The magic of cooking and feeding ourselves can happen with a well-equipped modern kitchen, an ill-equipped apartment kitchen, a hotplate, or even a campfire. It makes no difference. All you need is a desire to feed people and yourself.
My first kitchen way back at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius was drafty, tiny, had no running hot water, an extremely temperamental gas stove, and a camping cooler I used for a refrigerator. Yet I was able to produce not only most of our food from scratch, but also baked bread to barter at the local farm stand for any vegetables and supplies I did not grow. I lived this life out of the necessity of the poverty of youth, not because I wanted to prove a counter-culture point of the day; homemade bread cost about a fifth of what I paid for a loaf at the store, and I knew how to bake bread. Looking back, I scarcely noticed any inconvenience, this was simply the way it was.
Uplifting Lessons from the Depression
I am grateful for all my mother taught me about cooking and self-sufficiency; she taught me to spin gold out of straw. A child in the Depression, she grew up watching her own mother use every food scrap, every potato peel, chicken bone, and every part of the animals they butchered on their farm. It was second nature for her to save the steaming water from the carrots, the fat from the bacon, or the skins from the onions. It remains a good lesson for us all, not wasting and making do, whether or not we need to financially. In the process, you learn to create even better food filled with the best possible flavor, and you live a little more gently on the planet.
My second kitchen was in an apartment that had an electric stove with only one functioning burner and a difficult oven (again), but I had a real refrigerator, although it was tiny and didn’t freeze ice cream, but at that point I didn’t care because I had ice cubes! Several other apartments along the way had stoves and appliances of various different functioning levels.
When Stew and I married, we lived in an apartment over an empty bar and our makeshift kitchen had no stove at all, so I cooked on a hotplate placed on two small restaurant tables pushed together with the help of a toaster oven and an electric frying pan. It didn’t stop us from hosting dinner parties and memorable meals for our family.
When we moved to the cabin in the mountains, we set up homestead on 52 acres of forest. Although our modern stove was the smallest electric stove I’d ever seen (you couldn’t put a toothpick down on the stove top between the burners) we had a lovely, fully functioning wood cook stove that dominated the kitchen, and I thought I was in Heaven. Perhaps I was.
I fell madly in love the first time we fired it up.
Eight burners, a warming oven over them behind a sliding door, and a huge baking oven. Well, it took some time to understand how to regulate the oven temperature by means of propping open the door when it got too hot, or stoking the firebox if it started to cool. But once I got the hang of it, I started turning out everything imaginable, from quick stir-fries to long-cooking stews and baked everything. The problem was, of course, that in the summer the stove could not be fired up, so I was stuck with longing half of the year, my friend lost for the seasons, fleeting as they are in Vermont.
I am completely spoiled now. I have a gas-fired Aga, which is almost as good as a wood stove, but you can run it all year round. It has four ovens, all at a certain temperature range. I also have a tiny gas stove with two small ovens, one convection, so I have no excuse not to bake! Oh, let’s not forget the microwave that comes in handy when thawing something I forgot to take out of the freezer, or for melting butter for popcorn.
Recipes through all the generations
Some of these recipes, I’ve cooked on all the stoves of my life! No, I couldn’t cook a 30-lb turkey in the kitchen with just the toaster oven, but I could bake turkey parts in it, and those are the adaptations we make along the way because we have to. I think one of the important things I’ve learned so far on this journey is that nothing is ever perfect: the kitchen, the equipment, the ingredients, the budget, or even the enthusiasm.
We are almost always “making do” one way or another, and it almost always works out fine.
Start with the old, make it yours, make it better, and maybe quicker!
Many of my recipes began life with my mother or grandmother, my sister, or an aunt or friend. I never leave anything alone, and while I love keeping the idea and the taste and the feel of the original, I have no problem with making hollandaise in the blender, or pie crust in the food processor. At some point, I’m sure my grandmother thought her food mill was a great innovation! Ingredients change as well. We have access to so many wonderful items that I never heard of growing up, so I might add some sun-dried tomatoes to my mother’s herb bread recipe, or a little hot sauce or lemon juice to brighten up a dumpling.
Recipes evolve to reflect the cook. You’ll change them up too!
Blackberry jam and pickles. While I don’t eat them at the same time, in August I prepare them both for keeping, and giving as gifts along the way!