These petty tricks seem somewhat more so when gas flows through the pipes and firewood is available and electricity actually turns on with a button. But in each one of them there is a basic thoughtfulness, a searching for the kernel in the nut, the bite in honest bread, the slow savour in a baked wished-for apple. It is this thoughtfulness that we must hold to, in peace or war, if we may continue to eat to live – MFK Fisher
This is a collection of stories about good food and how to cook, eat and enjoy it in a more waste-free way. From saving leftovers to stretching ingredients, preserving and fermenting to eating seasonally, these are lessons in frugal creativity. The lessons told by our grandmothers and those before them. Lessons that can re-teach us how to cook to eat in a way that is better for ourselves, and for the planet too. The lessons, the folklore, we have somehow forgotten to remember.
An antidote to forgetting
I started this blog as a way to remember. To remember the stories, frugal food traditions and fading heritage of my own grandmother, and those of the women and wonderful cooks who’s recipes, knowledge and skills we are all slowly forgetting. Because the sad truth of it is, local food traditions – the food our grandmothers cooked – is on the verge of being lost forever.
But why does it matter? These days, food in the West is more abundant, affordable and accessible than ever before. We expect food to land in our supermarket aisles whatever the season, with little idea where it came from or the effort it took to get there. No longer do we need to worry about jointing a chicken or chopping a carrot or even making a meal, because it’s already done for us, neatly packaged and ready to go. We’ve lost touch with what we eat, how it was produced and how it came to our table. Our food has lost the precious value it once had.
You could argue that this system works. We have more time, more spending money and more choice than ever before, meat is no longer a rare luxury and fewer people go hungry. But as our food systems work harder to produce ever more food in ever larger factories at ever cheaper prices, with it too have come a whole bunch of environmental, societal and ethical issues that, in fact, point to the opposite. Eroding soils and diminishing rainforests, the rise in obesity and diet-related disease, the questionable humanity of factory-farmed animals, just for starters…
The amount of food we waste – one-third of all food produced – is another fine example of a food system in disrepair. One that relates directly to our own disconnect with food, where it comes from and how it impacts our health and the planet. With bread so cheap, why find ways to use it up? Why bother turning sour milk into cheese, if you can buy it ready-made? What’s the use in offal, if you can eat the rib-eye?
Convenience and abundance have come at a hefty price tag. One that we don’t see at the checkout. Our ancestors, out of pure necessity, were ingenious in their uses of stale bread and sour milk, of lemon rinds and offal. Peasant cooking, or any cooking born of necessity, has informed how we’ve eaten for centuries. Food that is valued is used to its full potential (both in terms of flavour and nutrition) and, in turn, has led to some of the world’s most delicious, iconic dishes. Think about your favourite stew, the jam you spread on your toast, that hungover sausage bap. They all arose from the need to think cleverly about our ingredients, whether it was to use up leftovers or animal offcuts, to preserve a surplus, or to simply make the most of what was available and in season. This frugal creativity is something we need to recapture if we want to eat in a way that is affordable and sustainable for both our own bank balances and the planet’s too. And more to the point, it tastes good.
As our mammoth food system works steadily to erode local cuisines and cultures, this is a small attempt to record the vestiges of honest food and its origins, of the frugal creativity that it has fostered and the fading traditions that have long connected the dots between what we eat and the planet we reap.
These are also stories simply about cooking: that simple, singular action that can teach us so much about food and where it comes from, help us value what we eat and, in turn, find new ways to preserve it.
I’d love to know what you think too. Comment, write to me, whatever. Your ideas and thoughts are always so welcome. Thanks so much for stopping by.