Modern appliances make food preparation so much easier than it was in the days gone by. We appreciate our microwave oven, crock pot, gas or electric grill and stove that responds instantly to the turn of a knob. We wonder how we would get along without them.
Not to say that old ways of cooking produced poor results. I will never eat anything as good as hominy finished up in a big enamelware dishpan on the surface of our Home Comfort range. Select ears of corn were shelled by hand and the grains soaked in wood ashes solution to remove the husk. The many washings under the cistern spout did not remove the gray tinge left by the ashes, nor the delicious flavor it gave to the grains.
Whenever a new batch of hominy was sitting on the back of the stove, we scooped some for every meal. But never was it better than for breakfast. I filled my plate full and faced the day feeling nourished and satisfied.
Did you have ham this Christmas that was boiled in a lardstand just like your grandmother did and wrapped undisturbed for the magic number of hours in layers of older handmade quilts? I expect only a small number of people own a lardstand (or even know what one is) and the necessary cotton-filled quilts necessary to do the job. Spiral-cut precooked hams from the supermarket are good, but they can’t be recognized in the same class.
Iron skillets are still around, but we often opt for a nonstick version for frying. Some things simply cook better in an iron skillet, especially on an iron stove. The choice of heat intensity was at the discretion of the cook who could slide the skillet from high over the firebox to barely warm near the reservoir. Where she positioned the skillet at what point during the cooking process separated her finished product from that of the less experienced cooks.
Today’s electric warming trays and insulated food carriers are great for keeping dishes warm until serving time. But they do not have the nostalgia associated with the built-on warming oven that overhung the wood range surface. Platters of fried chicken, smoked sausage and thick-sliced bacon tasted even better when retrieved from behind the warming oven door.
My mother’s first electric stove had one surface unit that could be lowered to accommodate a deep-well cooker. Heat was conserved around the pot instead of escaping from the sides, shortening cooking time. The idea was valid but the green beans cooked in it didn’t taste nearly as good as when they were boiled in a heavier pot.
Sacrificing of quality for the sake of convenience was well on its way.