Posted by: njbrown | November 17, 2009

Cooking then and now

November 17, 2009

In From Julia Child’s Kitchen written in 1975, Julia has a picture of the first home food processor that was available from “only one manufacturer.”  Before I saw a home food processor, our pastry class was introduced to the industrial version, but for all my efforts, I cannot remember the name.  It stood on the floor and had a vertical hopper for feeding in enormous quantities of things the chef wanted to chop.  The chopped vegetables, etc. emerged out of one side onto a long chute.  It was very intimidating, and we never saw it actually demonstrated.  By the late 70s, all the serious cooks I knew had invested in a food processor – usually a Cuisinart, although its feed tube was small, as I recall.  I opted for a North American version that has served me well for decades, although its almond color and country vegetable decorations leave a lot to be desired in today’s kitchen.

There are probably many young cooks who take the food processor for granted as they do the computer, the cell phone, the fax machine and other inventions since the 70s.  However, pre-70s, cooking was hard.  Julia recounts the exhausting half-morning process it took to make a fish mousse without a processor, involving 50 minutes of beating with a  mortar and pestle and then repeatedly working the mixture through a flat circular wire strainer.  Adding to the joy of this hard physical work was the heat of the kitchen in days when air-conditioning in homes was not common.  (It never fails to puzzle and amuse me that in our high-tech world, “real” cooks prefer to use the open flame of a gas stove.  I now have a gas stove and like the instant control, but surely there is a better way in the twenty-first century.) Julia’s Tarte Tatin program was pre-processor, and in it she says (in regard to making pastry) that she used to think it was “immoral” to use a machine in cooking.  However, she said she had come to see that was “silly,” and proceeds to demonstrate pastry-making with a mixer.  Later, of course, it became even easier with a few pulses of the food processor.

As cooking has become so popular, new implements that make it even easier continue to come out.  My most recent purchases at the kitchen store have been a whisk by Zyliss that is open where the wires always met at the bottom.  This improvement supposedly makes whipping more effective, and clearly makes cleaning the whisk easier.  My hand juicer has been replaced by a colorful one with a swing arm that presses down on the orange, lemon, whatever-half rather than having to lean on it as I had to with my old one and squeeze and twist.  My new Microplane is frighteningly fast at grating zest, and has a cheerful, ergonomic lime-green handle.  Both my Zyliss whisk and new Zyliss zester have almost egg-shaped handles that are wonderfully comfortable.  (Zyliss seems to have figured out that Boomers are going to need implements that are better for aging hands.)

When George suggested my having a computer in the kitchen a few years ago so that I could keep my recipes in it, I thought he was ridiculous.  Now, however, having become a devoted Google user, the old way of searching recipe books seems far harder and definitely slower, although I will always love the look and feel of real books.  I don’t yet have a computer in the kitchen, but it is on the wish list.

All in all, comparing cooking in the pre-70s to cooking today, it is no contest.  Today is better, and it is easy to see why so many people want to cook and homes are designed so that people can gather in the kitchen.  (I remember reading as a child about farm houses where the family essentially spent all of their free waking hours in the kitchen, and there were chairs and a sofa.  That seemed incredibly primitive.  “The more things change…”)



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