Go easy on her, she’s put some hard graft into that shepherd’s pie, you know.
Flicking through the vintage cookbooks of Delia Smith and Julia Child in 2014, can leave you feeling fairly jumbled and queasy. Somewhere in between the array of spatulas and Pyrex jugs filled with bread sauce, are a host of celebrity chefs responsible for bringing their retrospective food trends to housewives, who are now mostly second generation.
Every mother’s son has eaten the plastic trifle in the school’s canteen and the week old Chile Con Carne that was gavaged down throats at home, but a study conducted by researchers from North Carolina University revealed that home cooking has declined among families who earn under €20,000 a year. Yet can we truly blame our earnings for it’s decline, and has our mother’s cooking shaped our own tastes in food, for better or for worse?
Yamamori Sushi chef de partie, and co-owner of The Big Smoke – Dublin City BBQ, Fionan Gunn, knows his roots: “my mother has had a huge influence on my love for food, and I was always helping her in the kitchen from a young age. I was born into a vegetarian lifestyle, so my early childhood was always surrounded by good quality vegetarian food.”
Perhaps some households aren’t as blessed? Dietician, Elaine McGowan, hypothesizes the topic: “Ireland’s cookery skills and habits are in decline, with the least well-off consumers increasingly turning to a diet of calorie laden convenience foods and fatty ready meals to beat austerity.”
With the reputation for home cooking already looking bleak, TV chef personality, Julia Child, didn’t do much for it’s credibility in the 70s when she said, “it is hard to imagine a civilization without onions.” The epitome of this quote as it stands, would cause an entire room of dogmatic Michelin star critics to snarl and guffaw into their 2,000 euro bottle of Burgundy. So, it makes you wonder whether the prospect of skilled home cooking ever stood a chance of being taken seriously from the onset.
In any case, it may also be the time to stop idealizing home-cooked meals. The common social norm teaches us that a well balanced dinner will improve healthy family relationships, and health experts say that home cooked meals can prevent heart disease and obesity. However, the pressure and stress that are put on women when devising a feed, may not be worth it’s positive side effects.
Sociologists Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton interviewed 150 mothers of all ages, races, and ethnicities, and spent over 250 hours analyzing 12 families. All the mothers believed that a home cooked meal is a “hallmark of good mothering, stable families, and the ideal of the healthy, productive citizen” – but they lacked the time and money, which caused them stress. They also felt that cooking food from scratch took away from spending quality time with their families.
For children, the rarity of not noticing failed efforts made to introduce something new to the dinner table, is comparable to not taking note of a fart alone in a lift with one other person. The un-removable remains of burnt food on the saucepan is a testament to this, and when your mother protests, “blame Fanny Cradock’s cooking show for that dish, but don’t blame my cooking skills,” the family will then cooperatively vow to never to eat an omelette again.
In spite of that, for Dublin City BBQ co-owner, Fionan, the main influence for him as a chef has always been his mother. “She was the only one who really cooked in the house. If my dad did, it would most likely be steak and mash, not that there’s anything wrong with steak and mash, but he never really experimented with flavours, or different cuisines.”
Once a meal is cooked, mothers then have to convince their picky family members to eat it. A study found online, established that husbands and boyfriends were just as picky as children – and in order to avoid grievance, mothers who had the money to integrate more diverse meals into their family’s diet, decided not to stray from traditional recipes, for that reason.
According to Fionan, “home cooking is largely based on big flavours, all combined into one dish”, and on discovering the differences between this and restaurant cuisine, he explained that, “fine dining dishes are about a plate of food that has a complex base of flavours, found throughout 6 – 7 components on a plate, that all work in harmony of each other.” If he was to transform a home cooked dish into a fine dining experience, the first thing he would do is, “identify the main flavours that were in the dish, for example – a beef stew, and then refine the textures of it’s traditional ingredients”. He would use, “a whole beef cheek, reserve the cooking liquid to make a sauce, create a puree from the carrots, braise the onion, and then make a potato moussiline.”
He feels that keeping in tune with the original flavours, but changing the form of the dish by adding a bit of elegance to it, is something that home cooked food can lack at times.
In lieu of that, for low-income mothers who work erratic work schedules, some cannot not afford healthy, fresh produce to provide a refreshing meal. It seems that regardless of money, there is always some sort of semi-genuine drawback for creating quality home cooking.
The only ethos deemed suitable in this current plight, is that of the American comedian and actor, Buddy Hackett, who once said: “as a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.”