Monday, 20 March 2006

Cooking For Dummies

The article in the Washington Post Cooking 101: Add 1 Cup of Simplicity is not, apparently, a dig at Jamie Oliver, although plenty of American reviewers don't like him or his books that much. No, it's about how cook books have had to simplify their instructions because many wannabe cooks don't have the assumed set of basic skills that they might once have had:
"Thirty years ago, a recipe would say, 'Add two eggs,' " said Bonnie Slotnick, a longtime cookbook editor and owner of a rare-cookbook shop in New York's Greenwich Village. "In the '80s, that was changed to 'beat two eggs until lightly mixed.' By the '90s, you had to write, 'In a small bowl, using a fork, beat two eggs,' " she said. "We joke that the next step will be, 'Using your right hand, pick up a fork and . . .' "

I would, though, have liked more examples of why this dumbing down has occured as the following suggests that there are some seriously confused people out there:
At a conference last December, Stephen W. Sanger, chairman and chief executive of General Mills Inc., noted the sad state of culinary affairs and described the kind of e-mails and calls the company gets asking for cooking advice: the person who didn't have any eggs for baking and asked if a peach would do instead, for example; and the man who railed about the fire that resulted when he thought he was following instructions to grease the bottom of the pan -- the outside of the pan.

I do cook and fairly well at that. I remember having lessons at junior school and at comprehensive: have these stopped or are they optional? I also would do rice or pasta for meals my Mother had pre-made for when she wasn't going to be home before my brother and me. And, yes, I messed these up from time to time through inattention or wrong proportions or bad timing or whatever, but steadily you get a feel for how long things should take and how much care they need. Though even today I can get distracted (damn Xbox) and overcook pasta, but the essential idea that much of cooking is about timing I learnt from doing these simple things first.

So it seems to me that the problem is that people have neglected some basic cooking skills at an early age, burnt rice and sludgy pasta are part of the learning curve no matter what age you start, but now the TV tells us we should be able to throw together a sumptious banquet from whatever we have handy in the fridge, with maybe a couple of hours spent down at your local organic market, and those combined give you the burning oil above.

Via Accidental Hedonist.


Ten-Bob Dylan said...

All very true. However I did make a soup recently with required frying some sliced chorizo. The recipe said cook 'until done.' When is a cooked sausage adequetely cooked to be deemed 'done' I wonder? If in doubt follow Ramsey's advice - if it's brown it's cooked, if it's black it's fucked.

Paul said...

Hmm... I'd say until the chorizo was going a bit crispy all over, but I don't know.

anyway I found in my archives this link Food Porn from 2003 that has a quick overview of food writing from the last few decades and talks about how "the less people cook, the more money they spend on cooking appliances". The two articles together seem to suggest that we want to cook, be we want our results to be restaurant worthy, but we don't necessarily want to have to put in all the work that this entails. I'll have to think some more about this....

Ten-Bob Dylan said...

The other thing is that on British TV you can't move for cookery shows... or home improvement shows. Yet the statisticians tell us we all work so hard and so long that when we get home all we can be bothered to do is watch TV. So we're watching TV shows, fantasising about what we could be cooking or how we could be improving our houses/lives if only we had the time... ah the irony - bring back 'Why Don't You' that's what I say.
I'd start a campaign only I've got all this work to do and on top of that 'Never Mind the Buzzcocks' is on later so I don't think I'll have time.