Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cooking From Scratch

A few weeks ago someone said to me “Oh I think it’s wonderful how you cook every thing from scratch”. Much as I would have loved to bask in such praise, I had to confess and assure them that I reach for the ready meal and jar of sauce far more than I should. Truth is that some time ago I misplaced my frugal motivation and I’m finding it very hard to get back into the habit of making things from scratch again.

There are a number of things I used to make regularly but no longer do (granola, cakes, biscuits etc) and many more that I would like to try but never have (mayonnaise for example). I’ve been thinking about the whole business of cooking from scratch and how to make it work for me again. So here are some (very) random ideas for kick starting the process:

Think about why you want to cook from scratch: Identify your motivation. Is it to save money (if so do you have a goal)? Is it to broaden your tastebuds or acquire new skills? Is it to provide a healthier alternative for your family? It is important to know your motivation so that you can picture it and keep it in mind to inspire you when you are discouraged or tired and want to give up.

Look at your cupboard shelves: Look at the foods you normally buy, that your family likes. Is it possible to make healthier homemade varieties of these items? Or less expensive versions? Start with the things you routinely buy and make a list. No point in making granola if you never buy it because nobody likes it (though you may want to tempt them with it further down the line).

Look at the supermarket shelves or at the Farmers' Market. Are there things that you would like to buy but can’t because they so expensive, or things that you won’t buy because they are stuffed with nasties but that you would quite like to eat if they weren’t? Make a list.

Look at your cookery books and online for recipes and ideas. Much as I love recipe books (and I really do – vintage ones are especially helpful in this venture) the internet is an incredible treasure trove and you can find a recipe for practically every product or dish you might want to copy at home.

Think about your circumstances and what will work best for you. Does the recipe require equipment you don’t have and can’t borrow or improvise? Does it require time and a level of attention duing the process that you just can’t spare right now, or ingredients that just aren’t readily available where you live.

If you are starting cooking from scratch practically from scratch, start with one thing at a time. If you are starting again after a period of ‘backsliding’, go easy too. Trying to introduce a lot of new things to most families all at once is a recipe for disaster and many tears on the part of the one doing the cooking.

Repeat that ‘one thing’ as often as your family and your budget can stand it until you get a result you are all happy with. You first loaf of bread may not be up to much (mine wasn’t) but your tenth will be (unless of course your yeast is out of date – please don’t ask me how I know this). Some things it must be said are so very easy to make that you can get good results first time and you will wonder why anyone would ever want to buy it ready made. But be realistic, especially if you are wanting to do this for reasons of your budget. Not everything made from scratch is cheaper than the ‘factory made’ article, especially if you are skilled at using coupons or spotting great mark downs. It almost always tastes better and is better for you, but when you are really on a bare-bones budget it just may not be possible, especially if you would have to buy a lot of new ingredients for it.

Keep your perspective. This is only food. Home making is not a competitive sport. I have never come across anyone in the blogosphere who makes it that for others but I do sometimes make it that for myself. When this happens we can become easily discouraged, depressed and bitter, bringing no joy to the Lord or our families and certainly not to ourselves. You are not a bad mother if you buy your child a birthday cake from the store and serve up sandwiches on shop bought bread. Cooking from scratch is not a spiritual virtue. It is not wrong to want to do more than you are doing and to want to do the best you possibly can for your family (however you may see it) but if you were able to do it all at once and do it perfectly, you would probably be doing it already.

For me, cooking from scratch – whether food items or whole meals – is a very enjoyable and creative part of my role as a wife and mother. I like learning new skills and not being dependent on going to the store for things. Some of the things I make from scratch we just can’t buy in the local shops and we can’t afford them in the shops that do sell them. I’d like to think that my family is healthier because of it (although I think that is really down to God’s goodness). But anyone who reads this blog will see from the ‘For Dinner Tonight’ posts just how often tiredness, boredom and plain old bad organisation has me reaching for the microwave. I’m not in a position to pontificate on this subject at all but I do need to remind myself of just how well cooking from scratch works for me. I hope it will work for you too.

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Jessica said...

I like this post; thanks for writing it! I like cooking from scratch, but it's good to be reminded that some things are better that way and some things aren't. You seem to me to have a very balanced view on it. :)

peace of Christ to you,

Mom2fur said...

I find cooking a kind of therapy, and I love to work from scratch. But reality dictates that sometimes we open a jar of spaghetti sauce. There's nothing wrong with that! And if I'm going to make something from scratch, it should be worth the effort. For some reason, I like cake mixes better than scratch. But jarred guacamole? Ick. Besides, when you cook from scratch you know exactly what you are feeding your family. And no law says you can't buy something ready-made and doctor it up to make it 'your own.' Can't tell you how many times I've decorated a store-bought cake for a birthday!
I've never tried mayo, either. It's supposed to be easy. My mom made it every Thanksgiving. Boy, oh, boy...nothing like leftover turkey sandwiches with homemade mayo! (Another thing I've never got the swing of is canning. I have a fear of giving everyone ptomaine poisoning, LOL!)

mrsw said...

My rule is that if I can't manage to make it either cheaper, tastier or healthier I don't bother with making it from scratch. (Danish, for instance, a rare treat, is cheap enough at the Entemanns Outlet that there is no point in learning to make it).

But some things, like most main dishes, are good to make with less cost and less sodium than their purchased counterparts.