I was reading yet another terrifying article in the paper about the food we eat. This one was all about ultra processed foods, or UPFs. The fact is that all ‘ready meals’ are chock full of ingredients that have been crafted by the multimillion-pound food industry. Those are the items you don’t see and probably haven’t heard of, alongside the recognisable elements such as meat, fish or vegetables, rice etc.
Apparently it is these UPFs that are a major contributor to the rise in obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes – need I go on? I am reminded of the saying that goes along the lines of ‘If your grandmother wouldn’t recognise it in her kitchen then probably best to avoid it’. Actually I think that is stretching it; there are many fresh and UPF-free foods I eat that I am sure my grandmother would not recognise. After all, I never remember her serving us broccoli, and surely that is innocuous, and I am not sure if she had access to ginger root.
So the message coming down the line is ‘cook from scratch whenever possible’. I realise that is a tall order when parents are trying to get the kids to brush their teeth before school, make their packed lunch, then get to work and wonder what everyone is going to eat tonight. Cometh the hour, cometh the recipe.
As a vegetarian with fish added a couple of times a week, I am always on the lookout for new, simple and interesting ways to craft a meal. I realised I was getting tired of recipes I was finding online, and decided it was time to dust down a couple of my old cookery books. Reader, Madhur Jaffrey’s Eastern Vegetarian Cookery is a treasure trove. I spent some happy hours poring over her suggestions and discovered a wonderful falafel recipe that I must have tried once because the page is stained. I tested it out and the result tasted so much better than the shop bought version – and they really didn’t take that long to make.
Like a true archaeologist, or at least a wannabe, I dug further into the layers of cookery books and was delighted to find my mother’s recipe book. I dived into the pages and lost track of time. Damesnet afficionados may remember my lockdown experience of reading my mother’s 5-year diary which she started as a girl when war broke out. This was a completely different experience; the recipes in her handwriting record a Jewish housewife’s cooking. There are instructions on making borscht, latkes (potato cakes), cheese cake, gefilte fish (a sort of fish ball or pate), kneidlach (matzo balls for soup), cheese blintzes (pancakes), honey cake and apple strudel to name a few.
However, her cooking was by no means confined to what might roughly be described as kosher. There is a recipe for Christmas pudding, and I had forgotten how much preserving she did; there are recipes for green tomato chutney, pear jam, pear and apple conserve and plum jam. And in my view her gazpacho and chocolate mousse recipes cannot be bettered.
The other key thing I noticed was how simple all her recipes were. I love Ottolenghi, but quail every time I consider attempting one of his dishes. It turns out you can make delicious food quickly and simply without even a whiff of a UPF.
A lovely article Barbara.
I could almost taste the cooking…
I re-read the lockdown experience too and that’s interesting not just the diary. Something to re-visit?
You’re so right about the lockdown era – bubbles for goodness’ sake!