Sunday, March 30, 2008

Because scratch-cooked food is just better, that's why.

I've been thinking a lot about cooking from scratch since I posted here. Eating locally pretty much assumes you're willing (and able) to cook from scratch. But it doesn't seem as if many people are actually cooking from scratch, and when they are it's not so much because they want the best food possible on their tables. I have a regular google search set up for the term, and every day I get a few new hits. And every day, by far the majority are for mentions of cooking from scratch for reasons of frugality, not for food quality or taste.

Why are so few people talking about cooking from scratch because scratch-cooked food is just better food?

It's better because you know all the ingredients. No butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is needed for freshness or calcium proprionate to reduce mold growth or any other food additives to make up for the fact the basic ingredients had no flavor or to improve texture or mouth feel or color or palatability.

You know the ingredients were top quality and in prime condition. As compared to prepared foods, which contain ingredients so highly processed you have no idea what condition they were in when they started down the assembly line. That whole chicken you bought at the farmers' market just looked fresh. What does chicken look like before it's made into Tyson chicken fritters?

You know how the ingredients were prepared because you prepared them. You know the tomato peels weren't removed by spraying them with carboxylic acid because you peeled the tomatoes -- or decided not to remove the peels. You know the person who diced your carrots wasn't coughing all over them because you diced them.

You know what proportions the ingredients were in. You tweaked the recipe to your own family's tastes -- you used more garlic, less cayenne, butter instead of olive oil, left out the tree nuts, added extra veggies, whatever. You didn't need to add MSG to make the recipe universally appealing because you only needed to appeal to a small group, not the entire country.

You end up with something on your plate that you know, intimately. You know it's good food because you made it that way.

22 comments:

Jen (Modern Beet) said...

I totally agree with you on this. There are so many reasons I cook from scratch: a)ethical food sourcing, b)developing community (i.e. talking to food producers at the farmer's market, c)freshness, d)quality, e)taste, f)keeping food traditions alive, and... and... and... my list goes on an on.

Anyways, I'm glad to have found your blog, and look forward to following it.

liberal foodie said...

I couldn't agree more with your analysis. For the first time yesterday, I saw frozen vegetable "beginners bags". A frozen bag with chopped onions or bag with onions, celery and green peppers ready to add to a recipe. I say, why why why? It's not a lot of work so why bother with frozen, ready to add thingS? For me, it's more satisfying to put the labor of love into a dish and call it my own.

valereee said...

Beginners bags! LOL! Were they really called that? Like training wheels for beginning bike riders? We know you never learned how to cook, so look! We've trimmed the celery and peeled the onions and chopped them into bite-size pieces for you so you can ease into cooking. :D

Kelly said...

I also cook from scratch for a variety of reasons: health, cost, taste, the pleasure of preparing my food myself and knowing exactly what's in it, etc.

But I don't think it really matters why someone embraces scratch cooking: they'll reap the benefits no matter what their original motivations are.

I would hope that someone who takes to making his/her own food for financial reasons wouldn't dream of the day he/she could go back to frozen pizza. :)

valereee said...

Kelly, that's a great question: for the folks who are cooking from scratch for reasons of cost savings, if (for whatever reason) they didn't need to worry about their food budget, how would they eat? Would they still cook from scratch, or would removing any budgetary worries mean they'd choose to feed themselves differently?

I may have to do a post on that!

valereee said...

Jen, I'm with you. Being willing to cook from scratch is what allows me to eat ethically, to support local farmers, to eat traditional foods, to eat chemical-free foods, to eat sustainably-produced foods.

It's a necessary step. Fortunately for me, it's one I also enjoy. If I didn't enjoy cooking from scratch and could still do all those things -- I don't know, say there was a personal chef who would do all those things for me so that I could eat exactly as I want but NOT cook myself -- would I still cook?

This is definitely turning into another post. :D

vudutu said...

I think your dead on Val. "You end up with something on your plate that you know, intimately. You know it's good food because you made it that way."

You think frugality is a hot topic now, just wait till food cost goes up even more.

I don't know why "Why are so few people talking about cooking from scratch because scratch-cooked food is just better food?"

I don't get it either, I know for us number one is because we get a better product, two, we don't trust the big league food providers, three, "stay close to your food" we know local is better, four, and perhaps this should have been number one, it's a social thing, we like cooking, eating and sharing.

valereee said...

I think you're right about a new frugality soon being upon us. I've just posted about it in What would you do with an unlimited food budget?

Debs said...

Cooking simply is a great way to start off cooking from scratch. Some people are simply intimidated, because they think a great meal has to have a lot of ingredients. Starting off with 3-4 delicious, fresh, wholesome ingredients is going to yield a much better meal than one made out of a lot of pre-prepared ingredients.

Food Is Love

Christine said...

Frugality is a major reason for cooking from scratch, but not the only one. I like to know exactly what goes into my meal, to be in control of the ingredients (fat, soium, preservatives).

Thanks for the link, by the way!

valereee said...

This post was featured in the Make It From Scratch blog carnival.

Jennifer said...

I don't cook exclusively from scratch - although I should, for money reasons - because 1) I hate to cook, and 2) I'm not very good at it. Recipes that I get from my family just don't taste the same when I make them. So for me, food cooked from scratch usually doesn't taste better if I'm the one who made it. Now baking, that's a different story entirely. Baking I can do, so doing it from scratch definitely tastes much better to me. But cooking...I always find a way to screw it up somehow. =(

valereee said...

Jennifer, that's so interesting because it's baking I can't do! I don't seem to have the gene for following instructions perfectly -- I always want to tweak it, and that doesn't work with baking.

Jennifer said...

Valereee, the way I've always thought of it is that cooking is more of an art form, whereas baking is more of a science. I'm a scientist - give me straightforward instructions and I can follow them. But as soon as any sort of judgement has to come in - "sautee until the juices flow" or some such nonsense like that - I'm screwed, lol.

valereee said...

Jennifer, that's very true. You have to be able to follow instructions. Although for the life of me I can't bake a good loaf of bread even if I follow instructions. I really don't like bread-machine bread, but I CANNOT get a good loaf of bread on my own. I sometimes can't get a god loaf even with a bread machine. Yeast doesn't like me.

Jennifer said...

I think bread is all in the kneading. I have my great grandmother's bread recipe (it's good for pizza crust, too), and it's good, but I still can't make it taste as good as when Dad makes it. Although he's taken to making breadmaker bread every so often now, which does not make me happy. Doesn't taste nearly as good.

The Indigenous Gourmet said...

I couldn't agree with you more on the main reasonto cook from scratch is quality, and creative outlet.
I think, perhaps, at least some of the reasons for the emphasis on frugality relate to a poverty, not just of money, but of time. In addition, in my area at least, it seem that without the proper time to prepare simple foods en masse, it actually is more expensive to track down those wonderful ingredients.
Anyway, dig the blog!

john said...

my (cooking) motto for life

CAJD said...

One of my job requires that I spend a lot of time in a local grocery store/super all merchandise store. Sometimes to pass time I just observed the aisles, upon aisles of process stuff. It looks so good. So good. But I know that you can't job a (processed) book by it's cover.

I'm trying to eat better. I really am. Enjoyed this post because it confirms what I know I should be eating.

valereee said...

CAJD, thanks for the kind words! And John, LOL on your cooking motto for life -- somehow I missed that comment when you posted it!

Mati said...

I cook from scratch because even if it *doesn't* taste better - I've put a few hair-curling experiments on the table, rather than waste them - it tastes real. I was raised on real food, and my sense of comfort comes from the flavors and textures that can never be replicated industrially. All respect to Sylvia, you can't get greens like mama's from a can, and you definitely can't get cornbread like hers from a box (unless your mama was a Yankee, no offense).

There is a lot of scratch cooking on the web under other names - perhaps the frugality sites are more likely to use that phrase than the gourmet blogs.

As for the "beginner's bags" (!) I was pleased to see them when they came out, for the simple reason that for those inclined to frozen veg, they might contribute to more complex cooking than microwaving a bowl of peas'n'carrots.

Here's my dirty secret: I make my own "beginner's bags" of mirepoix, ginger and garlic pastes, onions and hot peppers, when there are bumper crops of fresh staple vegetables. Some nights I want to eat something that requires onion, but am pressed for time or just not in the mood for smarting eyes.

simply divina said...

Thank you so much for the informations. I was in google searching about this plant. Now, I got the answers from your blog. Thank you so much. We have so much wild garlic and onions on our backyard.