The Guardian ran a story yesterday following on from an earlier version in The Telegraph about how we know 4 more dishes by heart than our mums did. Our mums knew 17 on average. We know 21. I guess they don’t count hot dogs and chips! To be honest, I can’t remember much of what we ate at night. Sorry mum. I remember Angel Delight and that’s about it. I’m sure I’m doing my mum a disservice. My dad always did the Sunday Roast and he still does the cooking. He cooks all the food in his house. I’d guess my dad relies more on traditional things he’s always done (he’s worked in kitchens from time to time and can do a good sauce when he needs to!) and things change little at my dad’s table. My mum’s the one who’s got much more ambitious and her Ottolenghi repertoire is something quite spectacular! I guess she eats very little of the kind of stuff she used to cook for us when we were growing up. I grew up in houses where the only packet stuff we ate was Angel Delight. We occasionally had frozen mousses which I remember distinctly, though I don’t know why. Sweet tooth, I guess. But there wasn’t a day when ingredients weren’t combined in some shape or form. I know that’s not the same for some households today.
I do wonder how the amount of prepackaged and precooked food will reflect in today’s generation. You could quite easily get through the week on frozen meals and ready-prepared stuff. France is still a good 20 years behind in terms of pre-prepared stuff. Luckily, the stuff they have got that’s pre-prepared looks disgusting. This means that French women aren’t tempted to go for package food and the things their children eat are likely to be home-cooked. Knowing recipes is quite a middle-class thing these days, I think, in England. If you look at the people who shop in Iceland, or those who stock up on cheap frozen meals, they’re precisely the people who the Government want to target with healthy eating campaigns, and those same people who don’t pay any attention to the ‘5 a day’ campaigns and the attempts to lower heart disease, cancers and strokes by better eating. In a way, it goes back to my swan-women post, because the women who work and who do everything are also charged with preparing food that’s nutritious and healthy, vitamin-packed and beneficial. When you know you are sentencing your child to an early death by giving them pies and burgers and salt and never giving them vegetables then the pressure is on to come up with a varied, balanced diet and to be virtuous enough to make it from scratch. I try my best to make sure Jake gets some although I’d have a very limited menu if I did it all the time. He likes peas, carrots and sweetcorn. He won’t try anything new. I suspect he’d very much like the grape sherbet I made yesterday, especially if I put blue food dye in it, because it tastes exactly like slushies, but I’d have to trick him to get him to try it.
Having said that, cooking is a real joy. I take from it what my Nana did. It’s something that brings families together. It’s how you nourish the people you love. It’s how you show your love. And it’s creation. I enjoy being able to create stuff and know it’s good.
So what are my know-by-hearts?
Pizza by hand – my pizzas are beyond comparison, I swear.
Bean and sausage casserole
Chinese 5-spice chicken
Sweet and sour stir fry
Meat and potato pie
Potato Hash and suet crust
Tuna Pasta bake
Ginger & 7-spice tofu
Thai fish curry
I think that about covers what I know best! Is it much different than what my mum and Nana make? Not really. Some of it is more spicy – and yes, I know how to make my own spice mixes. I hate buying things that are already prepared in bottles or packets. You can buy about 2 different jars of Uncle Ben’s curry sauce here. You can buy the odd packet of chinese stir-fry stuff, but you can’t buy as much as you can in England. This is at once a good thing and a bad thing. The French are loads less adventurous with their cooking. This means you need to get the ingredients yourself and make it from scratch. It’s limited but it makes you try harder. You can’t be reaching for frozen lasagne all the time. Lasagne. There’s another thing I can do without a recipe.
It does make me laugh when people say they can’t cook. It’s not like someone plugged something in the back of my head, like Neo in The Matrix and I suddenly said ‘I know cooking!’ I’m sure some people just think it happens by diffusion. To be honest, what my mum did stayed inside the kitchen. My Nana’s kitchen was always open – I can remember her making gravy from scratch and when I came to make my own, I just ‘knew’. A lot of what I’ve done has come by following recipes and reading books and trying it out. Some of what I know I’ve been taught by others. And some of what I do has come from finding things I’ve eaten myself and then trying to replicate it. That’s what I think the report will show in the next 30 years – that the world has polarised between those who can cook, who grew up in families where cooking (rather than just re-heating) took place and where a take-out was a rarity – and those who grew up with mums who re-heated stuff, who gave them chicken nuggets every night, gave them spaghetti hoops from a tin. And no, I’m not being overly virtuous. Sometimes, re-heating is a lifesaver for a faddy eater child and for a busy mum. There are times when a baked potato, a can of tuna mixed with a can of sweetcorn and some mayo is just the easiest solution to keeping the boy fed and there are times when a frozen pizza with some extra chorizo is just better than trying to think of some way to do meat and potatoes in some new and rare combination with a few veg in ways that don’t make the boy say ‘what is this?’ and refuse to eat it.
My best tactic with the boy is to say nothing and just serve it. It’s the thought that frightens him. Still, when the only fruit he likes are lemons, where are we going wrong??! A child that won’t eat fruit??! Heaven help us! Still, he knows how food is made, and he sometimes helps out in the kitchen. Sometimes, he likes to cook himself. He sees himself as mini Gordon Ramsay. In fact, when I was watching Outnumbered the other night and Ben was in charge of the cooking, he asked if he could swear. It reminded me of Jake. Some boys see cooking as just a natural experiment. Luckily, I supervise enough that we don’t get a grey purée including toblerone and meat in some kind of pre-teen tribute to Heston Blumenthal.