Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Twilight of the Chicken Tenders

One of the advantages of being a Druid is that you get to open your holiday presents four days early. Sara and I had a very pleasant Solstice yesterday, with a ceremony welcoming the newborn sun, gifts by turns practical and silly, the little traditions every family evolves for its celebrations, and of course a large and tasty Solstice dinner. With that under my belt, I’m feeling ready to tackle one of the most loaded questions any peak oil writer can face.

No, I’m not going to join in the all-but-shooting war over the portrayal of women in James Howard Kunstler’s latest peak oil novel, The Witch of Hebron – not yet, anyway, though I do plan on reviewing the book down the road a bit. I don’t propose to discuss the role of firearms and organized violence in preparing for the arrival of deindustrial society just now, either, and despite the entreaties of several of my regular readers – I’ll leave their motivations an open question – I don’t intend to talk about whether or not hemp is the wonder plant that will save us from peak oil. I plan instead on addressing an American obsession, one that has baffled, annoyed, and amused foreigners and tied the brains of Americans in square knots since colonial times and shows no sign of letting up any time soon.

That is to say, it’s time to talk about food.

That doesn’t mean, I hasten to add, that I’m going to speak out either for or against any of the current crop of fad diets, or for that matter any of their countless equivalents from the past. Fad diets are a fact of life in America, and there’s an interesting reason for that: changing your diet makes you feel better. It actually doesn’t matter how you change your diet. There’s a guy who made headlines on the bottom-feeder end of the media not long ago by doing a diet consisting entirely of junk food, and who lost fifteen pounds and feels much better since he started that diet; there’s another guy who ate nothing but potatoes for thirty days and had his health improve noticeably. Based on my observations, the effect of taking up a new fad diet lasts for six to eight months on average, and then you end up feeling pretty much the way you did before. Those among us who start a new fad diet every January, and drift out of it sometime later in the year, may actually have the right idea.

Still, that’s not a way of thinking that Americans find congenial, and the reasons for this reach back, I’m convinced, to our nation’s Puritan heritage. Puritanism has been usefully defined as the profound and inescapable fear that somebody, somewhere is having a good time, but it also has a very distinctive relationship to the concept of evil. Evil, to a Puritan, is a concrete reality capable of precise physical location; it lurks around you, ready to jump out at you from the shadows at any moment; but if you can identify it, hate it, and cast it out, then you’re good and you go to Heaven.

This is essentially the way most Americans think about food. Each of the fad diets in circulation these days identifies some particular component of food as Satan incarnate, and insists that if you hate it loudly enough and cast it out of your diet, then you’re good and you go to whatever secular equivalent of heaven contemporary fashion happens to be offering at the moment. (A century ago Americans dieted to gain weight; now they diet to lose weight; doubtless the pendulum will swing back the other way in due time, and people will once again panic over being too thin.) Whether the Satan in your diet of choice is meat, fat, carbohydrate, salt, sugar, too much cholesterol, not enough cholesterol, the wrong kind of cholesterol, or what have you, there’s some street corner preacher ready to urge you to renounce your dietary sins and get right with Good Digestion.

Druidry doesn’t tend to foster street corner preachers, though, and the wars between contending fad diets don’t really have that much to offer the Green Wizard project with which the current series of posts here on The Archdruid Report is mostly concerned. No, I want to talk about something a good deal more basic: the awkward fact that the food you can produce in your backyard garden, or acquire in any other way likely in a deindustrializing world, does not magically appear in the forms that most Americans are used to consuming. A nation used to eating factory-breaded chicken tenders and JoJos to go is going to face some interesting traumas when food once again consists of live chickens, raw turnips, and fifty-pound sacks of dry navy beans.

It’s easy as well as entertaining to poke fun at America along these lines, but the difficulties involved are very real. A very large fraction of today’s Americans, provided with a plucked chicken, a market basket of fresh vegetables, and that fifty-pound sack of navy beans, would be completely at a loss if asked to convert them into something tasty and nourishing to eat. The torrent of cheap fossil fuel energy that has so completely transformed the rest of life in the industrial world has worked overtime on America’s food system, and this isn’t just a matter of how many miles a meal has traveled – how many factories has it and its ingredients passed through on the way to your plate?

As the age of cheap energy winds down, it will stop being economically viable to process food in huge centralized facilities and then to ship it hundreds of miles in refrigerated trucks to far-flung stores for just-in-time distribution to commuters shopping for dinner on their drive home from work. As that stops being economically viable, those people who know how to produce good meals by some less energy-intensive method will be a lot better off than those who don’t. Most people who have had any significant contact with the concept of peak oil will admit this, but all too often a curious thing happens next; they sigh, and talk wistfully about how nice it would be if they had the vast amounts of spare time and the demanding technical skills that cooking meals from scratch requires, but they don’t, of course, so it’s chicken tenders for dinner again.

You may be thinking something similar, dear reader. You may be thinking that it’s all very well to praise home-cooked meals produced from raw materials, but cooking that way is a very time-consuming process, not to mention one that involves a vast amount of hard work. You’ve seen the gyrations that actors in chef hats go through in cooking programs on TV, you’ve glanced over the forbidding pages full of exotic ingredients and bizarre processes that make today’s gourmet cookbooks read like so many tomes of dire enchantment out of bad fantasy fiction, you’ve seen racks of women’s magazines that treat elaborate timewasting exercises disguised as cooking instructions as a goal every family ought to emulate, and you’ve unconsciously absorbed the legacy of most of a century of saturation advertising meant to convince you that cooking things for yourself from scratch is an exercise in the worst sort of protracted drudgery, and probably gives you radioactive halitosis and ring around the collar to boot, so you really ought to give it up and go buy whatever nice product the nice man from the nice company is trying to sell you.

If all this has convinced you that you don’t have time to cook, dear reader, you have been had.

Maybe it’s that my grandfather retired after twenty years in the Aberdeen, WA fire department with a reputation as the best firehouse cook in Grays Harbor County; maybe it’s because my stepmother, who taught me how to cook, grew up eating the Tokyo working class equivalent of down home cooking in the years during and after the Second World War; or maybe it’s because when I left home and settled into my first tiny apartment, two rooms, shared bath, the two cookbooks I had to get me started were the original edition of Tassajara Cooking and The New Cookbook for Poor Poets – whatever the reason, the programming somehow failed to rub off on me. I’ve always believed in cooking from raw materials; I’ve always believed that making a good meal should take no more of my time – that is, no more time in which I actually have to do something, as distinct from any amount of time the food spends cooking off by itself – than the fifteen minutes or so it takes me to eat the result; and I’ve never encountered the least difficulty reconciling those two beliefs.

In other words, by the time you’ve gotten off the freeway on the way home from work, fought your way through congested surface streets to the grocery store, found a parking place, done the breast stroke through the crowds between you and the deli counter, caught the attention of a clerk, waited for your order of chicken tenders and Jo-Jos to be heaped into a couple of plastic containers, stood in line again to check out, escaped from the parking lot, fought your way back through those same congested surface streets, and staggered home, I’ve cooked a homemade meal from scratch and am setting it out on the table. Now of course the plum glaze on the pork chops was put up in an orgy of canning two years ago, the vegetable bean soup took ten minutes of knife work and eight hours in a fireless cooker over the weekend and is being parcelled out of the fridge a couple of bowls at a time, and it took me a couple of minutes this morning to pick the makings of the salad out of the cold frame, but if we count an appropriate fraction of those activities in my time, then we probably also need to count the half hour or so you had to work to pay for the difference between the cost of your dinner and the cost of mine.

All this is meant to suggest that there’s an entire world of cooking that has nothing to do with elaborate gourmet dishes, on the one hand, or takeout food and plastic packages on the other. A great deal of today’s cultural dialogue about food has done its level best to obscure that fact. I have a soft spot for the current “Slow Food” movement, but the very choice of that movement’s name points out that it’s unlikely ever to be anything more than an affectation of the leisured well-to-do. People who work all day, whether at a job or at home, don’t generally have time for slow food, and it doesn’t do them any good at all to reinforce a set of assumptions that insist that the only alternative to slow food is the prefabricated industrial product that passes these days for fast food.

What’s needed, really, is the revival of the sort of cooking that working class people used to do for themselves back in the days before cheap energy made the current food system possible: good food cooked in a way that doesn’t place unreasonable demands on the time or energy of people who have many other things to do. The phrase “down home cooking” can be translated into pretty much every language on Earth, and refers to different raw materials and recipes in almost every one of them, so I don’t propose to get into specifics here; you, dear reader, probably have a fair idea of the kinds of food you like to eat, and that rather than random suggestions from archdruids should be your guide. De gustibus non disputandum est; which is to say that in food choices, above all else, dissensus rules.

In place of a specific resource list, then, I’d like to recommend those of my readers who are pursuing the green wizardry project to take a look at the resources for down home recipes they have available to them, perhaps in their families, perhaps in their communities, perhaps through other channels. The recipes to look for aren’t the fancy ones you’ll find in glossy recent cookbooks that are meant to gaze scornfully down from the bookshelf and overawe the guests; the recipes you want, rather, are the ones that Grandma Mildred used to make when it was just her and Grandpa George sitting down to dinner on a Monday night when the rest of the work week was still ahead, the ones that old Uncle Benny remembers from his days in the fire department or the merchant marine, or the ones that an elderly lady in the church your great-grandmother attended wrote out longhand in blue ink to give to your great-grandmother as a wedding gift. You might find them in old mimeographed Grange cookbooks with spiral bindings, or stuffed in the back of the recipe box you got from somebody in the family and never really sorted through, or – well, you get the idea. See what you can find.

One way or another, the sort of cooking I’ve discussed here will stage a comeback in the age after petroleum. The huge industrial infrastructure that undergirds today’s food system is not going to survive the end of the energy surpluses that created it, and when it unravels – perhaps slowly, perhaps in one vast JoJodammerung, a Twilight of the Chicken Tenders on a Wagnerian scale – people are still going to need to eat. The more people there are who have taken the time to learn the not unduly difficult skills of producing good food quickly, cheaply, and easily, the more time and energy will be available to tackle the many other challenges that we’re going to face as the age of cheap energy stumbles toward its end.

105 comments:

Wendy said...

I discovered, not so very long ago, just what you suggest here - that it takes me longer to order a carry-out meal and bring it home than it does to cook a meal from scratch. Often that "meal from scratch" includes ingredients that were canned by me at other times of the year, but all things considered, the homemade meal is just as fast, and it's by far tastier.

And that's the other thing I discovered - that I may find a take-out meal that will fill my belly, but I have not bought a prepared meal from the grocery store or a restaurant that tastes better than what I can make here at home ;). Which is saying a lot, because I'm not a terribly talented (or creative) cook :).

The final lesson that I've learned is that cooking at home is considerably cheaper than buying a ready-made meal. Even if the ingredients include the slightly more expensive locally grown organic produce or home-grown chicken we presserved during the summer. We've saved thousands of dollars per year by eating our home-prepared food rather than eating out and the food is more tasty and better for us.

Once I figured all of that out, I didn't need any convincing to cook at home. Now, my family has a hard time convincing me to eat out ;).

risa said...

At Stony Run we try to mostly grow what we will mostly use, which has changed our garden around a bit. We have less cabbage and more collards, for example. The solar dryers spend a long summer waiting for the apples and tomatoes, and we've learned to dry foliage (collards, kale, chard, spinach, beet greens, turnip greens) and crumble it up to make our own "spices" which go great in breads or soups or with duck eggs and Yukon Gold spuds. Good recipes with these ingredients just happen -- I don't think we've ever written one down, except as blog narratives. We forage a lot, too.

Our parents went the other way -- canned biscuits, TV dinners, the whole devolution of food after WWII. And my grandparents were from the deep South and the recipes were HEAVY with lard and such. So I'm happy we started over.

There is something we don't eat often which we grow a lot of: sunchokes. They are an acquired taste we never quite acquired, but could live with. We call it the TEOTWAWKI patch: what to eat if we run out of spuds not reserved for seed.

John Michael Greer said...

Wendy, sounds like you've already got this end of the green wizard curriculum down. Good!

Risa, do you have livestock other than ducks at Stony Run? Goats in particular are mighty fond of sunchokes, and thrive on them. As for the dried greens, excellent! I've done that sometimes as a replacement for the dried seaweed I grew up using in soups and the like; it does fairly well.

Lance Michael Foster said...

That's how my family has always cooked and still cooks. Working people's food. No haute cuisine. I learned a lot from my grandparents from the Depression (dad's side) and my Mom whose mother had a homecooking restaurant where everything was made from scratch in the 1930s and 1940s. Biscuits and gravy. Trout in cornmeal. Today for lunch we made leftover soup from ham on the bone, with beans and cabbage. We don't eat out, no money for it, and homecooking tastes better and better for you too. Pies, bread, whatever you have from scratch. Soups, meat broth. Lots of water to drink. Buffalo roast slow-cooked with potatoes. Beets and greens. Moose my dad shot. Last summer, salad of greens from lambsquarters, dandelion and violets.

For a few years, when I was working at a fulltime job and had money and no time, the junkfood was predominant. Eating out was de rigeur. Now though it's all back to how it was when I was growing up. That's the good side of being poor and underemployed, you have to get creative and you have the time to do it.

For those who might not have seen it, his 91-year-old lady cooks some tasty and solid inexpensive food from the Great Depression, while reminiscing of how it was to raise food, eat meals, cook in those days, and just live:
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=depression+cooking&aq=f

Katie said...

A chicken, vegetables, and navy beans? Easy! Roast chicken with vegetable on day one, and chicken-carcass-and-navy-bean-soup on day two. Seriously, the hardest part would be remembering to soak the beans.

I was one of the lucky ones--I grew up cooking. I'm pretty sure I had a couple do-it-myself recipes under my belt by the time I was seven. I've gone on to try fermentation, and I plan for my next foray to be those fireless cookers you mentioned.

Incidentally, at first I interpreted "chicken tenders" as "ones who tend chickens".

mpg4 said...

I've been learning to cook like this for the past couple of years. A few things I've learned:

* Plan ahead, or keep something around that prepares quickly. The time to start a pot of soup or a loaf of bread is well before you start to feel hungry. I keep store-bought cheese and tortillas around to paper over my mistakes.

* Management of the leftovers has become an important consideration.

* My refrigerator is much larger than I need now.

Cathy McGuire said...

A very large fraction of today’s Americans, provided with a plucked chicken, a market basket of fresh vegetables, and that fifty-pound sack of navy beans, would be completely at a loss
Oh, no - if you pluck the chicken, I'll do fine! ;-) I've cooked from scratch for decades; I agree with Wendy that processed food doesn't taste nearly as good as my own cooking - and mine is much cheaper! I rely a lot on the crockpot, but will definitely try the fireless cooker some day. And spices can help you vary the menu quite a lot, even with the same basic ingredients! So basic doesn't have to be boring.

But I agree with you that fewer people know -- or want to know -- how to cook, and I guess I wasn't paying attention when all my friends and family shifted to this pre-processed crap. It's so sad to visit them! In fact, I'm spending Christmas with a friend, who is ordering in the whole dinner (for 8) like she's done for years. I don't judge my friends; they all have crammed lives, but I would be depressed if I couldn't cook meals from scratch.

However, unlike Risa, my problem is learning to eat what I grow. Never been much of a greens person, but I'm trying hard to eat what grows (figuring that being able to grow my meals is too much of a benefit to pass up). Slowly, I'm adding veggie recipes to the usual casseroles and roasts. Right now it's practice; later I might be very glad I have the know-how. And since I got chickens, I can feed them the greens I don't get to (actually, they help themselves) so I don't feel as guilty. (Unfortunately, people are so germ-phobic, they won't eat bug-holed greens, so I can't even donate them).

Richard S said...

I remember growing up in the late 50s and 60s and my mother would come home from work at 5 and within 45 minutes to an hour have a home cooked meal on the table made from fresh ingredients. We did gardening in the summers and in the fall my mother would can up a storm. Beans, pickles, pickled vegetables, jams and jellies.

On weekends she would make big pots of home made soups or stews from whatever leftovers were around supplemented by some fresh veggies and it would usually involve a boiled chicken (which I was then charged with boning and cutting up).

This past year after far too many years of eating prepared foods and eating out, I've headed back to that old style of cooking. Sadly I don't have any of our old family recipes since they were all in my mother's head, but I learned enough helping her and watching to have the basics.

It really isn't that hard and the rewards are boundless.

Cathy McGuire said...

Two more thoughts:
cooking from scratch is fun - it's the cleaning up from scratch that I hate! ;-) But indeed I think that's half the reason my friends choose to order in - just eat and toss everything in the trash. And of course that is a huge part of the modern problem! (I probaby have a sixth of the trash my friends toss out weekly) But the amount of denial it takes to do that on a regular basis (eat and toss, eat and toss) is mindblowing.


Secondly, a recent experience w/junk food: once every six months I get myself into the jammed space of needing to buy something fast in an unfamiliar neighborhood. This week, I stopped at a fast food place and ordered chili cheese fries (yes, it must have been temporary insanity)-- the first two bites were horrible; it was cardboard with recycled grizzle and orange glue. But then, something like a chemical reaction grabbed me and I couldn't stop eating them, in fact my taste buds shifted and they tasted - well, not good, but not disgusting, and weirdly addicting! Maybe it was MSG, but something hit my system and quickly made some physical change; I don't know how else to describe it. And I wonder if fast-food eaters have a similar reaction that causes them to crave those obviously non-nutritive substances.

Ryan said...

Great comments so far. We also cook from scratch and have found that we never go out to eat anymore because we are (almost) always disappointed with what is prepared for us. Our tastes have changed.

A fairly pretentious, but very good cooking book that I discovered is Seven Fires by Argentine chef Francis Mallmann. It shows seven ways to cook using wood fires, hot stones and coals with grates, grills, pits, etc. Simple food cooked using a most basic heat source.

SophieGale said...

For once I'm ahead of the curve here! I've always liked to play with my food, but this fall I got religious about stocking the cupboard with "fixings." I don't buy a lot of red meat, so hamburger for Thanksgiving was a big treat. I thought I was going to make little meatballs with mushroom soup and Amish style noodles, but when I checked what I had in the house I realized I had red wine and sour cream, too! Stroganoff! (Seasoned with some homemade vegetable stock from the freezer.) All I needed from the store was paprika.

I looked up contradictory recipes online and decided to wing it: It was fabulous ! I am still patting myself on the back. --But what really brought the lesson home? I have a little homeless guy in the neighborhood who has been dropping by once or twice a week. As a "producer" I can get him a hot meal in minutes. If I were still in "consumer mode," we'd both be out of luck.

There's a storm a'comin' And I know that Auntie Em and Uncle Henry would not slip a $ to a hobo and send him to McDonald's...

I do watch the cooking shows on PBS and I have learned a lot about technique in the last year. I got myself some proper kitchen tools--a good vegetable peeler is a revelation! And I'll recommend to you More-with-Less: A Mennonite Community Cookbook.

http://www.worldcommunitycookbook.org/more/index.html

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

A subject close to my heart. My dad left when I was very young so I have always been involved with cooking from scratch and on a budget (out of necessity). It was fortunate really. My main resource is a well used and well loved textbook I picked up in school in year 8 back in the early 80's and it's called "Cooking the Australian Way". Everything is shown from scratch and it's all the sort of basic foods that you can eat every day.

Recently I've taken to making my own bread, foccacia's etc. and I'm not looking back. It's actually quicker, cheaper and uses less energy than going to the local bakery. I now know I've been conned all these years and I find purchased bread to be tasteless. You can even grow your own yeasts if you want - it's really easy. We've even done our own Christmas cake this year (heavy on the brandy unlike shop one's!).

I'm not sure what chicken tenders are but they don't sound good. We're getting our chickens + rooster next week after I complete the chook mansion and run over the next few days. Next project - what to do about the fox.

I find it strange that people say that they don't have time to cook. What are they doing with their time? Probably watching TV...

I have a favourite saying "people make time for the things they want to do". Kind of annoys people sometimes though.

Try home cooking from scratch - it's not hard.

Good luck!

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

In my excitement about going on about food and cooking - mmm food - I forgot to say Happy solstice!

PS: A mate of mine's wife is trying a gluten free diet. Being the person that I am, I asked why, knowing full well that she wasn't a ceoliac. Well, the answer is that there is no reason, so why bother?

good luck!

luna said...

Great post. I feel lucky to have learnt basic cooking skills from parents and grandparents. I also learnt something from a college friend who said "I never cook anything that takes longer than half an hour" (cooked from scratch mind - in the 80s and 90s we students were too poor to afford much convenience foods).

I hope you'll be doing a future post on cooking fuel/technology? This is one of my main worries once gas and electricity become unreliable. Especially in the UK with a large population and very little tree cover. Once people have finished burning their furniture and garden sheds, all remaining scraps of woodland will be used up and I fear the place will resemble Easter Island...

nutty professor said...

I like to think about the relationship between the food we eat and how connected we are to the natural world and whether the food affords us such a connection. For example, whether those of us who eat meat could ever take life in order to eat, and fully experience the implications of that act. I wonder if our post industrial futures include more homegrown/killed meat, even if it is only once a year or so. I also wonder about healing foods, such as teas and beers, and whether there is a connection to particular foods and healing aside from the larger "change" sense to which you refer. It is hard to find practical sources on these things, even though you have provided plenty of "food for thought" on production itself.

Antony said...

There was a cookbook published locally back in 1830 that is currently experiencing a revival among the 'slow food' crowd in these parts. It's called "The Cook Not Mad", and is available as a free download from http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/html/books/book_07.cfm . It has some very interesting recipes and insights into daily kitchen life during the American pioneer era. I know people who actually have a bound version, which would definitely be interested in. However, instead I'll probably wind up printing it out myself. A more recent cookbook of this sort would be "Carla Emery's "encyclopedia of country living".

Orange Sky said...

I have always been amazed at how folks are brainwashed about cooking. Long before I was aware of our current predicament, I had lengthy rants about such things as *pancake mix*. Really - how much time is saved by the manufacturer mixing the (inferior) flour and baking powder??!! You still have to add milk, oil and egg. Why not throw caution to the wind and mix the ingredients yourself? Ditto cornbread - and all the mixes. How hard is it to dump whole wheat flour and corn meal into a bowl instead of opening a box?! Oh dear, I can feel myself getting all worked up again .

I'm with you John - cooking need not take up that much time - 'conventional wisdom'says that shopping time is recreation and cooking time work, when I view that the other way around.

There are techniques to learn, though. Recently, I have reduced my dependence on canned beans by using my 20 year old pressure cooker for dry beans. After an all day soak (or an hour quick soak), it's only 6 minutes to beans for supper. Sometimes I even plan ahead, and get the chickpeas cooked tonight for tomorrow's hummus.

Risa - I really never though about drying the kale, but it would be very handy for soup etc. Thanks!
Also ditto for the sunchokes. I hope your potatoes never fail!!

Downshifting Life said...

I have done cooking from scratch all my adult life, although I will admit to buying the occasional frozen meal. One thing that I have been experimenting with lately is a pressure cooker. I am really quite impressed with it. I can have a really nice beef stew in just over an hour from when I first start chopping vegetables. Brown rice in half an hour.

A concern that I have for the deindustrial future though is the availability of spices. A lot of them will only grow in tropical or sub-tropical regions. Do you think the long distance spice trade will survive?

sgage said...

I'm another long-time cooker-from-scratch. Grew up eating down home food, etc.

A few years ago one of my brothers had the idea to compile a family cookbook. He solicited us all to submit our favorite recipes, along with some commentary or a story associated with the dish.

Mom kicked in quite a few recipes and comments on other recipes. Between my brothers and sisters and myself, and various in-laws and friends, we have a nice spiral bound cookbook - "Gage Family Favorites".

I heartily recommend compiling such a book of your family favorites as a worthy Green Wizard project. Having everything in one place, vs. jotted down in fading pencil on scraps of paper, is quite useful.

But the project itself is great family-bonding fun, and the stories that come out will bring many a smile...

H said...

Excuse the offtopic, but some time ago you talked about the real utility of placebos. This may interest you:

http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-he-placebo-effect-20101223,0,3010085.story

Charles said...

Unlike many of the commenters, I haven't been cooking since birth. I didn't really cook at all, other than an odd job or two in my youth until I was in my late 30's, post divorce, and uprooted from my native culture. I found that I liked it and quickly became proficient at it, and if I can say so myself, actually pretty good.

I've since remarried, and food and cooking represent one of the major differences between my wife and I. She's a major proponent of the ready-made meal, while I'm a cook from scratch kind of guy. Admittedly, my wife does most of the day to day cooking because I work outside the home, while her active profession is currently taking care of our kids.

Still, frequently, I am at home watching the kids and making our meals. Fresh pasta, for example, with a few exceptions like raviolis or tortellinis can be made in quantities sufficient for a meal in about the same amount of time it takes a pot of water to come to a boil. The time required to prep and roast a whole chicken is no more than is required to defrost frozen chicken tenders and turn them into a far less healthy and satisfying meal, and the time that the chicken is in the oven can be used to mind and organize the kids with time left over for side dishes. It additionally yields the ingredients for two to three more meals requiring even less time.

Although it sometimes acts as a bone of contention in my marriage, my wife willingly yields the cooking for feast days over to me and proudly acts as hostess over a fare of scratch-cooked dishes.

An acquaintance of mine once quipped on the importance of food to survival 'Eat food or die'. Food is quite literally the stuff of life. As such, it is my belief that anything so important to existence is worthy of time and care, far more so than many things that are only incidental to life.

It isn't my intention to condemn those that don't scratch-cook - there are, after all, entire industries and branches of academia devoted to convincing them that their time is to precious to spend on such mundane tasks as ensuring their own well-being. My goal is only to show them that there is a better, and more responsible way.

Bob said...

Another useful and important post. For those people out there terrified of making this sort of transition (as I have been), I will recommend the cookbooks of Rozanne Gold, who typically uses three ingredients in her dishes (not counting salt or pepper), and presents a fairly non-intimidating starting point. Also, Harold McGee's "Keys to Good Cooking" has no recipes, but offers a rational way to interpret other cookbooks (when it is important to follow a recipe exactly and when it isn't), and tips to save time and effort. I also have a deal with some friends to trade chickens when they stop laying, so we don't have to kill our own "pets." Baby steps...

GHung said...

"go buy whatever nice product the nice man from the nice company is trying to sell you."

If he's trying to sell you a good pressure cooker (and the price is right) buy one, and learn to use it. A pressure cooker can do what a crock pot does in a fraction of the time; tenderize a tough, stringy piece of meat or cook those navy beans. It will also can those leftovers for next week's quick meal.

One benefit to rural life for us is that that we can't get on the phone and have a pizza (or anything else) delivered. While I admit that there have been times I would have loved to order that extra-large Extravaganza (hold the anchovies), delivered right to my door, we have gotten into the habit of planning, preparing and enjoying our own meals. Just the thought of driving the twenty mile plus round trip to pick up "togo" makes me weary. I can now make a great pizza from scratch that makes the stuff from the pizzaria taste like funk. My chicken tenders are famous as well ;-)

Adrian Skilling said...

We tend to make lentil plus veg soups a lot right now (or dried beans instead of lentils - though remembering to soak them in advance). Lentils give a good base with protien then you can add whatever vegetables you have. Takes 30-40 mins cooking but for most of this time attention isn't needed.

Another option is dried beans plus a small amount of meat and some vegs. These recipes are very forgiving, no cooking juices are wasted and they are filling too.

marielar said...

I believe the biggest problem once peak oil is on us wont be the cooking, that's fairly undemanding work. The issue will be the production and transformation of raw materials into ingredients ready to cook. I have serious doubts that most people will be able to produce in their backyard enough calories efficiently to keep themselves alive. The backbone of agriculture is grain and pulse. In an agrarian society, meat and vegetables are mostly nutritional supplements. The calories come from the carbs, as wheat, rice or corn etc. The hitch is that the infrastructure for small scale production and transformation of cereals and pulses is gone in most locals. Better pray the Midwest and the Canadian prairies will still grow and ship grain reliably. Others important sources of calories are labor intensive. Shelling 50 pounds of beans manually is daunting, so is plucking, gutting and butchering 20-30 birds, much so any larger animals such as a goat or a pig.

So, I would think that one thing that people need to consider at the very top of their priorities is to source their grains and pulses as locally as possible. If we don't start making profitable for local small farmers and small mills to grow and process those staples, we will be in very serious troubles, no matter if we cook from scratch, have a garden and raise a few chickens. The 100 pounds flour bag was the big item in my grand-mother pantry, even if my grand-father had an orchard, a big garden and raised chickens. As well, dairies and small scale abattoirs have more or less been wiped out of the map. That's another challenge.

We growth and raise much of our foodstuff and honestly, by the time I am done all the outdoor work and some of the transformation (I can a lot and I butcher quite a few of my own animals, the rest I have done locally), that frozen pizza looks pretty darn convenient and tasty. That's how tired I am at the end of the day. Picking up a few greens from the garden is light work, not so growing, harvesting and lugging around 200-400 pounds of potatoes for winter storage.

divelly said...

I think it's where you are located.
Here in Queens,NY,there are 135 different ethnic cuisines competing for your stomach's attention.Some of the street vendors have a following that would make any celebrity chef envious.There's an Israeli falafel guy who deep fries them to order and loads up the pita with 4 different salads and hummus,baba ganoush,tzaziki.I always think I could never finish the thing,but I always do!
But there are 50 million Americans on food stamps.At the market the other day,i waited in line with my free rang chicken,fresh vegetables,etc. and saw the cart in front of me loaded with TV dinners,canned ravioli,Gatorade,Pop Tarts,etc.and paid for with stamps.This stuff should be not eligible for purchase like beer or cigarettes.I guess the junk food lobby would see to that.Why not offer a simple cooking course to qualify for food stamps?

Ivan Lukic said...

This is first time in three years since I started reading The Archdruid Report that I do not understand something. I know what bean soup is, because I like to eat it too, but fireless cooker is perplexing, and explanation to a Serbian reader, willing to become green wizard, is perhaps not complete waste of keyboard time.

RPC said...

Macdämmerung - I like the sound of that! On another note, may I suggest Edouard de Pomiane's delightful "French Cooking in Ten Minutes"? His point was that the average French worker could (on a one-hour lunch break) come home, cook and eat a decent meal, and have time for a leisurely cup of coffee before returning to work. Of course he frequently supposes a charcuterie on the corner - perhaps that's a post-peak occupation worth reviving.

John said...

Nature provided out family with another impetus to go the 'from scratch' route. A few years ago my wife was diagnosed with a heart condition. The doctors had no cure or palliative for it, but I did. I introduced my wife to Dr. Dean Ornish's program to reverse heart disease. This program has several parts, but the primary one is a diet with almost zero fat content.

We discovered very quickly that adoption of this diet required the avoidance of almost all processed and restaurant food, as nearly all of it is too high in fat to qualify.

Starting with Ornish's recipies and branching out from there, we gradually aquired the skills necessary to cook from scratch. (I should say my wife aquired the skills - I'm as inept in the kitchen as ever.)

The result; my wife and I have both lost weight, her condition has improved markedly, and her doctors are amazed and are gradually taking her off some of the medications she has been on for years. Interestingly, both her primary care doctor and cardiologist knew of the Ornish program but don't recommend it to their patients because so few are willing to change their lifestyle.

Cooking from scratch can have many advantages.

Karim said...

Greetings all,

Interesting post on cookery! For once, in far away Mauritius we would be a little bit ahead in Post Peak Oil preparation given that the vast majority of people here cook from scratch. Ready made meals can be bought but due to price they have remained marginal.
Thankfully we also have a vast repertoire of recipes that can be cooked fairly quickly and are very tasty.
Alas, Mauritius also imports 75% of its foodstuff from far away places, like rice from India and Pakistan, flour from France and Australia! Rice and flour are really the staple foods here and we grow none of it! A recipe for a very problematic future I guess.

Ivy said...

Cooking isn't hard--but I do struggle with the cleaning up and having enough clean dishes! (Oh, the joys of not having anyone around to help out.)

I'm incredibly lucky. My mother always cooked, and a lot of it was from scratch. The most processed food we used regularly was to have canned or frozen veggies and the like. (Which, I suppose, one could can on their own though she did not.) Even those weren't used every day. She taught me to cook, and although I'm learning new things as my tastes change and grow, it's a great base to start with.

It always astonishes me; I pack my lunch often and my coworkers will see me with my re-heated food and ask where it's from. When I reply, looking confused, that it's from my kitchen they look stunned. Now, I recognize a lot of these guys just don't have time to cook, when they are sometimes working until midnight. (I don't cook when I have crazy hours like that either! I barely eat!) But still, it's sad to me that some of them seem to view it as this amazing alchemical skill.

On the other hand, between that and the knitting, a fair number of them have said they're sticking with me if the apocalypse comes. So I guess they at least recognize it's a useful skill?

Harry J. Lerwill said...

Today most people outsource their food production. I know that is not the normal term to use for going to a supermarket and picking up a bunch of microwaveable pre-processed packages of food, but essentially that is what we’ve done.

Outsourcing began in your home and eventually spread to other areas of the economy. Sure, there has always been some outsourcing of food production. Not every home in history raised meat or even enough vegetables for everyone. But the format of purchased food has changed significantly. Potatoes that were once grown at home were replaced with store-bought potatoes from the local shop, which in turn spurred the economies of scale as supermarkets sent small grocers to the trash heap of history. Real, fresh potatoes, with dirt still on them gave way to a myriad of pre-processed potatoes: tinned and peeled baby potatoes, washed bags of potatoes, frozen potatoes, pre-cut potatoes, bags of fries to be dropped into hot oil. We even have fries with the oil impregnated into the surface so they will cook in the oven. This outsourcing of the process of taking a vegetable out of the ground and making a meal out of it reached its apex with the powdered potato mix. Just add boiling water, maybe some butter, and stir.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

Forty years ago, when I moved out of the house, the parental units gave me a copy of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook. It has come in handy. A few weeks ago I used the recipe in there to make Indian Pudding for Thanksgiving. However, there's quite a bit of stirring. I discovered a microwave recipe on the internet, and it's quicker and easier even while using the same ingredients. Just as tasty, too. I wouldn't be surprised if the microwave way uses less electricity than I do making it with the electric stove.

"Be not the first to try the new, nor yet the last to cast the old aside."

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

So the year has turned and is now ascending towards spring. Joy to all.

Yay homemade food! Every Sunday I put on music and start in to cooking, which helps for meals during the week. A good soup or my favorite lentil and barley stew may be quick to put together, but there is often a long simmering time; for sweet potato pie with cheese and sesame seed crust, by the time you make the crust, boil the sweet potatoes, mash them, assemble everything and bake, you're talking two hours--though the time-thrifty cook will be doing other food prep as well--again, best made ahead of time. Still, would much rather spend time doing that than driving and shopping, which I'm doing steadily less of anyway. I agree, a well-stocked larder and cooking ahead are key for quick meals on busy days.

So many people aren't home enough hours at a time to put homemade bread through two risings or do other food prep tasks that, while not requiring actual hours of work, do require hours of being around.

I belong to a cooking and brewing extended family, so our get-togethers are bounteous. Like other commenters, my husband and I have pretty much stopped going to restaurants over the years.

Marielar makes excellent points about local-sourced grains. So many foods we take for granted could so easily become difficult to come by.

IMHO A good cookbook is the 1975 Joy of Cooking (still available and to most, preferable to later editions): how to cook--including game and foraged plant foods--smoke, pickle, bake, about ingredients and substitutions; it's a great reference source for the kind of scratch cooking being discussed (though the canning information is a little out of date because of the tomato acidity issues JMG has mentioned). Great for beginners--almost like having an aunt or grandma in the kitchen to ask questions of.

Walter said...

Nicely written post. I especially like "JoJoDammerung." Anyways, consider this: Right now a semi-trailer hauling 40,000 pounds of food 1500 miles (supposed US average) and getting 5 miles to a gallon has a cost for 300 gallons of diesel of about $1000 - based on $3.33 per gallon. This means all the food has a fuel cost of 2.5 cents per pound. Now, if the price of diesel DOUBLES, the fuel cost per pound is still only 5 cents per pound. This is insignificant if the load consists of such things as cornflakes which have 3 cents of corn in a $3.00 box. So, even if fossil fuels are rationed by price, the market will still be able to absorb an increased cost for fuel. Thus, all the whining we hear about fuel prices from the trucking and food industries are based on something else.

This something else is leveraging. In other words, the 2.5 cents is inflated in value during the transport, especially since the 1500 miles is in several segments. It is likely this 2.5 cents for fuel cost is leveraged into 25 cents or more by the time it gets to the consumer. However, this leveraging effect also provides a "cushion" that can be compressed. It is not outside the realm of probability that as fuel prices increase, there will still be plenty of food distributed through the global and national network. Shipping companies, whether by land or sea will likely be able to pass on their costs and STILL maintain their trade routes. There will be a shakeout, no doubt in those companies who are inefficient (in the modern business model sense), but those companies willing to take a 5% cut in profits should thrive.

I see peasant revolutions and catastrophic weather events in third-world countries having a greater impact on food distribution than the price of fuel. It pains me to say this, since I am a small-scale sustainable farmer, but the demographics of the situation dwarf all our good intentions.

Bill Pulliam said...

I think this is another of those things that will mostly happen on its own in a sort of self-organizing way as the need becomes greater and the ability of people to find or afford processed food wanes. So, like all these things, the most helpful approach is to be a part of your community in the large sense (not just the greenie subcommunity that is a small minority in the vast majority of the U.S.). As the need rises, the information will be sought out, and the knowledgeable people near at hand will help change the world... one skillet at a time.

What is thought of as traditional down-home food in these parts, however, has been HEAVILY contaminated by the long-persisting universal availability of fat and sugar that were once (and someday again will be) precious luxuries. There's hardly a single thing you can find in the "home cooking" spectrum here that is not loaded with butter and sugar (or margarine and corn syrup). It will be a bit of a shock for the "down home" flavor palettes here to adjust to the inherent tastes of food that are not piled deep under sugar, salt, fat, and bacon. I think people might mourn the loss of this almost as much as they will mourn the loss of their hugely overpowered pickups.

Jennie said...

Yea, as others have commented, this one is a done deal for me and my family. I think my skills are to the point where I can feed our family for a week off of one chicken and a basket of veggies. We do eat some of the frozen pizza type things, but meals like that are usually on nights when we are too tired to cook or too busy canning to cook. :-D A funny trade off every time, but worth it I think.

I come from a Southern food tradition, and my hubby comes from a more Eastern (US, not eastern as in Asia) food tradition, and now we make our home in the snowy corn country of NW Iowa. :-D In many respects we have to make our own path to dinner. We combine the best of what we grew up with, add in the local flavors and customize it to our preferences.

There's another selling point for home cooked. If you don't like something, don't cook with it! :-D I dislike cilantro passionately but we eat a lot of Tex-mex type foods, and I simply leave out the cilantro. I can replace it with limes or oregano, depending on my mood and available supplies and it tastes just as great.

I think organizing some training on the basics could be really beneficial for most communities. Basics like knife skills, how to quarter a chicken, working with spices, coping with seasonal availability, cooking in bulk, etc. All of these probably need to be retaught to many many Americans. I'm going to look into organizing such a thing in my town.

Andrea G. said...

Happy Solstice!

JMG, now that you're on the east coast, you might want to keep an eye out for Coast of Maine sea vegetables. Nori doesn't have to come from Asia.

It's heartening to see that I'm not the only one to salivate over the possibilities inherent in "a plucked chicken, a market basket of fresh vegetables, and that fifty-pound sack of navy beans".

eatclosetohome said...

A couple thoughts: often the hard part is figuring out what to eat when you're tired and hungry that's the problem. Having a weekly or monthly menu really helps with that. I thought my mom was nuts on that score until I tried it. You can search for "meals for a month" and find many options, including vegetarian and omnivorous options.

Also, I think the professionalization of cooking has been a huge disservice. I teach classes on food preservation and "pantry cooking." February will be "International Bean Cuisine," which will go a ways to demystify that 50-pound sack of pintos. Some folks who attend the classes have been so snookered by the Food Channel that they don't understand how far Martha Stewart is from home cooking.

Emily

Kelsey said...

I love to cook and have a rather large cookbook collection, though my partner chides me for not actually using them much since I generally cook "au pif" or by feel during the week. That said, I started finding cookbooks that collect the traditional recipes of the people from various ethnicities who have in the past been dependent on what they grow, kill, and forage. I particularly like books from eastern European cultures, since their climate (and foodstuffs) tend to mirror what we can grow here. I've found several great books on traditional Jewish cooking, Russian and Ukrainian cooking, provincial ("country") French cooking, etc. I especially like Paula Wolfert's "Mediterranean Greens and Grains" as well.

Bishko said...

Happy Solstice everyone, the Sun has turned the corner!
Here's something I wrote earlier this year. Some of you who cook from scratch, as I do, may find it useful.

The Rice Bowl as Metaphor 1-13-10

Asian meals can assume the properties of the “Rice Bowl”. This is traditionally seen as a bowl of steamed rice with a side dish laid on top and a garnish. For example a few slices of meat and a few slivers of green onion. A splash of soy sauce and you are good to go, a meal in a bowl.
As preppers we are concerned about nutrition but also about efficiency of food storage and food preparation. Also looming in the back of our minds is that elephant in the room: “appetite fatigue”.

With mostly beans and rice and maybe wheat stored in buckets piled to the ceiling we feel secure in our ability to feed ourselves and others until we can get our gardens, trees, flocks, &c fully operational and self sustaining. But until then, there is, in the back of our minds that subtle tug of doubt that worries us a little about food variety if the moose finally sinks.

Sure we may have cans of sardines, tuna or smoked oysters by the dozen. But those cases of spam still stare dolefully down at you whenever you peruse your storage shelves. “How are you going to eat me?” they mutter, “You’ll get tired of me sooner or later!” You turn away in haste, turning out the light like some child running from a dark room.

Well, may I offer a gallant knight to help thwart the evil dragon we tend not to face; The Rice Bowl as Metaphor.

The rice bowl is a metaphor if we choose it to be. The rice in the bowl can be substituted out to be a multitude of things. Usually we think of starches, Steamed or fried potatoes, sprouted boiled wheat, bulgur (steamed cracked wheat), corn mush, broken crackers, boiled barley, boiled dry beans, fresh peas. You get the idea.
On top you can place almost anything that gives the meal a counterpoint, sometimes shaking hands with the underlying layer, sometimes fighting madly. It doesn’t need to be meat or fish, though that tends to be traditional. Sometimes you don’t have any meat or tofu. All you might have is some toasted root you experimented with, or a pickled something.
Remember, just like “three logs make a fire” “three counterpoints make a meal”. A few examples:
A bowl of cave beans (you have discovered cave beans haven’t you?) with two fried eggs and a braised scallion on top.
Boiled barley with a small fried fish or two and a scoop of steamed greens and a splash of soy and wine vinegar.
Rice and lentils with fried onion slices on top next to sliced pickled peppers.
Chopped bread in a bowl with sardines and shredded cabbage or sauerkraut on top. Drizzle with oil and vinegar.
Cold boiled potatoes with pickled beets and hard boiled eggs. Sprinkle with thyme or dill &c.

Here is an interesting trick to add variety to your meals. Make three lists. On your first list write down as many things you can think of for your bowl’s “bulk” rice, barley &c. For your second list write down your first counterpoint, anchovies, beef, cheese, &c. Your third list should contain something more odd or flamboyant, your counterspice; onion or pepper or pickle. Let your imagination run wild. If you are adventurous (life, love and cooking should be approached with abandon), you can make a fourth list of adjuvants: sprinkles or sauces. Soy, various vinegars, oils, fruit juices (citrus, apple, prune) or shaved fruits (dried or fresh), crushed pan toasted nuts &c.
Next take out dice and roll them. Or ask someone for a number between one and X, or put numbered slips of paper in a bag. The number that comes up is used to pick out the items on the list. Roll the dice for each list and see what dinner combination you come up with. The result is usually unique and often something you would never put together by thinking. Often it is delicious and a good discovery is made.

Shiva said...

Though it may be lumped in by many as a "fad diet", I would love to suggest that other readers check out some raw food dishes. Though I am not currently a "raw foodist" I have discovered that raw fruits and veggie dishes are frequently much tastier than cooked alternatives and offer much more nutritional benefits. If you plan on living off of your own garden, your food will go a lot further eating much of it raw and your health will benefit tremendously from the added nutrition....an important bonus if medical care becomes harder to get. While there are many raw food "cook"books that are the equivalent of gourmet ones, there are plenty out there that offer simple alternatives. Check them out and I think you will be pleasantly surprised!

Castanea_d said...

Ivan, a “Fireless Cooker” is an old-time way to do part of the cooking of a soup, stew, or other item needing long slow cooking by heating it to boiling, then putting the pot in an insulated container that will keep it hot for a long time. Often, boxes of hay were used. Thus, the Wikipedia article noted below, “Haybox,” is the same thing as a “Fireless Cooker.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haybox

This is also discussed in older editions (perhaps up until 1950 or so) of the Girl Scout Handbook, which is available on Project Gutenberg. It was expected that a Girl Scout be able to construct a Fireless Cooker and prepare a meal with it (this is around page 112 in the Project Gutenberg edition), as well as other (mostly) lost arts of the old-time kitchen and home, such as the “Iceless Refrigerator” (page 116), which is an arrangement to keep food somewhat cool in the summer by way of damp cloths and evaporation.

We will likely need these skills again.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28490

Don Plummer said...

I have a confession to make. I don't think I've ever eaten Chicken Tenders. Oh, I've had the Mac version--McNuggets?--a few times, but we stopped going to Mickey D's a long time ago.

And what the heck are JoJos? I kid you not--I have never heard of them. Maybe I really don't want to know... :)

We've been married thirty-five years and have always cooked our own meals. I can't see doing it any other way. The only recent exception is when I've taught evening classes; then and only then have I relied on microwave-ready meals. When I have to do that, I try to get the best I can. The ones from Amy's Kitchen are about the best available, and they are bland-tasting, too. But at least they aren't heated in plastic trays.

I do have one industrial-food weakness: breakfast cereal. I don't know how I'm going to survive if I can't get Cheerios or shredded wheat. But we'll manage, I'm sure.

Another thing we green wizards need to be concerned about--and I'm sure many of you have thought about this--is having a backup heat source for cooking when the power is no longer reliable. We have an electric range in our house. I haven't done much research in this area, but I've heard that rocket stoves are a good investment. Anyone have experience along these lines?

Well, I've rambled enough for today. I need to go--I'm making some beet soup for dinner tonight.

unadilla said...

Eating (and by obvious extension, cooking) is often as much a social act as a biological necessity. Having someone to cook and to eat with goes a long, long way toward motivating one to 'eat in.'

My partner and I live about 2/3rds of the time in the middle of New York City and rarely go out to eat or get take-out. Cooking and eating together every night is a central pillar of our great relationship (as it was for my whole family most of the time growing up). Sure, the pressures on time and the ostensibly attractive 'alternatives' to eating-in in NYC are great, but it really doesn't take much to do a little planning in advance and cook every night. People say, "Well, I/we just don't have the time!" all the time to me. There is a simple answer- get rid of your TV- make cooking and eating together as a family the central part of each evening instead of staring dumbly at a flashing box.

My perennial cookbook recommendation is 'The Silver Spoon,' a tome of very, very simple yet usually very good classic Italian recipes. An easy, delicious recipe can be found in that book using nearly any vegetable, even the 'unusual' ones, that might be found in abundance at the farmer's market. Whenever we get a veg from our CSA and wonder, 'what the heck do we do with this?' I check The Silver Spoon first.

Don Plummer said...

I almost forgot. A great resource for "down home" recipes that are often quick, use readily available ingredients, are easy to make, and that frequently contain family recipes dating back two or more generations, are cookbooks sold by churches, synagogues, and other non-profits as fundraisers. What happens is that someone in the organization collects "favorite" recipes from its members and then turns them over to a publisher that specializes in printing these kinds of cookbooks. They are great resources; we have at least three of them in our house. If you see any at a garage sale next summer, grab them! Or, better yet, perhaps you could organize a recipe collection for your congregation or organization and publish one of your own.

robertmp said...

I must have missed the part where you raised and butchered the hog, and raised the kidney beans. But heatless soup cooking?

Twilight said...

"Twilight of the Chicken Tenders"? Well, I do tend chickens, but I was hoping for something a bit more manly, like maybe...Oh...Nevermind!

Cooking is not really my big thing, but it does not intimidate me either, and if there is foodstuff available I will not starve. On the other hand, I married a girl who is an awesome cook and it's inefficient for us to overlap on all skills (anyone buying that?)

We've dealt with several dietary restrictions over the years, so cooking from scratch has often been a requirement. Also, once you begin to understand just what they put in that factory made "food" you find a whole other reason to want to control the basic ingredients.

Richard Larson said...

In October a flushed grouse wing beat its way from the tall grasses of the ditch straight into the bumper guard on the front of my speeding truck. Since I didn't see a mass of feathers heaped up in my rear view mirror, I stopped to pluck it from the grill. Was surprised to find it neatly tucked into a cross member of the guard with no apparent smashed meat, bones, or innards.

I threw it in the back of the truck and plucked it clean at camp. Rubbed olive oil into the meat and stuffed the cavity with a potato and an onion, and worked cilantro and powered hot pepper into the oil.

I rested the bird into a bread pan and covered it with foil, then slid the pan into a small barrel that was placed on the top of the wood burning heater.

Was hungry waiting, but the meal was deliciously worth it, and other than the high fuel intensive method of dispatch, this meal was as Green Wizard inspired as possible!

DIYer said...

Bill P (from last week's essay) --

The reason to withhold oxygen from food in long-term storage is to stop the unsaturated fats and oils from becoming rancid.

Rancidity occurs in the complete absence of microbes when oxygen, O2 (Or a reactive oxygen species such as .O2- according to Wikipedia), attacks the unsaturated links in the carbon backbone of the fatty acid component. These links are double-bonds between carbon atoms, and in natural oils they are almost always in the cis- configuration. Double bonds, and the atoms on either side of them, are particularly vulnerable to attack.

The resulting molecule, a fatty acid with one or more oxygen atoms bonded onto it, is no longer a nutrient and can in fact be toxic, even carcinogenic.

Saturated fat is not easily oxidized at room temperature, because all the bonding sites are occupied by hydrogen, whose bonds require more energy to break.

DaShui said...

Greetings and Holiday Salutations Archdruid Greer!

This time you disappointed me. I expect you of all people,being the Druid Pope, could at least devote a few sentences on how the everyday meal, when prepared by oneself, especially if first killed by oneself and the "end result" from a few hours later is quickly composted can be a meditation upon our role in Nature

Fleecenik Farm said...

This is the one topic that is very important to me. I was raised at a time when my mother would take us to the 'surplus food store" where we would find sliced cheese, peanut butter and pasta. Early on I learned how to make the most of one roasted chicken.

A few years ago I joined a focus group where healthy cooking was the topic of discussion. Very few women at the table believed me that I could make a big pot of veggie soup for less that 5 dollars. This pot of soup fed my son and myself for several meals during the week.

We have lost the ability to cook basic food and in teh process we spend more money for less quality food...

John Michael Greer said...

Good heavens. I didn't expect anything like so enthusiastic a response! Thank you to all who posted about your own cooking from scratch; it's very encouraging to hear that I'm not a lone voice boiling beans in the wilderness, so to speak. Thanks also to those who recommended specific books! Given the flurry of responses, I trust nobody will mind if I limit my responses to those who had specific questions to ask or points to raise.

Cherokee, a "chicken tender" is a strip of chicken breast meat, sans skin and bone, breaded and deep fried at the factory and then shipped to food service establishments, where it can be heated up in a microwave or on a steam table. They're usually heavy on the salt and seasonings, to cover up the fact that they're basically tasteless chunks of vaguely meat-shaped plastic.

Luna, stand by for the next two posts.

Downshifting, spices were imported to medieval Europe by the time of the Crusades, so I'm guessing that some brave souls will get a spice trade going again fairly quickly if it stops at any point during the decline. Mind you, there are also some very good flavoring plants -- herbs, peppers, you name it -- that you can grow in your own garden, and it's a good thing to do!

H, I saw that. The idea that placebos are getting more effective over time has dizzying implications.

Marielar, I've been saying all along that bulk grains and legumes need to be grown in the kind of quantities that take significant acreage, and those who don't plan on becoming full time farmers need to have trades that will enable them to buy their grains and legumes from farmers.

Ivan, I was hoping somebody would notice that reference and ask. I'll be doing a post about fireless cookers next week, and will cover all the details then.

Karim, I think it's mostly an American bad habit to eat food that's produced in factories rather than the kitchen at home. Still, you've made a good point about local sources of food -- as things come apart, people in Mauritius and a lot of similar places are going to have to get local food production up and running in a hurry.

Ivy, next time one of them says that about sticking with you in the apocalypse, ask what useful skills they're prepared to offer to make them worth having around. The reaction may be interesting!

Walter, this is why purely economic factors are not a valid basis for decision making at this point -- they only price in short term costs. One of the points I've been trying to make is that green wizards (and others!) might want to consider spending that little bit more in order to support a local producer.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, one thing to keep in mind is that fat and sugar stopped being luxuries about the time the Americas were invaded by Europeans. American cooking has been high on carbs and fats since colonial times, and there's a reason for that -- if you don't have those monster trucks, and have to put out a lot more muscular energy, fats and carbs make good fuel.

Jennie, excellent! If you can teach basic cooking skills to those who don't know how to do anything but microwave a plastic packet, a great deal of good could be done.

Emily, if I had Puritan tendencies, the nonsense that appears on the Food Channel would be one of my nominees for Satan incarnate.

Shiva, as mentioned in the post, I think fad diets are a great idea, since the human body benefits from changing its diet regularly. As for raw foods, most traditional cuisines include them; I grew up eating a certain amount of such delicacies as raw octopus sushi, for example, and I've enjoyed steak tartare as well as the more usual raw fruits, vegetables, etc.

Castanea, thank you for the Girl Scout Handbook reference! Yes, a fireless cooker is the same thing as a haybox, or rather a haybox is a relatively simple kind of fireless cooker. We'll be discussing those at great length in next week's post.

Robert, there's a great Russian proverb: "Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the possible." Most people don't have the option of slaughtering their own hogs -- though I do grow some of my own beans. As for the soup, it's not heatless at all; again, I'll be discussing fireless cookers next week.

Richard, now you've made me hungry -- not easy, after the very tasty shepherd's pie that was the centerpiece of tonight's dinner, but that grouse sounds good. As for your hunting technique, well, friends of mine have returned from deer camp more than once with the sheepish confession that the only deer they bagged was the one that mashed in the front grill of the pickup...

DaShui, er, first of all, Druids don't have popes, and if we did I wouldn't be it. As for the rest, well, I talk about the things I want to talk about when I want to talk about them; if you'd like to see a blog post about some other subject, I encourage you to start a blog of your own!

John Michael Greer said...

Fleecenik, when Sara and I were first married and living in a rundown studio apartment on the wrong side of the tracks in Seattle, we had about $10 a week for groceries. It's amazing how fast you can learn how to turn dry beans and a few less than perfect vegetables into something tasty and nourishing!

risa said...

Mr. G, currently chickens, ducks and geese. In the past, also rabbits, sheep and goats and a steer. Goats will return, perhaps when we are both retired. They like Japanese Knotweed, too, which is a pest here otherwise.

We're :goat" enough to eat eat sunchokes from time to time but we're so impressed with it as a low-or-no-care crop that we pretty much give it the run of the place and call it our backup food supply.

John Seymour used to plant new garden sites to sunchokes, and then a year later turn the pigs in. All plowed and ready to go!

Houyhnhnm said...

For people like me, gardening also leads to eating a lot of raw food. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest so for lunch I usually often just grabbed an apple or swooped down a row of raspberries bushes.

The habit is still with me. Much of the pea crop never makes it into the house. Cherry tomatoes are another ready-to-eat snack/light meal.

I bring veggies in though for my favorite summer salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and Walla Walla onions. They're still raw though.

Houyhnhnm

Susan said...

I'm one of the hungry millions who get foodstamps now - we just got our second month's worth - and I wonder how much the folks who use them for junk food really need them. I am buying the in-bulkiest, on-salest food I can sniff out, and the amount we get to spend each month isn't getting us through it yet. It is a challenge, trying to figure out how to do it more and more from scratch; I find it takes me a long time to cook a meal (I take my time with the chopping knife, which is cheaper and faster than a trip to the ER) but it's starting to be more fun the more of it I do myself.

My advice to those who don't cook yet is not to take it too seriously. It really isn't rocket science, and as long as you keep it simple, creativity can be delicious! But yeah, keep it simple...

LewisLucanBooks said...

Ah...! One of my favorite topics. Cooking and food. The time involved? I look on it as OT ... Occupational Therapy. This last year, I got my first CSA box. Weekly. What an adventure. I posted my experiences on our local newspapers forum. The responses were ... interesting.

I find I must be more adventuresome then most of the local population. People's food prejudices were educational. Of course, I have to remember that being a single, semi-hermit I have only myself to please. I often use plane, non-fat yogurt for sandwich spreads or in place of sour creme on such things as chili. Some of the responses ... you'd think I was killing my grandmother.

hawlkeye said...

Ah, what a delicious thread; I don't think I've ever taken so many notes on useful stuff from a single post... thanks ALL.

As I read, I noticed something simmering inside, and the timer went DING on Bill's phrase "mourn the loss".

The tastes and smells of the foods we grew up with are deeply comforting and resonate within our guts along with our digestive systems. If Sally was fed tenders and jojos as a tot, wouldn't they still trigger a visceral comfort response, even if she grew up to value greens and beans?

Food is far more than nutrition, but a vehicle for love to get passed around the table. Really, all those plants and meals are sponges, soaking up our intentions and care (or not) which become another vital component of our fulfillment.

I learned this cooking at a more enlightened restaurant, ironically enough, which usually had a line out the door. One busy, crazy breakfast rush I became so visibly flustered that I was yanked off the line, pushed into the "safety area" and encouraged to chill out. Only good attitudes were allowed around the food; take a break and shift it, then try again. A revelation to me then...

Life in the mad oil bubble has out-sourced more than nutriment; food has not only gained vast toxicity, but has largely been eliminated as a channel for strengthening mental and emotional health. Something we will need as surely as carbohydrates and spice as we mourn the losses of the day.

Good cooking IS good knitting; it's a thread that weaves your loved ones together into a deeper, stronger garment, one to warm both body and soul on a cold winter's night.

Thaddeus said...

Good post. My wife and I (well, mostly the wife!) are already handy home cooks, gardeners and canners. Other good reasons to cook at home include health (nothing in there you don't want) and thriftyness. We always feel ripped off when we order a meal in a restaurant of something we could have cooked at home, only to find our home version is better! For those interested in "emergency" cooking, scour your used bookstores for cookbooks published during World War Two. One to look out for: The New American Cook Book, Lily Haxworth Wallace, ed., Books, Inc., NY 1942.

But just how do you make chicken tenders at home??

dltrammel said...

Unfortunately as a long time bachelor I have only just started cooking on a regular basis. Didn't even have pots and pans until last Christmas when my sister gave me a set as a present.

I had bought into the ease of running out for lunch at work and picking up something or just stopping by on the way home. Now though with a typical fast food meal at $6-7, it just doesn't make economic sense to do it anymore.

Also it was hard to make something in a smaller scale for just one without leaving tons of leftovers.

Two things though are changing my prospective (besides this site), a new garden this year, which meant I could have fresh veggies by just going out and picking some.

And a second hand vegetable steamer picked up at a garage sale. Its just the right size for a couple of hand fulls of what ever you have a taste for. It's my new most favorite appliance.

Nothing like being able to go from garden to plate in half an hour. I find that while I wait for it to finish, I then have the time to cook.

Next thing up is learning what to do with spices since another yard sale find was one of those spice racks full of seasonings.

----

Anthony that's a good reference. I also found browsing their catalog helpful. They even have a book about Chinese and Japanese recipes published 1914.

http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/books/chinesejapanese/chin.pdf

------

Yes, Mistah Charlie, I wonder if there is a way to tell just how much energy is used by the microwave versus the stove. In the short term as energy costs rise it may be important to figure out what uses (and costs) the least to use.

-----

Castena_d, thanks for the link to the Gutenberg Project. Wow, looks like they have alot more books from the public domain on Crafts and Cookery too.

http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Category:Bookshelf

Bill Pulliam said...

Walter -- in the world of Just-In-Time shipping of pre-packaged finished consumer products, trucks don't run anywhere near their 48,000 pound capacity. They carry a lot of air ("sailboat fuel") both inside the packaging and in the unoccupied trailer space. Plus that finished consumer good has travelled first from its international primary producer to the port, then from the port to the processing plant (where it is met by packaging that has followed a similarly circuitous route), then from the plant to the distribution center, then to the retail outlet, and finally from the retail outlet to the home in the private vehicle (that last leg, by the way, contributes about half the total fuel consumption of the entire trip). So fuel per pound of ready-to-eat food on the table is considerably higher than the back-of-the-envelope estimate based on full trucks hauling bulk commodities.

JMG -- re: fat and sugar, there has been a steady creep upward in the calorie density of the American diet over many decades; what is eaten now is much fattier and more sugared than what was eaten even a generation ago, thanks to ubiquitous corn and soybeans. Our "bread" is almost like the "cake" of a couple of generations ago. Combine that with the steady drop in physical activity, and no one should be surprised at the trends in obesity and its related health issues!

I have seen some historical movie footage shot in this town in the 1940s and 1950s. One of the shocking things is that most people were skinny! There were a few large folks, to be sure, but overall it was a town of beanpoles. Now, of course, it is a town of 70% obesity...

aangel said...

Well, I recently have found myself single again. My wife and I have parted ways amicably because we are both doing a good job of not making the other person wrong for not sharing our opinions and, especially, our near-term predictions for the future of our civilization.

Having no animosity toward pair bonding in general and the institution of marriage specifically, my mind is turning to how I'd like to create the rest of my life — and with whom. What didn't work as well in my marriage was that I cooked and my wife had absolutely no interest in it. She has other wonderful qualities but, in retrospect, being in a relationship with someone who doesn't cook and has no interest in it is not something I will willingly repeat.

I grew up having learned to cook no different from my older sisters. My father, an immigrant from Italy, knows how to cook just as my mother does, a woman from a small town in Ontario, Canada. I cook most of my meals though admittedly in San Francisco the profusion of tastes is hard to ignore and I also eat out often enough.

But my point is that I grew up with the kitchen being a focal point of the household where the family often congregated to make food together. We cooked from scratch with a mix of French-Canadian recipes or Italian ones. I remember how satisfying this part of domestic life was and I was never able to reproduce it in my marriage.

The inflection point we are at is proving to be a good opportunity to reassess the fundamentals and you can be sure that cooking tasty meals from scratch with a loving companion will definitely be part of my future.

Surely people don't know what they are missing if they don't appreciate this important bit of domestic life. I'm looking forward to it.

Glyn said...

Surely you’re wrong with this cooking business Archdruid! - have you not seen the true future of food? - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12069495 …or not! But it made me chuckle.

Keep up the good work JMG (always happy to see a new blog post from you) and a merry Christmas/Solstice one and all!

dave M said...

The bowl of steamed rice was shipped far away. Lettuce green onions I just picked today.
Fresh green tomatoes I saved from the frost, gently sauteed in the salad were tossed and the summer's green beans were smothered with sauce.
There's tender young rabbit fried golden brown. The sweet potato pie goes with coffee I've found.
If you should wonder why I dig in the ground - come sup at my table. The answers abound

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

I can recommend the combination of a rocket stove and a wok with lid, stirrer, and a steamer.

After several years of self-teaching with these tools -- and actually welding up variations on the original Winiarski Rocket to my own specs. -- I can say from experience that it's perfectly possible to produce premiere-league gourmet-level food for -- oh, say five people -- in one wok, in times varying from a few minutes to about three quarters of an hour, from starting to prepare to actual serving, with about one standard bucketful of thinnish sticks for all your fuel. And of course, that level of fuel economy will become critically important again in the future, just as it has been for millions of Chinese for centuries, which is why, I suppose, they developed this excellent approach long ago.

Brian said...

Like you John Michael, I came to the same conclusions and by much the same process - a family that never forgot 'down-home' cooking for reasons of economy, nutrition and good taste, and enough time spent in Asia where there are a wealth of traditions for turning basic food ingredients into fast, tasty meals.

Some good places to look for 'down-home' cooking techniques? Try 'The Joy of Cooking' - we actually have two editions at our house, an ancient one from the sixties that still contains recipes for cooking a racoon or a squirrel (!), but also a more modern one that is a wealth of knowledge on preparing lots of basic dishes from scratch.

Another great source is any one of Madhur Jaffrey's books on Indian cooking, though I'd give the strongest recommendation to 'Indian Cooking', her most basic tome. Many of the dishes are time-consuming and complex (and almost always worth the effort if you're inclined), but there are also lots of fast and easy methods for creating very tasty meals.

Finally, I've also found the Tassajara books inspirational, but mostly the Tassajara Bread Book - which is still my favourite reference for bread making.

Bill Pulliam said...

By the way a complete aside about picking the date on which to mark Yule/solstice/ whichever name one likes. Many mark it on the date on which the astronomical solstice falls. We use a bit more subtle rule -- determine which night will actually be the shortest night, which is the night that contains the (local, solar) midnight closest to the time of the solstice. Evening celebrations happen that evening, holiday lights stay on all night that night, and sunrise observances (and gift opening!) happen the following morning, celebrating the end of the longest night. This year in the Americas this made the difference between celebrating the morning of the 21st or 22nd. It's all a matter of preference and exactly what you feel you are marking, of course!

rhinohide said...

Never heard of a fireless cooker or a haybox before - but I have used a "cooler" (the kind used in camping for holding ice and food) as a "warmer." I usually add a couple of bricks and a wet towel in the cooler and then add *cooked food* that I want to hold warm. Never actually tried cooking in one before ...

Lynnet said...

I second the recommendation of the Joy of Cooking, readily available used in stores or on-line. The older the edition, the better.

I can usually put meals on the table in 15 minutes or less. I make soups, stews, etc. by starting them when I'm cooking dinner, then letting them cook a few hours till done. So I always have a portfolio of home-prepared foods to put together meals.

A home-grown alternative to difficult grains is good old potatoes. Almost anyone can grow them, they are prolific, keep a good long time (if stored properly), and contribute to a multitude of tasty recipes.

justjohn said...

Like Don Plummer, I have no idea what a JoJo's is ... wikipedia is no help, nor is the first page of Google results.

What am I missing?

Ana's Daughter said...

Yay for cooking simple foods from scratch!

Tons of cook-from-scratch recipes that don't call for processed ingredients can be found in cookbooks from before about 1955. The classic 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, for instance, will tell you how to do everything from scratch with basic ingredients, with only a few pages toward the end on "pantry conveniences" like canned soups and sauces, and almost none of the fancy gourmet recipes that fill up foodie cookbooks.

Karen said...

I must smile when I read this. Since moving across the pond to continental Europe many moons ago, cooking from scratch became a requirement and mainstay.

Refrigerators here are very small (think college refrigerator size back in the day). So, I purchase fresh produce and cook.

It is more cost-effective than going out and I do not have to worry about E-numbers and other strange factory additives.

We have local produce and farmer's markets and a Poultry farm nearby. I do what I can to support local businesses/farms by regularly buying local.

At least in this area, cooking at home is not an issue for me.

Eric Thurston said...

A fascinating book to read, especially for those of us who love to cook, is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard W. Wrangham. The basic thesis is that control of fire, and by extension, cooking predated the evolution of Homo Sapiens and contributed greatly to how H. Sap. evolved.

Every time we sit down to a home cooked meal, my spouse and I joke about it being the $20 entree, but always better than the commercial prepared stuff. Oh, yes, a nice garden makes cooking at home much more worthwhile.

Our recent thinking on nutrition (if I may risk a slightly off-topic plug) has been strongly influenced by Gary Taubes' book 'Good Calories, Bad Calories'. Despite the title, it is definitely not a 'diet' book but IMO a brilliantly put together review of nutritional research over the past century or so. I found it to be a real paradigm shifter.

Zach said...

John Michael,

It's not just you. I've had this notion myself for some time, though you put it much more eloquently than I. Or, as Charles Hugh Smith put it, "A healthy homecooked family meal is a revolutionary act."

I'd like to second the recommendation for The Joy of Cooking 1975 edition, and More with Less. Also, for local church or other organizational cookbooks. I do wish there were more and better resources in print for "peasant" vs. "haute" cuisine.

peace,
Zach.

P.S.: Anthony, I'd like to hear more about how "The Cook Not Mad" is being used. Is there a print edition available, or is this all from the online resources?

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and all,

Mmmm soylent green - salivate, yum!

Seriously though, when you look at the energy consumed with the industrial food chain, it isn't just about transport of the product from the grower to the seller (as per Walter's comments). There are: tractors; fertilisers; on farm vehicles; transport to markets and distribution centres; processing; cool storage; transport to the end retailer or market. This doesn't even touch on the energy consumed by the end consumer and the processing of their waste. Make no mistake people, we are eating oil and coal.

Hi mistah charley,

Microwave ovens use less energy than an electric stove top however, it's not much less and I don't consider it to be efficient enough to use for more than a minute or two. I have a microwave oven rated at 700w output but when you look at the actual energy used it is closer to 2,000w because of the magnatrons inefficency. Being on off grid solar you keep an eye on everything in the household.

An electric stove top will use about the same amount of energy as the microwave oven, but you have the option of turning on more than one element which multiplies the load. They are usually connected up on their own heavy duty circuit.

It's a useful exercise to think of how you would cook without electricity, natural gas, lpg etc. We have a wood backup for everything.

Good luck!

Susan said...

In Oregon at least, "jo-jos" are - ready? - batter-fried potatoes. Yes, they are like a kick in the gut.

Ivan Lukic said...

I live alone and avoid fast food. When faced with the problem of cooking fast and healthy and saving energy and money, the answer was simple - pressure cooker. Pressure cookers reduce cooking time to 30% of what is necessary in conventional cooking, and energy consumption to 25% of energy consumed in conventional cooking. These are massive savings whatever kind of energy you use: electricity, gas or wood. I have two preassure cookers, small one (2,5 liters) made of black cast iron and big one (7 liters) made of stainless steel. They are made by two well-known German companies but I shall not give the name of the companies because it is obvious to me that most of The Archdruid Report readers are from US and there is no need to buy imported products and make more people unemployed and homeless. I am sure there are dozens of companies in US that make pressure cookers.

Pressure cookers are great for any kind of soups. There is minimum quantity of liquid (one cup) necessary to produce pressure and maximum is about two thirds of net volume. When making dishes with meat you first cook meat for abour 20 minutes, than decompress the pot, add vegetables and cook 5 minutes more. With big pressure cooker that way you can cook dishes in quantities that you shall keep in cold and eat following day(s). Pressure cookers are great for Central European dishes like Hungarian Gulash, all kinds of chicken and turkey paprikash, thick soups, sauerkraut, etc. These dishes ususally taste better following day(s). For the simplest pudding (without added sugar) you can take cubes of the big orange colored pumpkin (I do not know how it is called in English) and in several minutes it is soft healthy delicious dessert. Otherwise you need to bake pumpking for a long time in the oven.

There is one drawback of the pressure cooker. It relies on some kind of rubber gasket and springs to keep pressure inside. These parts have finite life and unless you are sure that spares will be available for many years you better buy quantity of spares with the pressure cooker itself.

If you have more money to invest and do not want cookware with spare parts to replace there is ultimate in simplicity, reliability, durability and energy efficiency, particulary for the people living in US. Company named Calphalon manufacture infused anodized aluminum cookware. The pot is made of several milimeters thick aluminium. Infused anodization is what makes it more expensive. Aluminium conducts heat so well that walls of the pot contribute to heating just as much as the bottom. I suggest bit (8 qt.) stockpot because it allows you to cook bulky vegetables like cabbage.

Now that I know what fireless cooker is I can not see reason why I should not save energy both during heating of the pot and after heating by putting it inside fireless cooker.

SophieGale said...

Just in time for Boxing Day: eating your Christmas tree:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/25/opinion/25redzepi.html

Just be sure to read the comments!

dr-beowulf said...

Something occurred to me yesterday about down-home cooking: My wife and I made a pan of cornbread dressing, a traditional Southern accompaniment to turkey. To make it, you first have to bake a pan of cornbread -- then you crumble that up with sauteed onions and celery and such, and bake it again. Anyway, that recipe makes sense in a society that eats a lot of cornbread -- it's a way of using up leftover cornbread. Much the same is true of the pain perdu and bread pudding of my native Louisiana; they're ways of using up leftover French bread in a society that's always eating a lot of it. And of course, boiling bones and scraps for soup stock is a very common way of getting a good meal out of the leavings of another good meal. . .

A number of down-home recipes originated as ways to make use of the leftovers and byproducts from other down-home recipes. They make the most sense, not as something you might knock together once a year, but as a sort of byproduct of cooking with a region's traditional ingredients every day. All the more reason to cook that way every day, if possible.

MaryAnne said...

I have friends who use a solar cooker in the backyard for stews, soups, etc. Has anybody out there tried that? There are some cool designs on the web for making them yourself. I live in a 3rd-floor walkup with no direct sunlight anywhere, sigh, so can't use one myself (or have a garden either, dammit), but it looks like a great idea.

http://www.recipesource.com/ contains recipes for pretty much anything you can think of -- I use it constantly to get ideas, then I go ahead and make food using whatever ingredients I've got on hand.

Kevin said...

My culinary skills are limited at best. I hope to enhance them while testing out some solar cookers I plan to make. The same goes for insulation cookers ("straw" boxes) I mean to try making.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Favorite cook books: Joy of Cooking (old edition), Betty Crocker mid-1960s ring bound (I still find stuff in there that I didn't know was there. Great for "comfort foods.") Ditto the Better Homes & Gardens's ring bound (The BCs are very expensive used $20 plus. The BH&G, less so. See copies around for $12.) The New Laurel's CB (really like the nutritional charts in the back) and the Laurel's Bread Books.

I keep a big bowl of brown rice in the fridge at all times. Good for fast meals. Stir stuff into it or throw stuff over it. A great extender. One can of Progresso veg & rice soup (.99) more rice, more vegis and I have three meals.

Someone gifted me with two top sirloin steaks. One stir fry, two hot beef sandwiches w/ sharp cheddar cheese and five meals of stroganoff, over rice, not noodles. Going to try it with chicken and plane non-fat yogurt. Why not?

Moved away from home on my 18th birthday. A roommate, me, canned tuna, mayo and bread. No can opener! 1967 before society was 24/7. Opened the can with a screw driver and my boot. Cooked eggs the way I liked them and it was years before I discovered I was making omelets.

Ruben said...

@ Cherokee Organics

A past contract unveiled these stats for me--only 6% of the energy used by a standard oven goes to heat the food, whereas a microwave uses more power in its life to run the clock than to heat the food. Which means buy a microwave and snip the wires to the clock. Not that that will hep if the grid goes down or you don't like microwaves....

Glenn said...

I agree that growing the basic carb "staff of life" will be the greatest challenge in a post oil future. Processing is work, but can be shared and results in a lot of food.

For instance. Wednesday night we got a call. Family friends had got an elk. We had promised to help. Thursday morning I picked up my father in law and we were on our way. We arrived to find a gutted, skinned carcass hanging from a fork lift attachment on the back of a tractor. We spent the rest of the day cutting, boning, carrying and packaging. In 6 hours a 400 pound carcass became 400 pounds of vacuum packed meals.

I dropped some off with my brother, another package with neighbors expecting a baby soon. We've got a lot in our freezer.

One elk, one day, 5 people working, one family with half a year's meat, two with a winter's worth, and another couple with a meal or two.

Food and community building.

Glenn,

Marrowstone Island

Bill Pulliam said...

I'd second the Joy of Cooking. The very newest edition is pretty good (improvement over the one before it) and includes more foods (including unfamiliar grains and vegetables) that were considered "exotic" to earlier generations. The older ones are also valuable. Its greatest strength is its information on how to make things from scratch that we are accustomed to buying ready-made. And once again one must not forget Carla Emery's "Encyclopedia of Country Living." Her information is not always the absolute best, but she covers an ENORMOUS range of subjects and can hold your hand every step of the way from a day-old turkey poult and a bunch of grain and vegetable seeds to a finished holiday feast.

Lex said...

Aye, eat like a peasant. There's nothing wrong with a wonderful gourmet meal; i find it fun to do. And i greatly appreciate fine dining. Still, i'd rather eat like a peasant 350 days/year.

And i've been to my fair share of exotic places, strangely, i've always preferred the "down home cooking" to the delicacies...though i've always been happiest when the peasant food is the same as delicacies. I'm looking at you, S. Korean fishing villages. Peasant sashimi is where it's at.

Robert C. Guy said...

John, your belief "...that making a good meal should take no more of my time ... than the fifteen minutes or so it takes me to eat the result..." was refreshing to see from another mind. I've said similar to family and friends to be met with questioning of the soundness of my reasoning and sometimes even confrontation as if I had thus insulted some fundamental value of decent humanity (as if it were necessary for the well-being of a civilized human to spend at least a multiple of the time it may take to eat a meal, in its preparation)
You bring to my mind the cooking adventures I've grown from the images left over in my mind of things read or observed over the years and almost never informed by recipes written down or passed by word of mouth. I may think that I remembered seeing someone cook something a certain way once and as long as it seems like it won't make me sick then off I go to try it. The most enduring of my personal adventures, and also the most varying, has been abandoning soup as a specific list of ingredients cooked in a specific way for a specific time and redefining it for myself as "edible things prepared in water commonly eaten with a spoon". My largest pot finds itself almost perpetually filled with this kind of soup. The soup does not get completely eaten in a meal and is added to for the next. Friends have asked "What's for dinner?" then "What kind of soup" and the only thorough answer is to dip a bowl from the pot and fish around in it to see what you've got but I can say with certainly that it is dominated by legumes, potatoes, rice or similar and if I happened to have beets on hand it will be a deep red. If other vegetables are hard to come by affordably it may find itself dominated by sauerkraut. If it has been a while since the sauerkraut was last added then I find that an unprepared palate will call it bland regardless of the array of flavors provided by things like radish greens, dandelion leaves or any strongly flavored vegetables. At times it may even appear little more than deep colored thickened water with leaves and bits of meat and mushy beans settled in it but the flavor is there, rich and varying. The bean paste I enjoy, simple dried beans kept in water and heated on occasion until they turn to mush just by stirring them then built up with a few spices or whatever else seems good at the time, is also called bland by members of my family who have grown up on the industrial diet and follow after it unquestionedly because the ingredients of a jar of industrially manufactured bean dip product seem not unusual in listing 7% daily sodium intake (2,000 calorie diet) for two tablespoons.

provo said...

MaryAnne:

My hobby is making and using solar cookers -- there are some photos on flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/28038938@N08/

The still is for water, of course!

Cathy McGuire said...

I can't resist old cookbooks when I find them. Two that I enjoy are:
The Settlement Cookbook (subtitle:The way to a man's heart) 1920, Mrs. Simon Kander, PubL J.H. Yewdale & Sons, Milwaukie, WI. and The United States Regional Cookbook, 1939,Ruth Berolzheimer, Consolidated Book Publishers, Inc Chicago, IL.
I learned to cook as a child in self-defense, because my mother's cooking was right out of "I Love Lucy"!

rabbitwrath said...

Industrialisation has seen a great many once-ubiquitous skills pass out of general knowledge, but of all of them, I believe cooking has been the least impacted. Its relative ease, enormous everyday practicality - most people eat three meals in a day - and great potential for creativity has helped keep it relevant and even fashionable at a time when other skills have been forgotten.

Which is not to say that peak oil won't impact the way we cook. Of course it will. It already is - offal is reappearing in mainstream supermarkets (at least where I live) and the menus in restaurants and pubs up and down the country are changing as the transport and supply costs of food hit their profit margins. But I submit that the arts of cooking are remembered and used by a great enough percentage of the population that it's a living, not dying, skill.

I personally really like cooking because it's one of the few things we still learn as a skill, not some hopelessly over-analysed academic torture exercise. Novice cooks aren't drilled in the different oven temperatures for birds or for biscuits; no one tries to explain how to make jam with pictures of its microscopic structure. You're given raw ingredients and you work them with simple tools not much different - mostly - to those used two hundred years ago, or two thousand. You stir and flip and poke your makings, you experiment with herbs and sauces and seasonings, and the end result may be delightful, or may be horrific, but it's always individual.

I am not convinced that the fading of the industrial world will be particularly good for people's diets, or the art of cooking as a whole. We're lucky enough to live in a time of unimaginable abundance and variety, and while certainly overindulgence has caused some people illness, there's also been a real explosion of creativity in cooking. Nowadays we have the luxury of eating the things we choose to eat, rather than what's available or affordable. Most peasants - and in a non-industrial world, most people will be peasants - live on much poorer and blander fare, with cooking and recipes aimed at maximising calories, not delighting the tastebuds.

Joel said...

>The recipes to look for aren’t the fancy ones you’ll find in glossy recent cookbooks that are meant to gaze scornfully down from the bookshelf and overawe the guests

I hope you don't mind if I dissent in one particular instance. Chad Robertson et alia have done a great job of reviving the tradition of peasant bread for Tartine Bread. As to time wasting, the community of test cooks included a graduate student who found that the rhythms of fermentation prompted her to study more effectively than she had before she took up baking, and the new owner of a coffee shop who had to radically distort the process to fit the strict constraints of his schedule. It is a better resource than any I've seen on how to adjust to the ingredients, fuel, and especially time available, and it produces better bread with less work than Tassajara recipes or any from my family. Partly, this is because Robertson drew on very deep traditions, including apprenticeships in rural France, but has gracefully adapted them to his own time and place. I decided not to buy the book, but I got a lot out of reading it; I hope there's a paperback edition in the works, with more memoir/how-to spirit, and less coffee table book/intimidating gourmet attitude.

A great how-to on cuisine-building is Carol Deppe's latest book, The Resilient Gardener. She has gone so far as to breed vegetables for less time- and energy-intensive preparation, but a good third of the book focuses on attitudes toward cooking and food storage that would be helpful even for those who live in studio apartments.

Last, there are a lot of good web log resources on this topic. An ongoing feature I enjoy is the "Bean Fest" series at <a href="http://www.homegrownevolution.com/search/label/bean%20fest>Homegrown Evolution</a>. This week's topic is a quick and adaptable rice-and-lentil dish called khichdi.

Joel said...

The recipes to look for aren’t the fancy ones you’ll find in glossy recent cookbooks that are meant to gaze scornfully down from the bookshelf and overawe the guests...

I hope you don't mind if I dissent in one particular instance. Chad Robertson et alia have done a great job of reviving the tradition of peasant bread for Tartine Bread. As to time wasting, the community of test cooks included a graduate student who found that the rhythms of fermentation prompted her to study more effectively than she had before she took up baking, and the new owner of a coffee shop who had to radically distort the process to fit the strict constraints of his schedule. It is a better resource than any I've seen on how to adjust to the ingredients, fuel, and especially time available, and it produces better bread with less work than Tassajara recipes or any from my family. Partly, this is because Robertson drew on very deep traditions, including apprenticeships in rural France, but has gracefully adapted them to his own time and place. I decided not to buy the book, but I got a lot out of reading it; I hope there's a paperback edition in the works, with more memoir/how-to spirit, and less coffee table book/intimidating gourmet attitude.

A great how-to on cuisine-building is Carol Deppe's latest book, The Resilient Gardener. She has gone so far as to breed vegetables for less time- and energy-intensive preparation, but a good third of the book focuses on attitudes toward cooking and food storage that would be helpful even for those who live in studio apartments.

Last, there are a lot of good web log resources on this topic. An ongoing feature I enjoy is the "Bean Fest" series at <a href="http://www.homegrownevolution.com/search/label/bean%20fest>Homegrown Evolution</a>. This week's topic is a quick and adaptable rice-and-lentil dish called khichdi.

Greg Reynolds @ Riverbend said...

Hey now, anybody who spends 8 hours making vegetable bean soup should not be casting stones at Slow Food.

Greg

Bobby said...

Cooking, a topic very near and dear to my heart. I still say that the time I spent as a cook during my collegiate years may have been just as important as the degree I earned from the institution of higher education. In the end knowing how to use a knife, boil, bake, grill, sauté, and stew are but a few of the important culinary survival skills required for what lies ahead.

My wife and I cook all of our food from scratch, and while we try our best to produce as much as we can through our gardens, fruit trees, bees, and chickens, the limits of our 1 acre property require us to purchase items that we simply do not have the space to grow. While we have had excellent luck with sourcing local meat, dairy, and produce, we have had some difficulty with finding local grains. Luckily I think we have found the solution to that as well and will be going up to Pennsylvania tomorrow to investigate (we live in extreme northern MD, about 1.5 miles from the MD/PA border). Being avid hikers, we have tried to source our food to farms and producers that are no greater than a two-day hike from our home. This way we only need our legs, a backpack, and a good sturdy pair of boots to get what we need in the event of system failure. Thinking ahead we even have winter foot travel taken care of as we both gave each other snowshoes, among other homemade items, for our Yule/Alban Arthuan celebration this year!

I think the points being made about alternate cooking sources are important as well. We have been experimenting with a solar cooker and have started to achieve excellent results with recipes that one would traditionally place into a crock pot or pressure cooker. While you have to plan ahead a bit with it because of increased cooking time, it allows you to prepare a meal in a few minutes, set it out into the sun, and pretty much forget about it until it is time to eat. The nice thing about the solar oven is that it will not burn the food so you can go away all day long and come home to a piping hot meal.

As for old recipe books, my favorite is the one I inherited from my great grandmother, who remains one of my main inspirations for my sustainability desires, simple lifestyle, and believe it or not, my Druid path. This amazing woman, who grew up during the Depression years, taught me, among other things, the arts of canning, cooking, pickling, and gardening to name but a few. Even as she was getting up into her early nineties, I still fondly recall her out in her garden, speaking to her plants and working with the earth. The cookbook she left me has tattered pages, and a black spiral binding, the best kind. The wealth of recipes and knowledge enshrined in this book is simply magnificent and it has provided many excellent meals throughout my life. The recipes work great in the solar oven, and were meant to be prepared quickly with whatever materials were available on hand. I am in the process of typing up this cookbook so that others can share in her wisdom and would be happy to forward it along to all those interested when I am finished. Actually, I think I might link to it in the Green Wizards forum as soon as I am through, which should be in a couple more weeks.

Bill Pulliam said...

Dunno why so many folks seem to think that growing the caloric base crops is somehow such a challenge. Sure it's something that home-scale growers are completely out of the habit of... but people have been doing this (on a small scale) since about 10,000 years ago all over the world with good success -- about 9,900 of those years without petroleum assistance. Sure there have been famines -- and there still are even in the petroleum era. But the fact is that it isn't rocket science. It's just work; a lot of work, but nothing more than most people can actually manage just fine. Field corn grows pretty much just like sweet corn, you just need to tend whole lot more of it. Turnips, potatoes, what have you -- same deal. Tend your soil, tend your plants, harvest your crop.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ruben,

You made me wonder about the energy consumed by a microwave oven so I did an experiment and checked.

By the way, I turn everything off at the wall. The load from items on standby can be quite significant and over time and place an unnecessary strain on the batteries - especially over winter.

Anyway on standby the microwave oven uses 2.5 watts of energy per hour. So, over the course of a year this equates to 21,900 watts of energy per hour (ie. 21.9kW/h)- just on standby.

However, when it is operating on "high - the oven is rated as 700 watts cooking output on the front panel", it uses 1,610 watts per hour.

If you somehow "saved" the energy from the standby mode over the course of a year (ie. 21.9kW/h), you could convert that to 13.6 hours of cooking on the high setting.

The end result is... Turn it off at the wall as you're probably paying for it and it's not doing anything particularly useful for the energy consumed!

Good luck!

Master Oogway said...

Somewhat of a tangent from the topic; regarding waste. As we get deeper into the peak oil period and a growing body of people are forced to cook for themselves there will be a considerable increase in the waste of raw food stuffs; whether animal or vegetable. By your description as large collection of people are complete amateurs when it comes to cooking from scratch. They don't know how to handle the raw materials, buy appropriately or process it effectively. Thus, there will be a great deal of food wasted.

Joan said...

It is my experience that convenience food is not really about saving labor or saving time; it's about minimizing the amount of thought that needs to go into food preparation, particularly the amount of planning and remembering. Having a bowl of beans soaking or a stew in the slow cooker means that a dinner is going to be ready within a known time frame at a particular location and someone needs to be there to finish it and serve it. This adds a bit of time pressure to the schedule, and when people feel as if they're already under as much time pressure as they can stand, meal planning can start to look downright onerous. Households where multiple jobs and multiple kids are being juggled are particularly liable to fall into the fast food habit, and worse: adults' meals replaced with one of those "nutrition bar" type things, or skipped altogether in favor of errands and extra work. In 2006, when Michael Pollan wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma, 19% of American meals were eaten in cars, carooming from the day job to the younger kid's day care to the older one's Little League practice to the moonlighting job with only a brief stop at home, and the number has probably risen since then, at least in those areas of the country that aren't on their knees economically. Pollan pointed out that the success of fast food is related to the fact that it is designed to be eaten with one hand, the other presumably being employed in steering. "This is the genius of the chicken nugget: It liberated chicken from the fork and the plate, making it as convenient, waste-free and automobile-friendly as the precondimented hamburger."

Ruben said...

back@Cherokeee

I recently found these things--not a real common item in Canadian Tire. Thought it was cool, and less bulky than a power bar for switching things off. Haven't seen a grounded one yet....

Glenn said...

-- Dunno why so many folks seem to think that growing the caloric base crops is somehow such a challenge. It's just work; a lot of work, but nothing more than most people can actually manage just fine. --

Bill, agreed. We do grow potatoes, but still buy grain and beans. On our 8 acres we're not willing to cut down enough of our woods to grow field crops. Our immediate plan for decline is plant more potatoes. Our long term response would involve share-cropping land currently in grass hay and getting a cow. There's also the likelihood of adjacent properties, some of whom have absentee owners, being available for cultivation with or without official santion.

Glenn,

Marrowstone Island

nornoriel said...

I heartily approve of this post.

I'm fortunate that my mom, bless her heart, is a world-class cook (I know EVERYONE says that about their mothers, but mine actually won awards for hers), and I learned a lot from watching her. I really enjoy cooking, and particularly the simple, "down-home" stuff. You give me a chicken, some greens, and navy beans and I will give you a Happy Food Face. :)

As an aside, the "Twilight of the Chicken Tenders" has pretty much made my week. I do love a good turn of phrase...

Pallas Renatus said...

As a side note, the "nothing but junk food diet" guy was actually a professor of physiology at the University of Florida (my university, or I wouldn't have heard of him) trying to prove a point about people's conflation of "weight" and "health".

Karen said...

@Ivan Lukic,

As I live in Europe, I would appreciate very much if you could provide the name of the German manufacturer of the Pressure Cookers you mentioned.

Thank you!