How to make your Grandma proud – traditional food is back

The Good Life Letter

29th January 2017

What with this week’s story about the dangers of roast potatoes and toast, and the effects of a chilly weekend, I think we need to get a grip on traditional home cooking once more.

The sort of food that fills you with delight rather than just acting as fuel.

If you think back to your own childhood, chances are the meals that made you happiest were those in the winter months when a roast, a stew or a pie featured heavily.

In recent years though a rampant press has been doing the dirty work of big food companies by demonising these classic feasts and linking them to heart disease, cancer or the tired old catch-all of obesity.

Well we shouldn’t let them.

For instance, the rumpus this week about crispy roast potatoes causing cancer can be knocked into a cocked hat if you par boil the spuds first.

It’s true, if you partly cook the potatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes, let them steam dry and drain, then the amount of sugar in the outer layers (which can cause the production of the cancer-causing compound called acrylamide) is cut by half.

The other benefit (and this is the real reason you should do it) is that when you shake the pan and roughen the potatoes up a little before dropping them into screaming hot fat they produce even better crispy roasties.

This should have been the way the acrylamide story was told, not some act of nannying that will drive us into the arms of the pre-packed food brigade – we should be embracing the healthy and traditional ways to cook our food, and encouraging families to prepare hearty meals at home.

But whilst this should be the dream, the reality is very different.

Rediscover the meals of your childhood – click here

Half of homes don’t know how to cook

In a recent UK YouGov survey only 52% of people said they could confidently prepare ten meals from raw ingredients, which means nearly half of our population are either eating the same things every day of the week – or they are not bothering to cook real food at home.

A more frightening statistic was that ten per cent of adults (and one in seven men) in the survey said they couldn’t cook anything from raw ingredients, and many thought oven chips were one of their five-a-day!

How did we become a nation with such poor culinary skills?

One last piece of information that came from the research, which was conducted to celebrate 25 years of BBC Good Food, showed that 56% of people said they couldn’t live without their microwave (knives came second with 51% and a toaster third with 47%).

Where are the dishes of yesterday being made now?

Have we consigned Bacon Hot Pot, Mock Oyster Pudding and Potato Jane to the dustbin of memories? Even now my poor Grandmother must be spinning in her grave.

At her knee, I learnt how to make the Bread & Butter Pudding, Cheese & Vegetable Cutlets and Fish Stew that have become firm family favourites in our house.

Furthermore, I still make the Fruit Scones, Cauliflower Cheese and Chocolate Crispy Cakes which were taught in Home Economics at secondary school.

Where are the same experiences for our children now? Home Economics and Food Technology are fast disappearing from school curricula as funding cuts bite and teaching skills diminish.

Involving your own children in food preparation will take them some way to rediscovering the way we used to prepare food – but we should be doing more.

Here is the perfect gift to reconnect us to great food

A better diet is a traditional diet

Before anyone accuses me of living in the past, dreaming of a time when the world was different or fantasising about a period when life was harder – there are very good reasons to eat more traditional foods.

Sugar was a very expensive commodity after the war and so food was made with natural sweeteners instead; things like honey, fruit and preserves were staples.

High quality fats and varied proteins were the mainstay of meals with plenty of fresh vegetables providing all the essential minerals and vitamins our bodies needed.

It all made sense, was simple to prepare, tasted fabulous and cost pennies... tell me that I am hankering after this food just to be sentimental!

Far from it.

This is the way to a perfect and balanced diet – we don’t need expensive supplements or exotic ingredients just good quality and seasonal foods when they are at their best.

Learning basic cooking skills is easy and once mastered can lead to much more intricate dishes, but our national obsession with cooking programmes on TV seems to be reinforcing many people’s insecurity over food.

Talk of reductions, jus and foams sound just too much faff – but show someone how to fry an egg to sit on top of a piece of toast, or make their own soup from tomatoes roasted with rosemary and garlic and they will eat great food with the minimal fuss.

‘Our lives are too busy’ is another cry from this disenfranchised group – yet cooking some of these amazingly tasty meals will take less time than trying to choose from the Chinese Take Away menu... and will be served hotter too.

So, whether it is for health reasons, economic necessity, reconnection with real taste or just for speed of preparation, getting back to traditional ways must be the way forward.

Oh, and by the way, this kind of food and method of cooking won’t raise your exposure to the recent food scare – but it will help you avoid the manufactured gloop that the food companies want you to eat.

It is time to get out the well worn pans and crank up your ovens – make your Grandma proud!

The Nostalgic Cookbook can be yours – rediscover some of the classic British foods once again

Yours, as always

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