Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What happened to gravy?

I've been abusing my stumble button again (seriously) and I'm particularly addicted to food/cooking blogs lately. Some of them are amazing, a lot of them make me drool. The cake ones make me wish I was baking-creative. But the more I see, the more I'm a bit stumped. Seems like everyone with a food blog claims to be learning to cook or cooking on a budget in college or whatnot.

I call bullshit. When I was "learning" to cook, I sure as hell didn't make Osso Buco with veal shank. Never once in college did I make a Six Cheese Souffle. Ever. And if I had made one, I would have had to use Cheese Whiz, because nothing else in cupboards survived. Except liquor. But we drank that fast enough it wasn't really in danger. In fact, come to think of it really the only time I ate during college was when I was at work. I was a waitress so I could eat for free if the owner wasn't around. Other then that I lived off a diet that was pretty strictly camel lights, southern comfort and the occasional mixer.

I dabbled in cooking in HS because I figured out really quick that the fastest proven method to accrue teenage boys anywhere is to leak a combination of the words 'free', 'food', 'lots of it' and 'you should come'. Since most of my friends were guys, and all of them were hungry, it was an effective way to hang out with them. I made some decent stuff, but it was mostly Italian and pretty simple dining.

I didn't really try cooking again until I got married, and then it was easy things and lots of meat and potatoes type dishes. Hams, steaks, sides. Things like I slowly but surely added to my surefire foods. I've been steadily expanding my repertoire since. I've learned some new techniques: braising, blanching, caramelizing, marinating to name a few. But most of what I make is still pretty simple, and doesn't involve crazy ingredients you can't find anywhere but Whole Foods.

I have no need or what to make things like Maple Pots de Creme or Ginger-infused Dark Noodles with Spicy Fried Eggplants. I don't think I ever will. I see nothing wrong with making meatloaf that looks and tastes like meatloaf. Pork Chops with rice. Chicken Casserole. Sloppy Joes on a lazy summer day. I love to grill a nice steak on the BBQ, and make a simple salad, with watermelon for dessert.

Besides everyone knows if some tastes bad, simple add bacon, or smother with gravy. Or both.


  1. I agree. I will not and can not cook anything I can't find the ingredience for in my local grocery store.

  2. I think part of the shift from "beginning" topics from then to now, is conspicuous consumption.

    40-50 years ago many Americans were rural, and worked hard - meal time was about getting enough calories and nutrition to keep working.

    Gravy was a way to conserve the drippings - the high calorie but scarce juices cooked out of various meats. Today's fat-type meats drip more, but food fads new denigrate meat and drippings. When was the last time you saw a can next to the stove, for bacon grease captured each morning, to be used in cooking through the day and week? Or a biscuit fried in the skillet in bacon drippings?

    The simple skill of making gravy - consistently lump-free, every time - isn't nearly as flashy to show off as an exotic (foreign to mid-20th century Northern Europe farm cuisine, that is) dish.

    And this is part of the problem of getting people to grow, store, and eat more garden produce. We have gotten used to prepackaged dishes and meals, whether from the fast food joint or the grocery store. We think of storing leftovers, but many of us are unused to stocking up on staples.

    How many staple foods are there? I can only list flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Crisco, too, I guess, or coconut oil.

    I remember watching my ex-wife's mother pull a porcelain dish pan off the shelf, fold back the flour-sacking dish towel - to uncover the flour that half-filled the pan. She grabbed a handful of strained bacon grease, and made a lump in the center. Then poured milk over the lump while working it. She tore even-sized chunks off, laid them out on a baking sheet and stuck the sheet in the oven. Folded the towel back over the pan - and put it back on the shelf. Great biscuits. 1980, and I have not seen anyone do the like, since. That lady knew gravy.

    Rachel Ray shows us that today gravy comes from stock-in-a-box.

  3. Maggy, If I recall you make pretty good iti food.


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