Cuisine: What It Is and How We Ruin It
Cooking from scratch with mainly local ingredients and no electrical power has taught me about cuisine. To clarify, I haven’t gotten any training on cooking. I’ve only had to figure things out based on what’s available.
It dawned on me (and I could be wrong, I’m not a historian or anthropologist) that cuisines developed based on what edible things were around in regions—plants, animals, fungi—in what quantities and times. People needed to live and wanted things to taste good. They must have put together what they could as best they could.
I’ve developed a bunch of dishes that I don’t know if others would like, but I love them. I’m just mixing what’s around, but I’ve never tasted things like them. I’m experimenting fermenting, sprouting, and so on.
In other words, I think I’m in the early stages of developing a unique cuisine. I suspect the cuisines of the world developed in such processes, multiplied by many people over long periods of time.
By contrast, when people go to restaurants around here, they pick and choose this or that cuisine based on their mood, what they’ve eaten recently or not, what new places opened up, cost, and various considerations that have nothing to do with cooking with what you have, figuring things out.
Our culture has transformed an active, meaningful, creative interaction with nature into passive, pleasure-based entertainment. I participated in that culture plenty. Now I wish I had moved to fending for myself earlier.
Here is an old picture of CSA vegetables. Before the CSA, I knew almost nothing of how to prepare from fresh produce and a few staples like grains and legumes. Committing to use everything the CSA delivered forced me to incorporate vegetables into everything, which has happened over the past five years or so. Now I’m at a new level of constraint without power in my apartment. Constraints breed creativity.
I don’t know if anyone else would like my cuisine, and sometimes something doesn’t work out, but I love it. As I’ve said:
Home cooking tastes better, even when it tastes worse.
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