Old-Fashioned Cooking Guide

Use these six principles of old-fashioned cooking to take your family’s meals back to basics.

Unpronounceable synthetic additives, partially hydrogenated fats, pink slime—modern processed foods leave many of us yearning for real food prepared simply. We long for the old-fashioned cooking methods our grandmothers used, when we could only buy ingredients—not packaged meals.

This guide to old-fashioned cooking might inspire you to get back to basics. But this is not a cooking guide. It is a guide to the key principles that underpinned the approach to cooking and meal planning of countless households before the advent of industrial agriculture. Old-fashioned cooking isn’t about fine dining. In profound ways, it isn’t about recipes or presentation, or even about cooking at all. It is about offering food that is in harmony with life as we live it today and as we want to live it tomorrow.

Old-fashioned cooking is simple and deeply flavored. It fills the kitchen with lovely smells, and like all good, honest food, it has the power to bring families and friends together. As you plan your meals, keep in mind the six principles outlined here as a guide to keeping things simple. Embrace basic recipes made with honest ingredients. If you are looking for a cookbook to help you, I recommend the 75th Anniversary Edition of the American classic The Joy of Cooking.

For delicious homemade cinnamon rolls like those pictured above, check out this Cinnamon Rolls recipe.

1. Frugality

Old-fashioned cooking is generous, sumptuous and sensual, but it always declares its frugality. The reason pot roast, not prime rib, epitomizes old-fashioned cooking is that pot roast brings out the best in the cheapest cuts of meat. Old-fashioned cooking is produced within the limits of a strict budget, and its strength comes from those limits. You can’t cook just anything for dinner—the budget won’t allow it.

Frugality is the discipline that structures the old-fashioned meal, requiring planning, thoughtful spending and minimizing waste. It can be a means to free up money to put into savings for personal and family dreams.

The old-fashioned cook consciously makes food choices based on a budget that is stringent enough to affect the menu. Saving $5 a day adds up to $1,800 a year; $10 a day to $3,600 a year. Every meal becomes a moment in which the present and the future are mediated through what is on the plate. This brings fundamental balance into life. Start by cutting the food budget by 10 percent, and each month put that money toward achieving a goal.

2. Real Ingredients

Cutting money from the food budget does not mean turning to cheap, processed foods; these weren’t available to the old-fashioned cook. Instead, working from a strict budget means relying on inexpensive whole foods. It naturally directs the cook toward choosing seasonal produce, growing her own herbs, and raising chickens for eggs, for example. It reduces the quantity of expensive ingredients we can eat, but encourages us to savor them more. It requires the use of fattier, more sinewy (and more flavorful) cuts of meat, and using every bit of an animal’s protein. Thus, letting price be the guide has the virtuous consequence of ensuring flavor in meals.

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