Hard Lesson

clean produce

It takes work to cook from scratch. It’s a job.

My good friend Dorothy, and a food blogger, asked me how long a simple homemade meal should take because she has been working hard over the years on preparing good food in not very much time. It’s something she is determined to do.

She is interested in preparing food from scratch, the heart of cooking, healthy food. It means a full larder – nuts, grains, beans and plenty of fresh produce, fresh fish and meat, and not a lot of processed food but some (canned tomatoes, frozen peas, ketchup, mustard, pasta, and so on).  

I’ve cooked professionally and no matter what, I do not see making something from scratch being something you do without investing time. Everyone wants to get it down to one hour.  Maybe it’s possible, but I don’t think so when all things are considered.

More Than the Meal

Cooking the meal is what we focus on, but it’s a whole lot more. If you really want to do this, and on a regular basis, then you’ll have to approach it like a professional because everything is up to the person in the kitchen. Only restaurants (and those who have trained their kids) have people doing specific jobs – washing the prep dishes, setting the table(s), loading and unloading the dishwasher, chopping the vegetables, and so on. 

Too Busy

Today people are very busy with other things – driving their kids to lessons, after-Tuesday work drinks, working really late. Yet people still want to sit around the table and chat about their day. But the days when the man came home and the women had the food ready (and saw that the kids weren’t poking each others eyes out) are no longer with us.

I used to provide a service back in the 80s. Families were able to share the day with each other at the table around home-cooked food. My clients were busy business people – advertising, real estate, doctors, managers. People who had some extra money, although it frequently came out of the woman’s budget because ‘she wanted it’. Nevermind that everyone wanted it.

I gave everyone two hours and even I felt rushed. The way I see it, it takes more than an hour to bang out 5 meals a week.

This is what I did for them and what you would have to do it too if you cooked from scratch all the time.

  • planned the weekly menus – weekly
  • shopped – weekly
  • cleaned the produce the day I bought it – weekly
  • put all the food away – weekly
  • cooked ahead of time – daily
  • cooked the meal – daily
  • cleaned up the kitchen – daily 

The Dull Job of Washing the Produce Ahead of Time

Success (a meal in a hour?) depends on everything on my list yet the most important thing is washing the produce when you bring it home. I sound like my home-ec teacher who wagged her finger while telling us this (and other food gems), but it’s true. Thank you Mrs. Shopland.

Produce is alive. Fruit and veggies grow mould, go soft, or get all soupy in the plastic bag in the fridge. We throw that out.

You probably know that Canadians throw out 30% of the food we buy. That’s terrible. We only can do that when we have plenty and this is still the land of plenty.

If you’ve thrown out ready-to-eat salad greens because they’re slimy, then you know how easy it is to throw out stuff you didn’t wash. But wash it yourself and all of a sudden it has the value of work spent. It’s worthy of attention – even if it’s just your attention.

Anyway, imagine reaching into the fridge and all the produce is ready to go. Washing produce ahead of time is one of those critical things.

The Messy Kitchen

Don’t forget about doing the dishes before and after.

You have seen – maybe in real life but definitely on TV – what a slob is when the stove is unclean and the dishes undone (usually for days).

Cooking is creative and that can be messy. Some people are messy cooks, some people aren’t. Prepare yourself – and others if need be. 

It’s a Job

Sorry, Dorothy. Sorry everyone. Food from scratch takes time. It may be more creative than doing laundry, making up beds, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, or other household chores, but it is one. And then you have to care enough for everyone’s well-being.