Decades ago I served beef shish kebabs to a family, setting out trays—and napkins—and suggesting that we all choose and skewer our own marinated meat and vegetables. I remember the meal only because of the mother’s quiet thank you, for including the children in the preparation.
In his book Cooked, Michael Pollan counters a perceived domestic trend, that “the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption.” He’s encouraging consumers to experiment in the kitchen, to pick up a stalk of celery, a cut of meat, a pint of blueberries . . . and create a meal, the production of which “yields deep and unexpected satisfactions.”
In our hearts we know this. Forty years ago food manufacturers tested cake mixes that required adding only water. But home bakers didn’t buy in, a quick whisk seeming unworthy of an I-made-it boast. Just last night I heard someone lament that mixing a certain fruity drink was “no fun anymore, because now you can buy it.”
For hours I’ve noodled sentences that glorify participation, particularly in the culinary realm. The tangible: tugging up rhubarb, slicing radishes, rolling pie dough. The aromatic: sautéing garlic, boiling beets, stripping thyme leaves. There’s the satisfaction of making some one thing from many disparate ingredients. The anticipation of fulfillment. The pride of prevailing. I even drew God into the scenario: Manna could have fallen into family-style serving bowls. Jesus could have dropped loaves and fishes onto five thousand laps. Even in miracle provisions, God valued participation: foodstuffs gathered daily from the desert floor; disciples finding, distributing, and collecting the goods. Martin Luther proposed that “God milks the cows through the vocation of the milk maids.”
Then I remembered making ice cream with my sisters in my parents’ kitchen before we settled their estate. “One last time,” I nostalgically urged, though I knew tensions could rise—“pull the plug, pull the plug”—when ice jammed the temperamental churn. We anticipated the outcome enough to participate in the process. Well, all except one of us, who chose some solitary task in the living room until the custard was set.
Did my ice cream taste better than hers? I want to think so, but just considering the question makes me appreciate the availability of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. Sometimes I just want to open a carton or can—a jar of jam without jelling the fruit; satisfied palate and appetite is enough. Sometimes in the kitchen I wipe my sweaty brow, suddenly, gratefully, reminded that Eden’s work-a-day curse—in toil shall you eat—has been partially, inventively, reversed.
Stepping closer to nature—participating in food preparation—takes time and energy, and it can be messy. May I never again have to walk into a coop to collect eggs, as I was obliged to do as a child. But right this minute I have a strong urge to go downstairs and boil half a dozen to devil later in the day. Maybe potato salad on the weekend.
Find more from Evelyn Bence HERE, and discover her book HERE.