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.”

EvelynBence

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.

 

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Evelyn Bence
Evelyn Bence / Posts / Blog
Author bio: Evelyn Bence’s most recent book is Room at My Table: Preparing Heart and Home for Christian Hospitality (Upper Room Books). Her personal essays have appeared in Washington Post, Washingtonian magazine, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, and she’s been a guest blogger at ArtHouseAmerica, Good Letters, Godspace, Seedbed, BuildingFaith, among others. An ongoing contributor to Daily Guideposts and a freelance editor, she lives in Arlington, Virginia.
  • Bud Bence

    For my small grandchildren, nothing beats turning the crank on my ice cream freezer and licking the ‘dasher’ tugged out of the half-hardened contents of the no-longer-turning tub. It’s not the taste; it’s the effort they put into making it.

    April 1st, 2016 8:09
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    • Evelyn Bence
      Evelyn Bence

      I see this also with my young friend in the neighborhood who comes and cooks in my kitchen. Making memories, better than collecting eggs.

      April 1st, 2016 12:58
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  • SimplyDarlene
    SimplyDarlene
    http://www.simplydarlene.com

    Oh, I get this very much! My family lives a unique culinary lifestyle that’s dependent upon the seasons–we’ve stepped away from on-demand and instant. During cold-weather months, our only cooking source (& household heating) is an Amish-made wood cookstove. During warmer months, we eat a lot of fresh, raw fodder, but when we cook, we use a crockpot, rice-cooker, and outdoor bbq/smoker.

    That bit about the process being worth the product, that is what I value most as I kindle a new morning fire, place the kettle over the hottest spot, wait for a boil, and then add the hot water to coffee grounds in the French press. How can I not appreciate that process?!

    Thank you for this article.

    April 1st, 2016 10:01
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    • Evelyn Bence
      Evelyn Bence

      Oh, thank you, Darlene. Even writing your comment shows you enjoy the “process.” EB

      April 1st, 2016 12:56
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  • Norma Grover

    There is great joy in preparing a meal and inviting other family members or friends to our home to share it with us.
    There is also a warmer sense of appreciation in getting an invitation to someone’s home for simply coffee and a warm muffin than to go out with the same friend(s).
    Right on, Evelyn.

    April 1st, 2016 10:47
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  • Aimee Lin

    I completely agree and think this extends to many other things as well. For instance, there are parks were you can drive or hike to a vista. Although technically the view is the same, I think it is appreciated more when you have to hike to get there! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the value of the “process” …

    April 2nd, 2016 15:59
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    • Evelyn Bence
      Evelyn Bence

      The work of our hands–or feet–sometimes like a prayer.

      April 2nd, 2016 18:15
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