No, I’m not going to talk about the Michelin starred creations that look so picture perfect, not Master Chef, and certainly not the unstoppable trend for ghastly coloured cupcakes and macarons! What I am talking about is the creative cook in all of us. Better people than me have tried to get the nation to eat healthier – for which read cook more from scratch, eat less meat, don’t buy ready-meals- so I’m not about to embark on that particular head-banging exercise. I’m talking more, well, creatively than that! If we could get more in touch with our inner, creative, foodie selves, then I think cooking might be a bit more fun. Didn’t you try and make, or at least eat weird combinations when you were a kid? Didn’t you experiment with mud, or wild brambles and penny chews, or strange ingredients in birthday cakes? Ok, so may be it was just me! My particular penchant was for an extreme sweet and sour of Marmite and strawberry jam, yes on the same piece of bread I’m afraid! Whilst my much older self might turn its nose up my 12 year old uncouth youth, there was something experimental and searching in my younger self, unbothered by opinion, food trends, marketing ploys and fashions. I was just a kid who liked to try stuff!
I’ve spent my life making and trying food, and I’m thankful I’ve never really lost that experimental edge, but it can easily be knocked out of us by parents (you can’t eat that!) peers, and unfortunately our own desire to conform. Recipes can be very constraining: I know people who have searched for days to find a particular ingredient for a celebrity chef’s recipe, and been close to panic if it can’t be obtained at their local supermarket. I’m not anti-celebrity chef’s per se, and admire the efforts of Jamie Oliver, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in particular, but I’m not sure how much they contribute to people actually making and cooking food. I don’t want to stereotype, people from all walks of life have given up on the chopping board; working with the amazing palette that nature provides us with.
Today I ‘invented’ a chutney – Harvest End chutney- all sorts of bits and bobs that wouldn’t be enough on their own, but combined with some orchard fruits and the staples of sugar and vinegar, should make a passable condiment. It wasn’t difficult; I know the basics of chutney making. Lunch is a ‘leftovers buffet’, not because I can’t think of something else to eat, but because I hate wasting food and love finding new and creative ways to use up leftovers. What food does the average household throw away each year? Something like £300 -£400 I believe. Being more creative with leftovers would certainly save us money and go some way to addressing issues like landfill and food shortages. Cooking more creatively would in general, I think, help us to personalise our food; to use what we have to hand: what we’ve grown, or what a neighbour has given us, what we have at the back of the freezer or cupboard or the salad drawer in the fridge, what’s cheap and good at the local market. It would give us the familiarity with raw ingredients that we lack, and educate our taste-buds to experience unusual flavour combinations, to find out what we like – and don’t- and what works. Age old and classic combinations will always have a place, along with the cook books, but I think losing our fear, and discovering our creative side in the kitchen would have a big impact on our cooking, as well as actually bringing some of the fun back to the kitchen.