I recently watched ‘Back in Time For Dinner’, a series on BBC2 (other channels are available). It took one family on a culinary journey through each decade since the 1950s. They spent a summer living 10 days in each decade eating, cooking, shopping and using the kitchens of the period. The series used an amazing archive called the National Food Diary which ran from 1950 until 2000.
It was an interesting view. It helped that the family themselves were quite insightful. Of course I was most interested in the decades of my childhood and teenage years (the 70s and 80s) and it was a trip down memory lane especially as each time the decade moved on the whole house was redecorated in the style of the period.
The most obvious shift was the amount of time spent doing these chores, which has declined markedly, and the people doing them. In the 1950’s a wife spent hours shopping daily, and preparing and cooking meals all on ration. Now apparently we are convenience food junkies who spend 30 minutes a day on these jobs on average.
Why then does food seem to consume (pardon the pun) so much of my life?
It begins with the weekly planning. I menu plan. To save money, to save waste (which I loath) and to save time. This involves pinning down my husband for long enough to ascertain his whereabouts and cafeteria requirements over the coming working week. It also involves consulting the spreadsheet of child activities pinned to my fridge.
Then one must take into account the myriad different likes, dislikes, intolerances, and basic ‘fussinesses’ of my family.
I will eat anything. I think I might balk at sheep’s testicles or roast locusts (although if I was on that island without Bear Grylls even they would probably appeal). Clearly I prefer some things to others but on the whole I will eat anything. And in fact anything cooked by anyone other than myself is extra specially tasty, even those balls.
On the other hand my family are not so helpful. Lets start at the top. My husband does not like milk based products. Unless they are sweet. So he will happily chow down on custard, ice-cream, cream and yoghurt but will turn his nose up at anything cheesy, or involving roux, crème fraiche etc. Quite why I am not sure. When we were first going out and his complete inability to eat cheese was unknown to me- actually he may have mentioned it, I took it with a pinch of salt, maybe thinking I should just avoid proper cheese like stilton not the mild and inoffensive mozzarella- I bought us some ready cooked stuffed pasta for tea. He manfully tried to eat it so as not to offend. He hasn’t tried since. He will now place any cottage pie I produce under heavy scrutiny to ensure not one tiny worm of grated cheese has migrated to ‘his end’ of the dish. I find this more than mildly irritating. On days he is out the kids can be heard shouting in glee ‘Extra cheesey cottage pie!’
Eldest is a bit like me. He is not keen on raw tomatoes but hey I can live with that. He is really a quantity over quality type of chap and that is only really increasing with age. My main issue with him is that however much I feed him he is still hungry. I feel this may only get worse as time progresses. But then quite randomly he has an allergy to peaches. Again not a massive issue but we do have to be careful as the last time he accidentally ate a peach (clearly not a whole one as that would just be stupid, I believe it was hidden in a cobbler at school) he had a total body rash. For days.
Middlest has a genuine intolerance to gluten. I won’t bore you with the process we had to claw our way through for that diagnosis some years ago, but for everyone’s sake (especially me as chief (& lets face it the only) toilet cleaner) it is best if he avoids it as much as possible. This has actually got easier and easier since the diagnosis as supermarkets (especially the one I use regularly- heck I am going to name them as their Gluten Free (GF) range is so good- Sainsburys) have improved their offering in this regard.
I am however constantly on the look out for GF meals… in this regard I hit upon rice based dishes as a good idea. You know risotto, savoury rice (whispers even done quickly out of a packet), jambalaya, kedgeree etc etc. We tried them all. He will not eat any of them. Ever. He loves rice and will gaily eat huge quantities of plain boiled rice with something. But he will not eat it if it has been cooked together with other things, like stock. He will mix up plain boiled rice with his curry/ stir fry/ chilli into one gluppy mess but this is apparently totally different to eating it when it has been cooked with other things. Well yes its tastier I agree. The subtleties of this perversion somewhat allude me. Oddly youngest loves such dishes and so will often request them when middlest is absent, when we could be eating PIE for goodness sake.
Ah youngest. She develops and then loses food eccentricities. Regularly. Her current loathing is mushrooms. Actually this has been going on for some time now and I may soon class it as permanent. I have been serving my standard spag bol to her since she was weaned with no problems. She will now only eat it after picking out every single piece of fungi. I could make it without but then it would be really boring. And I wouldn’t be able to make my favourite joke every week (‘There’s not mush-room in here!’)
Then there are their common oddities. They will all eat onion, some of them actually like it raw (odd people) but the kids won’t eat shallots. Cooked in a stew. They peer at them suspiciously. I explain they are merely cooked onions that I haven’t had to chop.. nah we’ll pass thanks. Well fine but that’s ‘shallot’…
Similarly if I served mine chicken breast, carrots and potato they would all eat it. When it is slow cooked together with a bit of seasoning and gravy middlest and youngest ‘nearly vomit’ and even eldest’s enthusiasm wains.
I hear you shouting. Sausage and mash woman…And yes we do all like that (as long as its not served with peas (middlest), green beans (eldest) or broccoli (youngest)). But, and here is the rub, life is such that I have no time to cook it. Children are in and out at odd intervals, I am boomeranging between school and scout huts and piano lessons and football pitches. Time after school is so precious and scarce that I can only make meals that involve a slow cooker, the oven timer, or reheating with a quick cook carb, and potatoes don’t cut it in that regard. Jackets would work but one will only eat the inside and the other the skin, despite liking all other forms of potato. And don’t suggest Jamie’s 15 minute meals…because they only take 15 minutes if you have a sous chef. And anyway on a lot of days 15 minutes is all we have to actually eat so it needs to be there, ready and waiting.
So I have a basic repertoire. Which kind of repeats ad infinitum. Some will only work at the weekend and on Wednesdays, as long as I wash youngest’s hair as soon as we get in (don’t ask).
And to be honest I hate it. Cooking is a chore I will never be persuaded to enjoy. If it wasn’t for my intense mother guilt we would all be living off take away. Of course there isn’t actually any take away middlest can eat but even so…