No matter how far you roam, there is nothing like home cooking—for those who cook, and those who partake.
Poets and mystics speak of the soul of food, evoked by the chef and passed on as a gift to those with whom it is shared. Across generations and geography, the act of preparing and sharing food with home cooking is a timeless ritual.
Recipes originate with the land, the raw ingredients, and the people of an area. You can expect the home cooking in New England to be different than Southern fare, in its turn dissimilar to West Coast cuisine, and beyond.
But it is the cook who places a unique stamp upon the food that he or she prepares with others in mind. Whether spicy or subtle, the eventual result of a recipe is never meant to be a cardboard replica of the original dish. Food reflects not only the hands, but the mindful presence of those who cook it.
Despite the evidence provided by a robust cookbook industry, the best use of a recipe is the eventual creation of another recipe. We collect cookbooks to peer into the pots, cupboards, and over the shoulder of those working with ingredients, ideas, and utensils. But ultimately, with enough practice and patience, we make a dish our own.
The Zen of home cooking
Just as no two people are alike, neither are any two cooks. That is the gift of cooking and any true craft. While some dishes are prepared in celebratory style, like a clambake, with many hands to make light work, a great deal of home cooking is carried out by an individual with a deep desire to feed his or her loved ones. That desire takes the cook somewhere both familiar and new each time.
The joy you find in cooking is your own. In a rush to feed your friends and family, you make the same dish you have always prepared, maybe a one-pot meal you know will please. You know how it behaves, how to prepare and put the best of it into the meals you intend for that day. But, along with the ingredients chosen to address health and hunger, it is the ideas—the impatience or the leisure, and what happened this morning—that pour into the meal you make this evening. No day, and no dish, is ever the same. That is the gift of the meditative practice of life.
In summer, you see the blanched tomatoes, heaped and popped from their skins to prepare the season’s first tomato soup. In New England, take advantage of seasonal bounty to pick fall apples for turnovers or summer blueberries for pie that bubbles up against golden brown crust topped by ice cream in a syrup you need a spoon to catch. Come spring, try johnnycakes using whole, simple ingredients and fresh strawberries on the side.
Even if you are far from your roots, making mindful dishes for family and friends puts the “home” in home cooking. We cook for those we love. We prepare nutritious foods to pass energy into the bodies of others and on into life. It is the way it has always been—and hopefully always will be.
Create and share a meal, share a glass of wine—and share life.