Tuesday, November 9, 2010

There's wisdom in those pages

Chinese Looed Beef Tongue (I'm going to try this with our venison tongues and let you know how it goes)
I love thrift stores. Like, really love. It was bordering on a wee bit of a problem there for a while. Luckily, I've recovered (or I just live in a small house that couldn't hold anymore of my "treasures" - one or the other, can't remember). Some of my favourite things to check out at thrift stores are the vintage kitchen gadgets. There's all sorts of weird and wonderful hand crank, cast iron things in there. But, it's the cookbooks, the old cookbooks, that I find most fascinating.

Look at that roast! You just wouldn't see that kind of abundant, deep yellow fat in the pages of most recipe books today. Our ancestors understood the importance of such fat, rich in vitamins A&D, to keep them healthy and properly nourished.

I have a few cookbooks written in the last decade that I think are worthy of my kitchen, but by far, the cookbooks produced today usually reflect the sad state of our nutritional degeneration. They're replete with vegetable oils, sugars, and gluten. My old cookbooks are different. There's page upon page of meats and soups and stews, busting with home rendered fats and butter. These cookbooks put emphasis on using the whole animal and on teaching proper preparation skills. There's nary a grilled meat or cookie recipe to be found.

How to cook a fish.

Details on how to cook all parts of your piggy.
Of course, if you find cookbooks around the time when food was become industrialized, you're going to be stuck with marshmallows floating around in jello molds. But, before that time, the cookbooks reflect a very different quality. In these cookbooks, the attributes of the products are discussed. There is a keen awareness in the value of using organs and bones. When you need soup stock, the books tell you to make soup stock. There is none of this "prepared stock" stuff. That would be silly. Why would anyone need to pay money for an inferior stock when you have the drippings and the bones from the animal you just ate?

There's a 'given' in these pages that creates a sense of ease. When I use recipes from these books I feel like a bit of an excavator, digging up these presents from the past. There's a great deal of gratitude in preparing food my farmers raised and grew with such love and then coming home and finding advice in these pages. Whispers from ghosts of wonderful cooks from the past. This is the knowledge we need to guard against losing. We need to remember that a fish comes with a head on it, not just a square wrapped in plastic. We need to know why we need to eat the organ meat and how to prepare it. If we don't work at keeping this knowledge alive in our own kitchens, these skills will be gone forever. I want my kids to know that we render fat to cook things in, not that they go to the grocery store and pick up a jug of refined, toxic vegetable oil to splash in their nonstick pan. That's not cooking. This stuff, here in these books, this is cooking.


  1. I spent an hour or more reading some of your posts last night, and enjoyed every minute of it! What a shining example of the great life we can still live in this day and time. Thanks for raising the bar, and then showing us how to reach it. Sincerely, Patty
    P.S. And I will definitely be sneaking some beef heart into my next batch of sausage!

  2. *blush-o-rama*

    Thank you for your kind words, Patty. You warmed me up on this cold, fall morning. :)

    Let me know how it goes with the sausage!

  3. Hi Tara!

    Thank you for visiting my blog the other day and leaving such a nice and thoughtful comment, I discovered your blog quite by chance a few days ago and think it is just amazing. I am also a huge thrift store fan, and have quite a collection of old kitchen gadgets and cookbooks. (and fortunately 6 bookcases!)

    I'll bet you can find some good recipes for kidneys and tripe in your cookbooks!