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On Home Cooking, Growing our own Food, and Home Skills

I was fortunate to grow up in a family in which traditional values of honesty, loyalty and caring for others was important. My parents were good decent hard-working people. My mother, between gigs as a pianist and the odd bit of secretarial work, did all her own cooking, making everything from scratch. Money was tight anyway, and it was the most economical way of feeding us. She was a reasonably good cook, and our mostly whole-food vegetarian diet (chicken on Sundays, fish on Fridays) was varied and nutritious – and she was quite creative. My father grew vegetables and fruit in our sizeable back garden, and I have happy memories as a child of hanging out with him in the garden – being given a trowel and taught to dig up potatoes when they were ready to be harvested, and picking the strawberries in late summer. The plum tree and blackberry bushes (I was often blackberry-stained in summer) provided us with enough fruit for pies, crumbles and jam, and the two apple trees kept us well supplied too. We didn’t need to keep hens, as eggs were readily available from the local farm. From a young age I learned a lot from being in the kitchen with my mother, standing on a stool to be able to reach the counter-top and stir cake mixtures ready for scraping into a baking tin in the oven to cook. I was encouraged to make my own tiny cakes, and allowed to lick the scrapings from the bowl too, for helping! Pancake day was a particular joy – straight out of the pan with lemon and syrup – yum! My mum made her own bread in those days too, and we had gold top (Guernsey) milk delivered, which provided our cream - scraped off the top of the milk.

These formative years as a child are so important for youngsters to learn life skills from their parents, and regarding cooking skills in particular I do feel that some have missed out in recent years as the now easily-obtained pre-prepared stuff has taken over to a large extent in our busy modern lives. These days there is so much pre-prepared food available in the supermarkets, and people don’t have to cook if they don’t want to or don’t have time due to full work and family schedules. The thing about doing your own cooking though, is that you know exactly what is in it – you are fully in charge of your own nutrition. It’s also much tastier; food contains the subtle energy of the person who prepared and cooked it. So commercially produced food could have any old energy, whereas lovingly home-cooked food will be much more palatable and nourishing, because the cook has prepared it from the heart for family and friends.

These days it’s becoming more and more important to know what is physically in our food, as odd and possibly unhealthy ingredients are increasingly finding their way into many modern prepared foods. We won’t go into all the additives here, but it seems crickets are the latest globalist thing – being promoted and put into bread and bread mixes, sauces, cereals etc, even veggie foods; some American celebrities have been promoting them as good new foods for the general public. As a vegetarian I have no intention of eating insects, and we now need to look out for “Contains bio-engineered ingredients” on food labels, which denotes their inclusion – certainly in the US, and probably in Europe very soon. We have to be careful these days about possibly harmful ingredients in common foods, and on the odd occasion I go into a supermarket, I spend a lot of time reading labels to educate myself, as I am naturally suspicious of the big food corporations and their eternal quest for more profit!

There are some ways in which I am old fashioned like my parents, and gardening, growing vegs, salad and herbs, and home cooking are examples of past parental influence. Our roots (excuse the pun) prepare us for later life. My main talents in this lifetime lie in music/sound and all things sewing/knitting etc : at one time years ago I designed and made all my own clothes and knitted all my own sweaters, by hand and using my sewing and knitting machines. I also hand embroidered cushion covers and tablecloths, and made rugs and tapestries for my first marital home. I recall knitting my dad an Aran sweater which he happily wore for over 20 years before it wore out! Apart from being enjoyable and creative craft work during winter evenings, these are home-grown skills which have stood me in good stead all my life so far especially when running repairs are needed. Nowadays with mass production we don’t have to do these crafts, and many of us don’t have time for them, but I can attest that there is a great satisfaction from looking at something beautiful that you have made yourself, whether it be a dress, an embroidery, or just a fab dish of food, and knowing it is all your own handiwork. I also paint and decorate pretty well, and even turn my hand to a bit of rough carpentry, and once made an emergency henhouse out of scrap wood and netting. It was solid but not at all aesthetic!

My current garden is not very conducive to food growing, being small and mostly paved, so my long-term aim is to eventually have a home where I can have an extensive vegetable and kitchen garden to supply my own needs, and swop produce with friends and neighbours. I am very fortunate at present to have Riverford Organic farm just down the road, which currently supplies most of my produce. So recently I have been quite inspired to abandon pre-prepared food for the most part, and do a lot more of my own home cooking and food preparation, which includes raw foods. I do like to mess about with food when I have time, and over the years I have collected not only the most useful labour-saving kitchen machinery but also a huge number of interesting and varied recipes which I am now working through and experimenting with : some from other cooks, and some are my original creations. Many of the original recipes will be included in my next book, which I am ashamed to say was started a few years ago, and never got finished. It’s not about the Gong and Sound Healing work – it’s on Health and Wellness – one of my other pet subjects. This is something I have been interested in for many years : we only have one body in this lifetime and I think we should look after it well so that we stay fit for as long as possible and avoid illness.

I grew up with an alternative-minded mother who was into all sorts of holistic remedies and preferred using these over modern pharmaceuticals. Consequently, and inspired by my early years with my mother, I have done a huge amount of research and experimentation on myself to try out remedies of all kinds, certain foods and combinations etc, in response to my own health and wellness issues over the years. So I speak from my own personal experience when recommending to friends the things that have worked for me. And they are why I am fit and healthy today and never need medical help. I regard food as medicine to a great extent. There is a lot of truth in the saying : “you are what you eat”. And our diet is unique to all of us – we all have different needs and can intuit what the body requires and prefers if we are in tune with it and note the signals it gives. The Health and Wellness book was originally supposed to be a brief pamphlet-type book containing some recipes and health tips, requested by some of my students after tasting my nut roast and other dishes at workshop lunchtimes. But over the years the book has grown, with more and more info and recipes, which is why it never got finished – it seems never-ending! I hope to remedy that later this year and publish it at last. My current cooking experiments and research will be included, if successful. In the meantime, I am really enjoying myself being creative in the kitchen! The latest culinary creations include carrot fritters, spicy broad bean and broccoli soup, carrot & beetroot muffins and raw chocolate nut slice. I can feel a new type of curry, and a Guinness cake, coming on over the next week! Happy days.

Image : Chia seed bread Sheila Whittaker February 2023

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