Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cook As If


Photo courtesy Flickr user mjp

Living in an 1890 structure has given me ample opportunity to experiment with low-tech food preparation. Many months spent living without electricity in my youth and many precious years’ experience in the kitchen at the side of female elders who remembered both a log homestead cabin and a landmark house gave me a historic perspective on kitchen custom. Including elder tales, my kitchen memories date to 1870.

Another branch of the family gave me the cultural treasure of old school upper Mississippi Delta cooking thanks to Great Aunt Barbara’s recipe file, early twentieth century cookbooks, and gently offered kitchen coaching during visits to my childhood home. Mainstream early twentieth century American cookbooks, like my family’s kitchen bibles, the first two editions of The Joy of Cooking, record midwestern cuisine as it existed before rural electrification. Look for a book that uses the term “icebox”. In low-tech circumstances far from grocery outlets, a pantry stocked with dry stores was essential. I still keep convenient quantities of dried and canned fruit, nuts, pasta, canned soup and vegetables, first-quality oils (the key), and deli staples like choice vinegar. Reasonable stocks of salami and hard cheese live in the small refrigerator.

There are a good ten grocery stores within a few minutes’ walk of the house, but often it is more convenient to set out meal preps by easy stages over several hours as I complete various tasks under the roof. Dry stores, deli staples, and an electronic pressure cooker make it easy to make the most of leftover cooked meat and vegetables. The USDA’s guide to the shelf life of foods inspires fast turnaround time. In my book, the shelf life of fresh crab is twenty minutes.

“Shelf velocity” is as useful to describe the contents of a refrigerator as it is to describe what’s sitting on a gondola in the store. Keep those leftovers moving to keep your quality of life at a max. A summer spent living in a low-tech beach house taught me the value of living from meal to meal, cooking in quantities that could safely be consumed without waste. It’s an elegant way to manage the food supply that gets the most out of every food dollar. Old-fashioned preps make it easy to coast from meal to meal with the least effort, an approach that integrates beautifully with work at home enterprises.

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