As kids, we didn’t want to hear it: Mother knows best. Well, if that’s the case, our great-great grandmothers must have really known what they were doing. Let’s consider how they approached life and see what we can learn from them.
Technology has its benefits, like a stove that heats in the winter. But Twitter, Alexa, and Wii? There is a difference between what we really need and what is shiny, new, and attractive to buy. What you really need in the kitchen are a cast iron pot with a lid (un faitout, literally “ does everything”), good knives, kitchen towels, and a few other accessories. For some recipes and foods, a hand mixer, blender, or food processor might come in handy, but no need to buy the latest soup-making protein-shake-churning turbo Ferrari for your kitchen. Put your money toward the pot.
When it comes to cooking, minimize the use of utensils your great-great grandmother would not have used in the kitchen and maximize the traditional materials she would have used.
This would include items made from materials that over time have proven innocuous or even beneficial to health, like wood, glass, iron, or stainless steel. Use wooden dedicated cutting boards for each type of food: garlic and onion, vegetable, raw meat, or cooked meat. (I use a plastic cutting board with a rivet to catch juices for raw meat or a wooden one for cooked meat.) Use wooden ladles and spoons to stir the good food in your pot, as these will not leach like plastic onto heated pots and pans and into the food.
Don’t use aluminum foil for cooking or storage, use parchment paper instead. Like plastic, aluminum can leach into food. Use oven-safe glassware or terra cotta dishes for baking and roasting. To scrape fat and sauces out of a pan, use a flexible spatula, once the food has cooled. Store your food in family-sized or individual portions in oven-safe glassware, such as Pyrex, without allowing the food to touch the plastic lid. Reheat the food in the oven in the same Pyrex glass. This takes a few more minutes than a microwave but does not dry out your meal or zap you like a microwave will. Our microwave oven was excommunicated years ago!
The Three “Fs”: Fresh, Fermented, or Frozen
Our great-great grandmothers had to use fresh ingredients, or else herbs and foods they’d dried or fermented. The ice box (freezer) literally had a block of ice in it that was delivered periodically, before electricity came along. Use fresh or dried herbs, fresh vegetables, and the freshest meats possible, and make big batches of cooked food that you can freeze. Then you always have a meal to thaw when you’re in a pinch. This trick saves me on a weekly basis! Try fermenting cabbage (I have a simple recipe in my book, The Bordeaux Kitchen) – it’s two ingredients: cabbage and sea salt. You let the bacteria do the work. Probiotics, homemade!
All our great-great grandmothers had to procure their food and other goods by going out to get them, with the exception perhaps of dairy deliveries from a farmer. Amazon was still known as a vast jungle in South America. The benefits of getting outside to procure your food are that you will get fresh air, sunshine, movement, and social activity, as well as what you need to eat. Also, by buying at an outdoor farmer’s market, you are supporting individual producers who are thrilled to communicate with their customers face-to-face and show their appreciation. When did anyone ever show you sincere gratitude for buying that industrial canola oil bottle with a halo around its neck?
The other benefit of mimicking these secrets of our great-great grandmothers is that it keeps you, your investments, and your food consumption local. With fewer miles spent on shipping exotic ingredients, you have a vastly smaller carbon footprint. You are also helping your community. And when there is loving intention in your food, it always tastes better.
Tania Teschke is a writer and photographer who is passionate about French food and wine and is the author of The Bordeaux Kitchen,: An Immersion into French Food and Wine, Inspired by Ancestral Traditions. Tania has learned from cooks, butchers, chefs, and winemakers in France and holds a diploma in wine science and tasting from the University of Bordeaux. Tania continues to explore the deep connection the French have to their land, their cultural heritage, and to the nutritional density of their foods.