Tag Archives: how to

How to and why not

Get perfect results every time! Fix your life in these ten easy steps! There’s nothing like a How To book for telling you stuff, but is it doing us any good? To poke this notion around I’m going to focus on the topic of cooking, but I think the implications are much wider.

I do a lot of cooking and baking from scratch, seldom following recipes. I often look at recipes for ideas and inspiration, and I might follow one closely the first time I do it if there are delicate bits, but mostly that’s not how I work. I like to learn theories and apply them as they suit me.

I have noticed that it is normal for books on cooking and baking to contain lots of obscure ingredients. Things I don’t keep on hand, can’t easily find. Their presence can persuade a person that cooking is not for them. Most instructional books are really dogmatic also. They often have introductions that say if you don’t follow this exactly, all bets are off. Having spent years swapping round ingredients, using more and less of almost anything if I haven’t got enough, or like it a lot… the results tend to be wholly edible.

What cookery books teach us is that food should come out the same every time. Like pre-packaged food. It’s not about personal creativity, innovation or using up what was left in the fridge, it’s about following instructions. It’s about imposing the dubious standards of industrialisation on our home life. Most of us will not create exactly the same results each time even when we’re trying, and may be persuaded that we’re better buying more mass produced stuff rather than enjoying our own cooking.

If you follow recipes, you can’t grab what’s on offer or in season, you have to buy ingredients for the recipe. That’s a lot of extra faff, and requires forward planning. If you can pick up what looks good and improvise with it, cooking is more fun, more efficient, and requires less thinking. Weary people are not easily persuaded to take long ingredients lists to supermarkets and so proper cooking becomes something you do on special occasions, and the rest of the time, it’s easier to buy sauces in jars, pre-prepared things and stick to what you know. This costs more, and results in a bland, impersonal diet.

Mass produced food is always the same. Our cookery books can encourage us to accept that this is the standard to aspire to. Not that mass produced food is a bit bland and obvious, but that our own cooking should emulate it. Never mind what’s in season, or out of season. No room is left for imagination, innovation or play. Just follow the instructions to get perfect results every time.