Lately my weekends, or specifically, my Sunday afternoons have become marathon six or eight-hour cooking sessions wherein I produce foodstuffs of epic proportions. This has always been a hobby of mine, but more recently, I feel I may be veering into the dangerous world of obsession. I suppose it could be worse. I have yet to receive any complaints about making too many jars of pickles or baking too many batches of muffins.
I've thought long and hard about it, and my theory around this behavior points to a deep craving for producing a tangible good, faites a main. At the end of a long week of conceptualizing, ideating and general arm-waving around various forms of digital ephemera, I long to face a mountain of apples that need peeling and coring, to push a hunk of lamb shoulder through a grinder and then form it into rounds, to have dough under my fingernails and flour in my hair. I long to MAKE.
Here's the funny part, though. For most, cooking offers a certain amount of instant gratification, food production and consumption being sort of the ultimate of closed-loop systems. As for me, I seem to hail from a lineage of cooks who've barely had an appetite for digging into their own goods. After days of prep for a big holiday feast, my grandma and her sister would hang back from the dinner table, maybe having a nibble here and there, sated and satisfied instead by others' enjoyment. I guess it's more about the journey than the destination, as they say. Don't get me wrong here, we're good eaters all, at least when someone else has done the cooking and serving, anyway.
But wait, there's more. These recent culinary feats of fortitude have been almost entirely focused on making things for later. Tomato sauce and chicken broth for the freezer. Jars and jars of apple sauce. Pepper jelly, pickles and apple butter for gifts (maybe). I can't stop! I'm squirreling things away for some very vague sense of a future state of need. Making for hoarding purposes only, insurance for the imminent apocalypse known as a New England Winter.
Bulk buying and storing has always been the bastion of the frugal (and maybe also the paranoid). But there's more to it than loading up the ol' Costco cart with a case of tomato soup, a tub of mayonnaise and an industrial supply of Tang. The real efficiency that I've learned from "putting up" is about fortifying my store of baseline ingredients at a more molecular level. Sure, I've got condiments galore, every shape and size of pasta and a couple of cans of tunafish...in a pinch it's easy to pull together a simple meal. But the simple tomato sauce in my freezer can top a pizza or fill a lasagna. Maybe I'll decide to just stick a spoon in one jar of applesauce, but another will be added to a moist spice cake.
I know this isn't really any kind of revelation. I guess what I've been driving at (and clearly I favor taking the loooonnnnnng way) is my own relentless pursuit of connection to what I consume. Like those cooks before me, who crafted their meals from end to end out of both culture and necessity, I want to have a hand in the provenance of my ingredients. The whole may indeed be greater than the sum of its parts, but the parts themselves have integrity.
This is the journey I'm on, the trajectory of the culinary perspective I hope to develop and share.