Home Cooking

My father was a farmer and my mother spent her time being at home with the children in the early years and went off to work full time at the local hospital as a dietitian. There were five children and not much to go around in terms of gadgets, toys, clothes, space or vacations. It was a simple childhood to say the least. Since we did not have much growing up in terms of going places and having things, one thing that was centered around our lives was food. We had the farm, so we utilized it.

From collecting eggs, gathering mushrooms from fields, making cottage cheese, growing vegetables to breeding all types of animals and birds, we lived off the land. As a family, we all had a hand in it. Our mother was the center of the household and the kitchen. I would watch her bake and cook for hours almost every weekend. It was a routine in our home like watching a dance.

Over time watching and helping my mother, I developed a love and skill for cooking and baking (fresh yeast dough rising is still one of my favorite smells). I have been passing these skills onto my own children as the next generation. What made me realize how important home cooking was, happened during Christmas time. With a full day of preparations at the start of the early morning, I have been cooking turkey with all kinds of savory spices and tangy fruits, along with other things. My family was out for part of the day and when arriving home, my 9 year old daughter comments, “I have been looking forward to coming home all day momma… it smells just like Christmas should smell.”

This is why I spend the time to cook and bake. It is the love for my children. To give them health, nourishment and love.

In the world today, life is busy. A generation or two ago, it was a different story. Life was more simple and people lived with less. There is a home cooking epidemic these days… some question, is it the death of the kitchen due to our busy lifestyles of working and activities? Have traditions and rituals of home cooking been lost?

Below is an article by Jean Duruz, a Senior Lecturer in cultural studies at the University of South Australia. She has written Home Cooking, Nostalgia, and the Purchase of Tradition.  She shares information on traditions, lifestyle and home cooking as a way of the past and looking at the future. I have taken some excerpts from her article for you to enjoy along with beautiful photography from food blogger Made by Mary.

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“I learnt to cook at my mother’s side, and images of her that have stayed with me . . . include Mum bent in front of the Aga oven scooping baked potatoes into her apron, shaping bread rolls for dinner, forking rough troughs in the mashed potato on top of the shepherd’s pie, slipping a slice of butter under the crust of Grandma’s bramble cake, or in a full beekeeper’s outfit setting out to gather honey from the hive.”

Here is not only a catalogue of remembered foods and techniques associated with home cooking in a semi-rural context, but also a palimpsest of “home” itself — the slow cooking of cakes baking, meat stewing, loaves proving; the warmth and aromas of a kitchen with a wood stove as its centerpiece; the iconic figure of a country woman, carrying out the rituals of the day or season. These are comforting images of “home” inherited from a long tradition of British and European ruralism, with women in the kitchen at its core.

Is it perhaps the loss of this phantom figure and its nostalgic comforts that render discourses of the “death of the kitchen”problematic? After all, Gaston Bachelard has written of the significance of the first house of childhood as an emotional screen, filtering meanings of all later dwellings, place-attachments, and acts of remembering: “Through dreams, the various dwellingplaces in our lives co-penetrate and retain the treasures of former days.” As well, for Bachelard, this “first house” — the one we carry with us in memories and daydreams — is essentially the maternal one, built on metaphors of women’s nurturing.

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“Life begins well… all warm in the bosom of the house.” Leaving aside the question of place-attachments for those for whom life did not begin well. It is concerned as much with collective memory and myth as personal memories and experiences, the problem of how much danger really exists is worth addressing. Are the spaces of the kitchen, indeed, under threat? Will the maternal figure of the cook disappear? Thus, Akiko Busch, writing about contemporary kitchen design in America, suggested there is currently a revival in kitchens as convivial spaces for the ritual performances of everyday food preparation. At the same time, these kitchens of the postmodern age serve as display spaces for seemingly contradictory tendencies: Yet as likely as we are to fill our kitchens with efficient production machinery, we also hold onto the vestiges of old-time kitchens, to cozy symbols of nostalgia. Spatterware plates set the table and antique egg-beaters decorate the walls. For every Sub-Zero refrigerator, there is an antique apothecary chest; for every restaurant-grade mixer, a Shaker box. We want the future in the kitchen, but not at the expense of the past.

In the absence of “old-time” kitchens, their inhabitants, and the social relations of these domestic landscapes, the products acquired within economies of the “antique” provide comforting references. Needless to say, the position of purchaser of this “stylish” eclecticism is a thoroughly classed one. Thus, perhaps the kitchen is not “dying” after all — only undergoing cultural and nostalgic renovation. Here, as with those niggling fears about time-space compression, one needs to question whose remembering is at stake when one is mourning the woman at the wood stove or purchasing her symbolic products. Who stands to benefit from nostalgic returns to traditional, gendered divisions of labor embedded in daily shopping, cooking and eating in the industrialized/postindustrialized West? To some extent I have discussed these questions elsewhere (crudely put: it’s often better to eat than to cook, to be served than to serve). But in this sontext, given perceived threats to tradition, the more interesting project is to unravel some of its creative reinventions.

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Jean interviews a shop owner, Mary-Anne, with a small business making home cooked meals:

Mary-Anne: “We started off making fresh pesto . . . and then went into pasta sauces. . . . We . . . do slow cooking . . . like the mammas use to do . . . and it slowly simmers away until you get that good type of flavor. And then we went into making . . . lasagna . . . Moroccan lamb and couscous and old fashioned barley and vegetable soup. . . . So there’s no preservatives, just how you would like to make it yourself at home — but you haven’t got the time. . . .”

JEAN: “It’s a very luscious way of helping out. Like, I’m really interested, say, in your puddings, I noticed you have rhubarb crumble and . . . all the kinds of things I actually remember from my childhood and . . .”

Mary-Anne: “Well… it’s something that I am really passionate about . . . the nurturing nature of food and how it’s very important in . . . our day-to-day living and in our structure of our family life . . . bread and butter pudding . . . apple and rhubarb pie, ah, you know, I haven’t seen rhubarb for ages, and it’s . . . just like my grandmother used to make and . . . pear and apple crumble. You know, it’s a healthy sweet that gives the people a bit of comfort food that they can put cream on. They don’t feel . . . [it’s] too fattening.”

Mary-Anne: “That’s what people are looking for, that little bit of . . . comfort that . . . mothers used to be able to give by being at home and having the dinner ready for people, which they don’t have now.”

These are landscapes of childhood and the “past,” images of fertile fields and storehouses of fresh, seasonal produce, and memories of farmhouse kitchens with their rhythms of “nurturing” activity. The maternal figure at the kitchen table and the smells of slow-cooked food emanating from the hearth together become the mise-en-scene for much of our cultural remembrance associated with “home,” nurturing and food.

Photography: Made by Mary

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