Have you ever cooked from Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking? Please raise your hand. I can’t see you, of course, but I would guess there are quite a few.
It was a sort of cooking bible in my house in the 1950s. My father, who was the principal cook in our family, used it like we now use Google.
If a question was raised about how to cook something, he would exclaim, “Let’s see what Joy has to say” – and would bring it down from the shelf. That book was constantly covered in food splotches from earlier use.
The view that The Joy of Cooking was widely used was confirmed when my English husband’s mother died shortly after we got married in the early 1960s, and we inherited her copy.
But despite the title, there wasn’t a lot of ‘joy’ in the recipes. They covered a wide range of cooking needs (baking, roasting, puddings and so on), but you rarely got hungry reading them.
It was not until the 1960s that cookbooks began to appear that somehow made you eager to get started – most famously Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
But perhaps you had other favourites.
I suspect most of us older women have had years of cooking for our families when there was just a need to fill everyone up.
Planning meals ahead of time, catering to different tastes and fussy children, was all a lot of hard work. I know I found it so.
Moreover, the time when your kids were hungry and growing like mad was often exactly the time when you were busiest with work. The question was how to manage so many competing demands.
For years, I coped by buying various pre-prepared meals – better than TV dinners, but in that general direction. Various manufacturers had just begun to make these moderately palatable.
These days, busy families cope by the regular use of take-out. It really surprises me to hear how many people order take-outs so very frequently, as it is not a particularly cheap option.
And, now that our children are long gone, we have amended our eating habits to easy-to-prepare but fresh meals, such as soup and pate or cheese, quick salads, cold meat and the like. Loads of fresh vegetables and fruit.
But cooking is also a pleasure in itself. Especially when it isn’t a daily requirement.
Now that I have some time to myself, I find I really enjoy the process of preparing some meals. I was making banana cake the other day and marvelled at the beauty of the smooth yellow dough that slowly emerged from a mess of flour, sugar, eggs and crushed banana as I whisked them together.
Many of you may have fancy food processors and that makes it easier, but I like a bit of mixing. It brings out the physical pleasure of preparing food.
As does the slow pouring and stirring required by a good risotto. It feels very earthy and almost primitive.
Not to mention the smells of food. There is nothing like the smell of garlic, onions, carrots and celery slowly heating at the beginning of making a soup.
It is strange that once you don’t have to cook, you can want to cook.
And, of course, the final joy of cooking lies in the eating – and the satisfied family and friends around the table.
Sometimes, it feels a bit brief. You can take hours preparing something special that is gone in just a few minutes. But if you stop and think, you realise that it is gone because it was very good, indeed.
And I cook a lot for the freezer. I can make eight containers of soup in one go, so the pleasure keeps reappearing.
That banana cake went straight into the freezer in single portion sizes, with one piece eaten – with much thanks – on the day. Now, whenever my husband fancies a bit of cake with his tea, he knows where to find it.
Do you like cooking? What do you like about it? What is your favourite meal?