Every summer my mother and I make preserves. We have two staples – Christmas chutney and red pepper relish – which, occasionally, we’ve augmented with piccalilli, boerenjongens (currants in brandy), and pickled pears. When we started this more than a decade ago, chutney- and jam-making was seen as the sort of thing that grandmothers did, and this despite the long tradition of preserving and pickling in South Africa’s fruit growing regions.
More recently, though, preserving has become fashionable. Recipes for chutneys abound on hipster blogs and cooler recipe sites; Punk Domestics has an enormous following; and even Girls features a maker of ‘artisanal mustard’ (Charlie’s profoundly irritating girlfriend, Audrey). This, though, is part of a wider trend: a rediscovery of domesticity, particularly – although not exclusively – among young women in their 20s and 30s. The existence of a café specialising in crafts – Drink, Shop, Do – in London’s Kings Cross, points to the numbers of people who are part of this trend.
Their enthusiasm for cooking-from-scratch, sewing, knitting, gardening, and other domestic activities is the product of a range of factors (many of them explored in Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity (2013)). These include the evolution of feminism to reclaim work once dismissed as feminine and, thus, unimportant; a shift in values as Generation Y attempts to carve out new, meaningful forms of employment; and the 2008 financial crash. Austerity has played out culturally: in a new interest in mending and making-do.
Most obviously, a willingness to make ketchup and bread and mayonnaise is part of a backlash against Big Food: as revelations around, among other things, food contamination, the exploitation of workers, and cruelty to animals continue to emerge, there has been a gradual turning-away from processed food. This, though, is nothing new (there was a similar whole food movement in the 1970s), nor particularly prevalent beyond the affluent middle classes.
Unsurprisingly, this backlash against the readymade has been accompanied by a fascination for the post-war cooking which relied heavily on processed food. The Internet abounds with lists of appalling recipes containing instant jelly, fizzy soft drinks, and canned meat. Nigella Lawson devoted a section to ‘trashy’ food in Nigella Bites, explaining that she defines ‘trashy’ as any food relying on at least one readymade ingredient: Maryland cookies in her chocolate and lime cheesecake, for instance.
There is some justification for this ridicule – so many of these dishes range from the bizarre to the mildly pornographic. Adding lime jelly to tinned tuna, or turning Vienna sausages into fondue, suggests that some home economists employed by food companies in the 1950s and 1960s really did have cloth palates.
But it’s worth taking enthusiasm for the readymade seriously. In his excellent – and deeply funny – blog Caker Cooking, Brian Francis cooks his way through the community, school, and church recipe books constituted of the kind of everyday dishes made by, largely, middle-class families. (And although his blog is Canadian, I’ve encountered similar pamphlets and recipes in South Africa and Australia.) This is his definition of caker cooking (and he is being satirical, so his third point is not meant to offend):
1. A ‘magic’ ingredient. We cakers love to think we’ve discovered some sort of short cut. Usually, this short cut requires a can opener.
2. Ease. The recipe has to have as few steps and as few ingredients as possible.
3. Frugality. There’s nothing more wasteful than spending good money on food.
Indeed, it is for these reasons that processed food held such appeal to women – many of them entering the workplace in greater numbers – from the middle of the twentieth century to the present: that this food is quick and easy to prepare, and it’s cheap. It’s difficult to imagine, now, the amount of labour that used to go into the preparation of food. And, as the food writer and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe has noted over and over again, tinned food is considerably cheaper than fresh.
Calvin Trillin is one of the few food writers who recognises that the only way of describing honestly about how people eat is to acknowledge that processed food is integral to the way most of us cook. (Try cooking through a winter without tinned tomatoes.) That cream of mushroom soup is a vital ingredient in so many distinctive regional dishes; that Texas barbeque is served with cheap, white processed bread and that’s ok.
My point is that however wonderful it is that there has been a rediscovery and re-embrace of old-fashioned forms of cookery – and as one who makes her own granola, bakes her own bread, and who has dried her own tomatoes, I am part of this too – this movement is small, and one limited to those who have the time and resources to spend hours making pickles or fruit leather. Instead of arguing for a wholesale rejection of all forms of processed food, what we should focus on is ensuring that it is better: that it is healthier, properly labelled, and produced in humane, fair conditions.
Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Reblogged this on heartofthekitchen.net and commented:
Great perspective from Sarah Duff at Tangerine and Cinnamon on the return to homemade, as well as the appeal of readymade. I am proud to be a part of the “new feminism”, a movement that embraces all crafts and skills as legitimate, whether traditionally “feminine” or “masculine”.
Hear, hear to your last sentence. Great post as always. Beautiful preserves – you’ve inspired me.
Thanks! I’m so glad you like it. And likewise on the inspiration -Sarah
Lovely read! As someone who bakes bread over weekends, who every year gets a load of marula berries and stamvrug to make jelly with, who bakes her own rusks and makes her own ice cream (done the sun dried tomatoes as well) I often get looks indicating that I am considerd plain weird! (I also work full time). But the flavours are just soooo much better when you do it yourself. I have a copy of my mom-in-law’s 1965 “Voedselpreservering” guide, and it is a great resource!
Wow – what a lot of cooking! Very impressive. So glad you like the post. -Sarah
Thanks for pointing out that balance is the essential ingredient here. I make my own bread and yoghurt – both work out cheaper – but am lucky to work from home and have the time. If I didn’t I’m sure I’d be buying far more ready-made foods. We all do the best we can with what we have and are lucky to have the choice. And I still make stripey jellies from instant jelly for Christmas and the kids love them!
Yes – exactly. I like your point about trying to do our best. -Sarah
My wife would LOVE this! Gotta keep up with you!
Balance is the key! I adore baking and crafts but I have a full time job, and with other commitments it’s hard. But if we all looked for balance rather than a “conversion” I think we’d all find ourselves happier and even healthier for it.
I agree – it’s balance which is so important. -Sarah
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This is exactly my philosophy in my food. And making more things from scratch also means that I don’t have to compromise on my principles when it comes to high welfare for workers, animals and the environment, or flavour.
My mother always made jams and preserves, in fact, the first ever shop-bought jam I ate was when at university. I hated it, you could taste the preservatives. Now making my own means that I can experiment with herbs and spices in my food and preserves that you just wouldn’t find in the shops anyway.
I must say I really do like some shop-bought jams – particularly Bonne Maman and St Dalfour. -Sarah
Reblogged this on Notes and commented:
A chutney or a relish add a deeper level of flavor separate from a roast or a sandwich.
Oh I agree. -Sarah
Piccalilli? Boy, haven’t heard that in a while, where’s the cheese? Yum.
Lovely! Just like my mom’s!
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Great post! CPR Classes
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Great post ! 🙂
That is yum!
Reblogged this on toptapas and commented:
Love preserves, love this post.
Home made preserves, that is a very healthy and natural tradition!
Great post- a little bit of processed food adds something extra as ypu say.would love to find ways to ensure that I buy healthy processed items though. I would not be able to do them myself, as live in a tiny flat with a tiny kitchen….in the heart of London. So easy for me to get ingredients at least.
Thanks! Also imagine how joyless life would be without processed food – chocolate, in particular. -Sarah
Reblogged this on Alice In Gardenland and commented:
So refreshing to be reminded that we can enjoy the best of both worlds – processed and homemade/homegrown 🙂
Homemade is the only way!
Thank you for such a great post. You have included a wealth of links which will keep me occupied for hours 🙂 Because I have had to spend quite a lot of time at home for health reasons, getting out when I can has turned in to a completely different event from when I took it for granted. With this time inside, I started to bake which I never did before, I would ran a mile from making a cake. With my limited walking ability, I could get to the common in the summer and started to pick the local berries in what some call ‘foraging’, egged on by a friend of mine, I ‘attempted’ making chutneys, jams and jellies. I have a long way to go to be good at it, but its great, long may it last! Well done
And thanks so much for your comment! So glad you like the post. Good luck with the cooking. -Sarah
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Great post. I am proudly a punk domestic. Cooking in my kitchen in a fifties dress and combat boots.
Thanks! Love the image of fifties dress and combat boots. -Sarah
Looks delightfully delish!
Great post, I love making homemade condiments!
i agree with this . the canned food it wasn’t good for our healthy but all most the people chosen it because it easy to eat and it’s cheap . more over now a day the people too busy with their job , they couldn’t have enough time to cook and too tired after finished job ,that why a lot of people chosen canned food .
what we should focus on is ensuring that it is better: that it is healthier, properly labelled, and produced in humane, fair conditions.
I do enjoy eating but I prefer the ambiance of eating and going out to restaurants. Why? I love being around people and noticing what they do for writing purposes. Just yesterday, my hubby and I were eating at Farmer Boys and noticed a woman with a sign “gift baskets” she was selling on a busy corner. As I ate and watched for at least 30 minutes, two different customers came by and peered into the baskets. Although interested, they both left empty handed.
What am I saying? Life comes in many forms, the homemade or ready made and the commercial or eat here or to go. I believe whatever one does, do it with a direct purpose and put your best foot forward. Love life and give it your best effort. Now here I am writing about something I enjoyed watching and you are talking about ready made gifts. The idea is to enjoy what you are doing in life and care about others. I hope this response comes as a gift of writing of my own ready made experience in a commercial world.
I too have recently started trying to live a lot more naturally. I have started juicing, make most of my own bread, biscuits and basics. I am planning to start growing in the spring but am a complete novice and grew up with a mother her didn’t know how to turn on the oven haha! I will be eagerly following your blog for tips! Luckily I have two lovely boys who help to inspire me to be better everyday x
Amen to your last paragraph. Although it would be ideal that everyone could make all the foods they ate from scratch to ensure excellent nutrition, health and flavor– as there is just something fulfilling about making things with your hands– that does not fit everyone’s reality. Please make better processed food corporate America!! Also, your preserves looks lovely.
Thanks – so glad you like the post! Can’t wait to try the preserves – they need a couple of months to mature. -Sarah
Been doing the homemade christmas baskets for years now. Never ventured into the jams arena… yet! I’m more of a sauce and spice guy, but my canner gets work year round on soups and other things I don’t want to waste.
Such a great post and a lot of food for thought (pardon the pun) – makes me think I need to start cooking more.
Thanks! Glad you like it. -Sarah
I bet these would make a cute gift! love this !
As a somewhat new fresh and natural eater, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. The “frugality”quote you mentioned is so true. Most of the time when I buy ready made food or eat out, I think to myself “I could make this–way cheaper!” Thank for taking the time to write!
Reblogged this on Grout Doctor in Scottsdale AZ and commented:
Great Post! Love it 😉
The red pepper relish sounds delightful!
Thanks! It is delicious – it’s from an Australian Women’s Weekly recipe. -Sarah
How easy is canning?
Very – just be sure that you sterilise your jars properly. http://www.punkdomestics.com/ can be very helpful. -Sarah
This article really struck home for me. I grew up in Norther Canada where it was regular practice to hunt and gather. My family would regularly pick berries in the summer months for jams and cakes, grow vegetables in our back garden and bottle meats that had been freshly caught through fishing and hunting.
Bottled and preserved food is incredibly flavorful, healthy and chemical free. All the ingredients are known and they last throughout the winter months. Unfortunately, I have not kept up this practice as of late, but I am interested in getting back into the craft.
One of the best pairings I’ve ever had was bottled Labrador (Canada) seal with Australian Shiraz. The two items complimented each other perfectly and they came from opposite ends of the world.
Be adventurous, try making things from scratch and mix things up – who knows what discoveries you’ll make.
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