I bought a new toy this week from a thrift store: a pastry blender. It cost a dollar.
I tried it for the first time while making biscuits for breakfast, and it worked just great.
I'd never used one of these gizmos before, but after watching a neighbor make biscuits with one, it looked like a spiffy idea. While a pastry blender isn't a necessity -- I've spent over twenty years making biscuits and pie crusts without it -- it was delightfully handy and easy to use. So, it's been added to my inventory of kitchen tools.
When Don and I were first married in 1990, I had only the most basic kitchen implements: some pots and pans, a few utensils, cups, etc. As I began cooking more, I gradually added more items that made cooking more convenient -- cookie sheets, measuring cups and spoons, mixing bowls, a bread board, a cutting board, etc. Since I'm not a gourmet cook I don't have "gourmet" items in my kitchen, but I have what is needed to cook from scratch.
Sometimes I am startled by what people lack in their kitchen. I'm not talking about newlyweds just getting started in life; I'm talking about established families whose kitchens lack mixing bowls or pie pans or a rolling pin. I recently met someone who didn't even own a single measuring spoon.
I understand why this is. It's because so few people cook from scratch anymore. People are busy, convenience food is cheap and abundant, and the art of a homemade meal has become rarer.
I don't pretend to be a culinary genius in the kitchen (in fact, I actually rather dislike cooking though I do enjoy baking) but knowing how to cook from scratch is, I feel, important. No, more than important -- essential.
Scratch cooking is one of those unheralded and under-appreciated skills that we should all learn because it's the answer to an obvious question: What would you do if frozen pizza or canned chile or boxed macaroni-and-cheese were not available? This is a particularly important question for Preppers because it affects what foods they store.
With a few exceptions, most of your food storage should be ingredients, not prepared food. This means basic staples from which you can assemble complete meals. Most staples (properly stored) will also last longer than most processed foods.
Endless numbers of Preppers have stored away endless amounts of rice and beans, but often they lack the ability to cook up those rice and beans in tasty ways. Worse, lots of people have wheat stored away, without any real comprehension of how to turn that wheat into a loaf of bread.
Our pioneer ancestors were experts at cooking from scratch. They had no choice. The food they grew, raised, or caught was in “scratch” form and needed to be transferred into something edible. And yet pioneer recipes have come down through the generations as testimonies of the wonderful and delicious ways in which basic foods could make marvelous and nutritious meals.
Sadly that ability –- to take raw ingredients and create delicious meals out of them –- is either watered down or gone. We are so entirely dependent on prepared foods from the grocery store (or deli or restaurant) that the definition of "scratch" cooking means making a cake from a boxed mix.
So challenge yourself to take a bag of dried beans and make a meal out of it. Learn how to cook grains, beans, and rice, in addition to meats, fruits, and vegetables. For an additional challenge, grow some of those component ingredients yourself. Make note, then acquire, the kitchen implements necessary to create meals from scratch.
Stocking the kitchen with the basic tools for scratch cooking doesn't have to be expensive, as my pastry blender demonstrates. Many items of excellent quality can be found in thrift stores.
So tell me -- what's your "must have" nonelectric kitchen tool you can't live without? Post it so others who are just beginning to stock their kitchens can learn.