What has become blatantly clear as I write Master in the Kitchen is that for a new approach, idea or thought to break out of the periphery and enter the conventional the concept requires oodles of sex before those controlling the gate-way to the mainstream will even consider endorsing the view. Traditional food… well lets face it – it’s just not sexy. It is not even vaguely sexy. The word traditional does not contain the letter X. I picture Simon Cowell sneering at me with folded arms, hissing me off stage. Perhaps he would prefer the word Tradix since it sounds vaguely like Matrix? Or he would rather I called my book Mistress in the Kitchen rather than Master in the Kitchen. Mistress in the Kitchen conjures up all kinds of visions none of which remotely resemble sauerkraut, beetroot or kefir.
I was most unpopular over the past summer holiday when I removed a heavy pebble from a traditional sauerkraut croque which was being used to weigh down some grated and salted cabbage, radishes and turnips. Children crawled out of the wood-work from every available corner complaining about a terrible smell that was enveloping the house. Aunts and Uncles wandered into the kitchen conjecturing whether there was a malfunction in the water works? Grandparents questioned the wisdom of removing the lid of my experimental sauerkraut in an enclosed space. There is a very worrying possibility my nieces and nephews will grow up remembering Aunty Kathleen as “the stinky one”. Clearly, no one emerges from the fermentation process smelling of roses.
To add to this challenge it was made clear to me by a friend of my sister’s that trying to write about traditional cooking is not going to set the world on fire. She used to work in television. I take her advice seriously. “So, Kathleen, I hear you’re writing a book on traditional recipes – tell me about it?” “Well,” I answer “it’s all about rediscovering the tastes and flavours of dishes which were once common…” “Boring. Not convinced try again.” “OK, some of the most traditional recipes, now long forgotten but finding a revival are fermented foods ….” “Boring. Still not convinced.” Another friend of my sister, who had flicked through Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions concluded Fallon is a quack. I disagree but I can understand how a casual flick through the book might lead some to that conclusion. She does, after all, have a recipe for raw liver juice. Worse, the book looks nothing like the eye-candy cook-books we are used to buying today. It resembles something printed up in the local photo-copy shop for a village summer fair, illustrated by sketches from a retired school teacher.
But I’m not about selling sex with a capital X. I want to sell cooking tips and long-forgotten recipes that deliver tasty everyday meals to the everyday cook. It may sound boring but let me assure you the results of your efforts will taste sublime. How to convince the hordes of sceptics who are used to having everything sexed up for them on a platter of sugared food and pretty photographs that traditional cooking is amazing? Given that I may well for ever be remembered by my younger nieces and nephews as “the smelly one”, given that the concept of traditional, wild ferments is labelled boring and given that modern populations are accustomed to food that taste of salt, sugar or MSG not of nutrients – why should I bother? There’s a fine line between evangelising and sounding like a bore. I strongly suspect I’m the latter and not the former. Dreadful.
I really should drop all this traditional cooking talk with friends and family. My father accuses me of being a biophillia, the kids raises their eyes to heaven when ever they hear me talk about buttermilk, friends listen politely when I’m off on one of my rants about the evils of rape-seed oil. Would it not, all things considered, be better for me to salvage my reputation, ditch the evangelical approach to the wisdom of traditional cooking and go my merry way. My family would prefer it if I did! Truth be told I have no idea why I’m interested in spreading the good word of traditional cooking. Could it be there is something in my very DNA that signals a propensity to evangelise? Or something in my DNA that seethes at the dishonesty of scientific claims that invented, patented foods are good food us? Or something in my DNA that doesn’t warn me when to stop talking ….?
It would be far better for me to just sit back, make my own sauerkraut, encourage the kids to eat the ferments and make a mental note of the lack of fermented food in modern diets, shrug my shoulders and continue preparing food the way I want. There is no easy answer to any of these questions least of all how to put the X factor into traditional cooking. Truth be told I think it is impossible to sex-up traditional cooking. It’s far too down-to-earth and common sense for any of that hot-pants nonsense. Traditional food may not have the “X” word – but let me assure you that once you’ve re-connected with the food choices of the past, ditched convenience food and chosen traditional ingredients to spice up your meals your appreciation of food, tastes and flavours will be every bit as delightful and surprising as discovering the joy of your first hot date. Tradition may not contain the letter X but for me at least it’s the way to go and I’m pleased I stumbled across those old quacks Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. To me, at least, it all makes perfect sense.