Sunday, November 29, 2009

Why Am I Cooking This?

Homemade Sugar Cookies- Bethie

Homemade. Made from scratch. Made by hand. When food goes through your mother’s or your grandmother’s kitchen, taking its own sweet time, being chopped, basted, fried, toasted, and then set on a hand-crocheted hot pad on the sunny country-kitchen table, you have a warm, cared-for satisfied feeling. I’m sure that is why many manufacturers use those “Home-Baked” terms on their packaged dinners. They want their product to leap into your basket as you try to make a grocery shopping trip work its way somehow into those lazy Sunday afternoon dinners.Why would anyone make anything from scratch these days? It’s not always cheaper; in fact, it often costs a lot more to make a dish yourself instead of buying it. When you can buy a whole fried chicken at Winco for $6, why would you buy a whole raw chicken for $6, take it home, tear it out of the package, rinse it, cut it up, make all those mysterious, bloody things inside go away, dredge it in flour, prepare the skillet, and spend the next 45 minutes babysitting it, dodging hot grease splatters and cleaning up the toxic waste of raw drippings? And it doesn’t always taste better. Admit it, those companies have access to all those top-secret “natural flavorings” (that actually do share a molecule or two with something natural), and they use lots more of that tasty salt. And grease. Yum!I’ve been thinking of three examples lately. One of them is pie. I love to make pie, fruit pies especially. I am a good pie-maker. In fact, I won a pie contest several years ago. The prize was a decorated pie pan, and every time I look at it, I feel warm and fuzzy. But truthfully, Sarah Lee is also a pretty good pie maker. She has gotten much better over the years, and to think that I can buy a pretty good cherry pie during the holidays for $2.98 makes it almost painful to make my own from scratch. So what if I can’t pronounce all the ingredients? The best scratch pie dough is made from Crisco, the modern miracle grease.And have you ever made lasagna from the ground up? It’s like building a house! Each layer is prepared in a separate bowl from multiple ingredients, some requiring shredding. Noodles are boiled, pans are prepared, ingredients are sautéed, eggs are cracked, and while the layers are being applied, you hope they all come out even. Why do we put ourselves through this? When I was a kid, lasagna came from boxes marked “Hamburger Helper.” In the frozen section, they have these nice compact boxes of lasagna. Easy and yummy. Why make it at home?I expect most people have an old ice-cream maker in their garage somewhere. Hand-crank is the best, but electric works too. Remember the rock salt, the bags of ice, the tub to set it in? Sometimes the mixture had to be cooked up ahead of time and chilled before freezing. As a kid, I especially remember the excruciating one-hour wait until it ripened. Making ice-cream is a good picnic sort of thing to do, but would you really go through all of that just to have ice-cream, when Dreyers is on sale right now for 2 (almost) half-gallons for $5? When you buy Dreyers, you know exactly what you are going to get. Homemade things sometimes go wrong, terribly wrong.Some time back, for a happy family summer backyard picnic, we made vanilla ice cream. The kids and I turned and turned and turned. But wasn’t getting firm enough. I finally pulled the top off to look at it. It looked sort of done, but a little grainy. I put a finger in to taste it. Aarrgh! Salt! Lots of saltiness! The can had developed a split in the seam. If it had been Dreyers, I could at least have taken it back. And maybe sued. It was at least as traumatic as finding something with legs in it.But we do continue to make things by hand. Not all of us, and not all the time. But there is something richly rewarding about taking base ingredients and creating a work that is nourishing, tasty, filling, attractive, timely. It is personal. It is a sharing opportunity. It has value.Why do I make my own music? I have available to me any time, anywhere just about any tune or song that I can imagine. Where phonograph records were the early boxed mixes, i-tunes are the pizza delivery service. And unlike my pies competing with Sarah Lee, Rhonda Vincent wins, hands down; there is no competition. In the old days, if you wanted music, you made it. It didn’t matter as much that somewhere, someone else did it the best. People sang, people whistled and hummed. I worry sometimes that ordinary people nowadays who have music in them are able to calm that drive by sticking headphones on. We need to make our own music the same way our children need to draw their own pictures from their own hearts, the same way we need to create and share a homemade plate of cookies. It may not sound as perfect or finished as the professional music-bakers, but to the parking lot players who are sharing their musical souls with each other, it is more nourishing and fulfilling than anything you can buy.


  1. I was very inspired by this weekend to do more cooking rather than can opening. Trust me: what you cook is soooo much better than what comes out of the freezer section. Soup out of the can? nothing on REAL soup. I just made some of that potato soup. Some interesting things happened to it (the Italian breadcrumbs were CHEAPER (whining voice) and somehow I got the maple and brown sugar bacon......which was - interesting).
    I think I managed to forget the walnuts that I had "claimed" and the sugar cookies got too close to the spice bag and taste a little like paprika and basil which is about as interesting as maple-bacon-potato soup

  2. I'm figuring out right now how to juice these pomegranates I got from Jay. Stay tuned...

  3. Matt and I made a homemade Chicken noodle soup last night and it was delicious. I would say that homemade soups is an example of an area you cannot improve upon by buying from the store.

  4. I WANT the canned soups to be good. It would be so easy. But...they're not.

  5. I'm guessing this was a bluegrass blog post? The only canned soup worth getting is clam chowder...but to be decent, you almost have to add extra clams to it :(