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Nov. 27 2009 - 12:17 pm | 25 views | 0 recommendations | 17 comments

The end of ‘home cooking’ as we knew it

Unknown Chef

Shopping for Thanksgiving this year, I was astounded by the number of  packaged dishes available: From the small country market where I order my turkey to the huge local supermarket that revs up for the holiday a month in advance to a tiny gourmet lunch shop, shelves were stuffed with pre-made options (cranberry relish, brussels sprouts, pies) and offers to supply pre-cooked turkeys, stuffing or even the whole meal, from $7.99 per diner on up.

Despite the fact that cooking shows are more popular than ever, most Americans aren’t cooking these days–or trying to find a way to cook less and less. Is it the time involved? Half of us are unemployed! Maybe we’re all at home, and don’t want to go into another room.

A lot of it seems generational–nobody has taken Home Economics in 30 years, and if you don’t start with How to Make Cinnamon Toast, you aren’t going to get much further up the food chain. Generation X Y Q or whatever may not have the patience for an activity that leaves no room for multi-tasking (take if from someone who’s ruined many a dinner trying to blackberry while saucing). Or maybe the explosion of cooking competitions–Iron Chef! Master Chef! Top Chef!–keeps us in front of the TV, eating takeout.

More and more, we seem to be divided into two groups: Professional chefs and people who don’t cook at all. You either go to cooking school or buy whatever their graduates have made.

And if we aren’t cooking at home, we are in danger of losing some of our history, the history relating to home and family. I cook my mother’s recipes, as she cooked her mother’s and grandmother’s. Will my daughter cook mine? Probably not.


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  1. collapse expand

    This tracks neatly with another story on the evolution of food shows from based on recipes and technique to reality shows (Hells Kitchen, Top Chef, etc.) There’s more on TV about cooking, but less and less on actually how to make it. For me, I’ll stick with Lydia, Jacques Pepín, America’s Test Kitchen, and Alton Brown.


  2. collapse expand

    Good observation, Susan. When it comes to cooking, we like to watch. Is Top Chef etc foodie porn?

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    The Food Channel had a productive effect on my daughter, I’m very proud to say. She invented a stuffing that was the talk of the Thanksgiving table yesterday. Check out her recipe (and hilarious post) on her blog “Big Girls Small Kitchen”:


  4. collapse expand

    Cooking at holidays used to be a communal, extended-family event. Having grandparents, siblings, cousins and aunts/uncles around to share the load (even if it was only drying the dishes) made the task more doable; it also ensured that recipes were passed down (not always to the benefit of generations unborn, haha!). Plus, especially before WWII, many middle-class and most upper-class families had domestic help. Finally–back in those benighted times, pre-packaged wasn’t an option! Whether what we now have represents progress is, as you suggest, debatable.

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    Winter marks the emergence of my two favorite cooking appliances: the slow cooker (crock pot) and the bread machine.
    Maybe not *really* home cooking, but in a few hours, there’s a big pot of stew and hot crusty (round) bread for a few bucks in ingredients and half an hour of effort.

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      Of course that qualifies! (Slow cookers are the best…if you just care about taste, not the fact that it all looks like mush.)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Doesn’t have to look like mush- don’t put in canned ingredients for starters, and don’t over cook- slow cooking doesn’t mean endless simmering, just unattended for a few hours. And know the difference between “high” and “low” settings! If you can mash carrots with the back of a spoon, you’ve simmered way, way too long.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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          I never use canned ingredients, and I just cook for the hours the recipes say, so I guess I have to start experimenting to achieve that non-mush state.

          But since I’ve found an expert, do you have a solution to this problem? When I make stuffing in the slow cooker, it burns around the edges. I grease the container. This year, I also lifted the lid every so often and stirred it. It still burned around the edges.

          I don’t want to give up on this, because it frees up space in the oven and the (unburnt) results are moist and great. Any ideas?

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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            Sorry- I’m out of my depth here. Slow cookers to me involve liquid- so I’m limited to sauces, soups and stews. Cooking solids in one is more like “steaming”. Remember that it heats from the sides, so liquids naturally circulate, but solid foods won’t, and burn as a result. If you can cook the solids without directly touching the sides (with some liquid on the bottom to create steam) this might work, but as a real expert!

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    In all honesty, half of why I enjoy cooking is that it impresses women from my generation. The other half, of course, is the excuse to drink.

  7. collapse expand

    I’m a freshman in college and I’m pretty much surprised that everyone I meet is amazed that I know how to pan fry pork, or bake yeast/quick bread without a prepackaged mix, or even make soup broth from chicken bones and fat.

    But I guess if you never learn, you’ll never know.

    • collapse expand

      You’ve identified one missing ingredient for cooking that I hadn’t been conscious of: patience. Cooking may not be for today’s attention-challenged population, but might be one cure for it.
      There’s a lot of reflection that takes place tending to a large pot of wintertime chili, or making chicken stock (not to be confused with broth!)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    I think about this all the time. I agree with Dick. I often think that our household help in the cooking department has shifted from in-house workers to off-sight providers – the local takeout, whether it be Chinese, pizza or prepared foods from the grocery store has replaced the housekeeper who also made dinner a couple times a week.

    My mother grew up in the 30s and 40s in an affluent household where they had a cook-handyman who lived over their garage. A cook! Imagine! My father’s family was not so well off, but they had the extended family dynamic going on.

    Regrettably, I have neither, living on the opposite coast from my family and (darn the luck) not being rich enough to have a cook, or as is often the case here in L.A., a live-in nanny or housekeeper who can cook, but the truth is I learned to cook because I love to eat good food and the best way to do that is to be your own content provider! It’s also healthier, or can be. Even in my single girl NYC days, I would often tell my friends that their path to slimness was to stop eating out all time (Thai food? Calorie traporama!)and cook at home. Portion and fat control are at your fingertips.

    As far as my mother’s recipes? There are two I use: meatloaf and chili. After that. . . it’s a generational divide. My mother’s cooking (God bless her,) is a kind of living history project. How often do you cook out of the 1955 edition of The Better Homes & Garden’s cookbook? She caters mostly to my father’s taste that run heavily to unadorned meat and potatoes. She does love my cooking however, and, charmingly calls it “the new food.” Translation: I use garlic.

    That said, home cooking can, in this day and age, produce a certain amount of amazement right across the board. How many times have I heard a completely amazed and incredulous, “You made that?” when I’ve brought a homemade dessert to a party or even sandwiches or chicken wings done at home to a childrens potluck. It’s kind of fun – I admit. People think you have a superpower.

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