do live in a climate where “over-wintering local food” are the kind that you fish from under the ice in early Januar. They are not green, they aren’t green unless we’re talking about cedar tea. So my “cooking from scratch” usess a lot of preserved (and frequently industrially preserved – think tinned tomatoes and bags of frozen veggies that I didn’t grow/forage myself) foods. I confess that I’m feeling a bit defensive about the possibility that my salad nicoise (which includes beets (raw, from a grocery store) and potatoes (same), but also industrially-frozen snap beans and tinned tuna) doesn’t entirely qualify as Real Cooking in his world.
Harumph, I say! 😦
So here it is. I use a boatload of convenience foods in my cooking. Pre-fab, freeze-dried short pasta. Tinned tomatoes. Frozen spinach. All from a bag or a box. My home-made bread, of-which I am so proud, is made with yeast-from-a-jar and white (degermed, de-branned) flour. Easily controlled and reliable (and that’s the way I like it).
None the less, a little part of me feels like some kind of an internal gauntlet has been thrown down. I find myself asking things like:
Could I make just as good a loaf of bread using at least 1/4 whole wheat pastry flour? Would that screw with the gluten content? How much harder would it be to rise? How fast will the flour go rancid? Does Watson’s Mill offer soft/pastry flour? (I don’t think it does). Can I use that sifting trick to “lighten” (“high extraction”) the flour and get a lighter, flufflier dough? What about wild-caught yeasts?
I wonder if anyone I know has a pasta-maker I can borrow?
Maybe I should look into making yoghurt (trying) again, or trying my hand at a more-complicated-than-Fake-Ricotta cheese…
Can I lacto-ferment chard stems… When I eventually get around to having chard stems again?
…You get the idea.
Basically, I’m half afronted at this (perceved) critique of my cooking as being Not From-Scratch Enough (whatever that means), and half Called-To-Action to “improve” on my from-scratch cooking/cred by getting off my ass, making myself some mozzerella, and trying my hand at slightly-more-(as-in-any)-whole-wheat flour bread.
I told my Lovely Wife that I wanted to try lacto fermentation, and she looked at me in mock (or at least partially-mock) horror. I’d also like to find out if it’s possible to make stuff like salami or procciuto in an electric dehydrator, the same way you’d make jerky… (Probably not… but we shall see).
Anyway, that’s where my head is at. Maybe there will be a trip to the Herb and Spice for a pound of whole wheat pastry flour this week, or maybe there won’t be. For the moment, I’ll stick with my rendered-lard candle and soon-to-be soap (yes, I’m about to try my hand at soap again… Here’s hoping…) before I go diving further into the world of Cooking From Scratch.
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
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