This spring, we arrived at the point in our farm lives where leaving the farm, even for a day, requires planning. Leaving overnight demands hired help. So we have stopped leaving the farm that much. Going to Boston during Dad’s acute illness was a major effort.
Being thus isolated, it really was news to me that Americans don’t cook as much anymore. A quick Googling tells me that 28% of Americans don’t cook at all, while on average people are eating 4-5 commercially prepared meals a week. Prepared meals represent a lot of climate carbon in the form of plastic and transportation – they also change our relationship with food. “Quick” and “Easy” supercede “Source” and “Relationship”
Selling at farmer’s markets in Vermont showed us how true this is. Many visitors to our booth seemed intimidated by the idea of cooking lamb. We sold much more ground lamb and stew lamb than fancier, fussier cuts. Sausages sold well. We noticed that most people felt comfortable heating and serving a sausage, but far fewer were comfortable with shoulders, breasts or racks. We began sampling simple recipes made from lamb to demonstrate how lamb can be a fun weeknight meal feature. Sampling certainly helped inspire our customers to try cooking new lamb dishes and to see lamb beyond just roasts for Easter, Passover, or Christmas.
I understand that I am tremendously privileged to have the time and energy to prepare almost all of our meals at home. Being at home all day most days affords me the chance to use long cooking methods, to experiment with new techniques, and especially the opportunity to raise our own meat. We raise almost everything we eat, but we occasionally purchase something special locally. We are truly lucky in this respect.
The other area where I am fortunate is that I was taught to cook by my parents from a young age. I remember breaking eggs in to peanut butter cookie mix and helping to mix up the dough. I remember shaking the Shake’n’Bake chicken in the baggie to coat it fully. Nothing special, but formative experiences of sights and textures. At 17, I was mostly vegetarian and by 18 I was completely vegetarian. I had struggled with the textures of meat and was worried about factory farming. I did much of the cooking in my early adulthood, replicating and tweaking my favorite vegetarian foods from college. When I met my now-ex spouse, I had been exposed to small farms and was ready to try meat again. We cooked our way through inexpensive cull mutton and anything else we could afford as we tried to get our farm off the ground. Eventually, we went our separate ways, but I kept on cooking and learning more.
The rise of meal kits and meal replacements like Soylent and various replace-your-meal-with-a-smoothie came out of nowhere, in my mind. I’m not ready to cede that cooking is dead, however. It’s too soon to just eat nutri-algae.
So what can I do to promote the idea of cooking at home? I do understand that increased work hours hamper many home cooks, so I will share recipes that are generally quick and simple. I know that not everyone learned basic skills growing up, so I will explain methods.
Many of my recipes will feature lamb, since pursuing this interest also needs to serve the goals of the farm itself. We raise chicken, duck and beef for ourselves, so virtually any meat mentioned is home-raised or locally-raised. I sincerely hope you will enjoy these recipes from our farmhouse and feel inspired to eat better!