Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I am obsessed with peasant food

I used to not cook. Then I started just winging it. That didn't ever end well. So, I started following the recipes. Once I learned how to cook, what the rules were and why, then I could break them and still have some measure of success. My ingredients became more and more diverse and complex. If I came across a recipe with only a few ingredients, I passed it over. I really thought the longer the ingredient list, the better the dish. Then came creativity within confines. I loved it. I started cooking vegetarian, then vegan, then raw and living foods. I learned a lot from making very many mistakes but it was fun (although my husband would argue otherwise.) Once we had children, the confines became time, energy and food allergies. And now, with all the new information we have about eating organic, locally, and seasonally, those become my new restrictions. So now I have come full circle. I am obsessed with peasant food: cooking something delicious, nutritious, and with only a few well-chosen ingredients.
It really started with this book and then I found this a couple years ago. I couldn't stop looking at what all these people eat, especially the families with only a few ingredients and usually a large group of people. I saw who was eating what and how much it cost to feed how many people. I decided that I wanted to cook and eat closer to the peasant extreme than what the folks of the more developed countries were eating. It looked healthier, simpler and more delicious-er! Well...those were pretty big assumptions.
I started with beans and rice. I moved on to meats and their broths, and then potatoes and corn. I found some of these assumptions to be accurate: healthful, delicious food--with proper technique and practice, for certain. But is it simple--only by ingredient count. Cooking this way takes a lot of time. A lot. I can't just whip out some dried beans and a chuck roast and have it ready in 30mn. or even an hour. Although, once the components are made, very simple meals can be put together thereafter.
There is an expert on American peasant food, too. It is Clara. She has a YouTube series on depression cooking. I, of course, have watched them all many times...obsessively. She talks the whole time, too. There are two things that has said that I think of often: 1) We didn't have the conveniences you have now. (She was talking about a cutting board. Wow.) and 2) my mother was always in the kitchen. One episode is posted below, but there are many.

My other favorite "peasant" food cookbooks are:
  • Safari Kitchen by Harva Hachten
  • More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre
  • Home Baking by Naomi Duguid
The last one, I recently borrowed from Erica. It made me realize something. I not only like the lifestyle and food of this kind of cooking, but the aesthetic. I love the aprons, the head scarfs, the mismatched floral print skirts and shirts. I LOVE it. I want to do it. Oh, and the village fire burning stoves they use. I found this and am hoping I can talk R into it this summer!!!


  1. Josie... have I ever told you you're my hero? You're everything I would like to be. I could fly higher than... [screeches tone arm off the record]

    But seriously. For many years I have wanted to be your kitchen apprentice. I think this blog will help me a lot. I've put a hold on the peasant book at the lib.

    I remember that "week of food" site... my computer is freezing when I go to it. Maybe a lot of people are trying to see it at once???

    Thanks for posting!!! :)

  2. Josie! I am at my mom's house and was charged tonight with making dinner out of Ordinary Household Objects. :) I brought along the Peasant Cookbook on my trip and discovered I could make that Japanese dish that you love... the one with rice, chicken, broth... It was GREAT! Roman didn't baulk! :P I loved it! Thanks -- now I have a new standard go-to dish.

  3. That donburri recipe is sooooo good AND quick and versatile--we had it last night with leftover steak bits and spinach. I am glad it was a hit