Family cooking

Joanna Blythman: Out of the crisis came creativity

In difficult times we can look at the positives– more of us have a new-found joy for cooking. Our columnist discusses the ups and downs of lockdown cooking.

It happened in the blinking of an eye. Overnight, Britain got hands-on in the kitchen again. Before coronavirus, asking people to cook from scratch on a regular basis seemed hopelessly romantic, positively anachronistic, even. Voices, such as my own, that constantly opined accordingly, proved intensely irritating for many. (‘Try fitting that into my life schedule.’ ‘I’m way too busy to cook every day, or even every other day.’) And when I looked at these people’s demanding lives, I could see their point.

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Book publishers increasingly based their plans on the assumption that scratch cooking was a hard sell. Titles had to have ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ prominently in the title, or look so beautiful that they could be used as a decorative item for barely used kitchens. How many of us have ovens whose bewildering programmes we didn’t bother to fathom because we used our microwaves more? But, good out of bad, the pandemic has parachuted many of us back into the kitchen again.

After the initial rush to provision our fridges and cupboards, we were thrown in at the deep end, trying to conjure up meals using the fairly random, and often untypical collection of foods we’d been able to accumulate. It was as if the nation’s cooking pump was primed and all the inertia washed out of it. Forced to jump to the challenge, we’ve rediscovered our momentum, seeking out recipes and inspiration so that we can be really creative with those ingredients.

For instance, searches for ‘baking’ and ‘bread’ on bbcgoodfood.com have increased by tens of thousands, while overall searches on the website have increased by millions. We’ve learned all sorts of useful tips, too. Unsure what to do with those marrowfat peas you bought in a panic? Well, sprout them and they’ll give you green pea shoots.

Stuck at home, with our hobbies and habits temporarily on hold, we’ve cranked up basic food skills to new heights because we’ve suddenly had the time to see through those projects that always intrigued us: foraging, baking sourdough, fermenting cabbage for sauerkraut and kimchi, and growing a few plants on the balcony or window ledge. Worrying about having enough food to sustain ourselves has turned into exhilaration from being more adventurous with the ingredients we can find.

Another upside to finding ourselves at home more during the day is that we’ve no longer had to stagger our eating around work and other commitments. It’s been easier to get everyone around the table to eat together. This great blessing of time has also helped us to reacquaint ourselves with the spirit-lifting potential of food. Home-cooked meals, for many people – whether in isolation or shared with others – have been the high point of anxious days.

In a further fortuitous twist, I think we’ve moved on from being a nation of wasters, where the average UK family ditched £700 worth of food each year, to embrace the latent food miser deep within our national soul. When we were reminded, quite brutally, just how precious every last little bit of food is, many people dug deep and responded with an almost Second World War determination not to waste it.

My wish is that as we gradually adjust our lives to the new normal, whatever that may be, we do not lose the fantastic cooking impetus we’ve built up through this most taxing period of our recent history.

Read more articles by Joanna Blythman

Why our food choices have become boring
Every high street needs a refill shop
Banning eating on public transport is misguided
For health’s sake, please eat when you drink
The humble potato deserves more respect

What have you been cooking in lockdown? Leave a comment below…


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Good Food contributing editor Joanna is an award-winning journalist who has written about food for 25 years. She is also a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4.