This time of year, harvests finishing in many places, abundance is about to give way to the longer lean season. Maybe that is the perfect time to start thinking about stretching the ingredients at hand:
How to avoid food waste: top chefs on their grandparents’ favourite dishes – and what they taught them
Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson, Raymond Blanc and many others describe the frugal simplicity – and delicious flavours – that inspire their cooking today
It is all too easy to romanticise the past, particularly with food. In Britain, rationing created a postwar generation that was very well-nourished, but also utterly bored by the meals it ate … or endured. Similarly, for all the criticism levelled at processed foods (“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food,” as the writer Michael Pollan famously advised), food has never been cheaper, nor easier to access and prepare. In 1957, as a proportion of their weekly income, UK households spent roughly double what they now spend on food – 33% of their money. There is a kind of liberation in the Pot Noodle.
Yet among many chefs and campaigning food writers, the sense persists that on a number of issues – particularly food waste, but also obesity, nutrition, cost, pleasure even – there is much to admire in how our grandparents ate. In an era of limited choice and tight budgets, they made a virtue of the necessity to cook with whatever fresh ingredients were available. “My grandparents didn’t cook ‘sustainably’, but they did cook every day, one of life’s best skills, and they didn’t throw leftovers away. To that extent, they were thrifty,” says Tom Hunt, the self-styled eco-chef and Guardian columnist.
To examine that idea, we asked a number of top chefs to choose a meal that encapsulates how their grandparents cooked and to explain how, in its frugal simplicity, it still influences them. Call it going back to the future.
“Originally from Bardi in Italy, my grandmother never wasted a thing in the kitchen. It was incredible. Any leftovers went into bowls covered with a saucer; she didn’t believe in clingfilm. For her minestrone, she’d use bones from a roast to make stock and any old veg, dried beans and parmesan rinds would go in. These days, people look at sell-by dates and bin stuff when there’s no need. I freeze anything I can re-use and then I’ll invite the neighbours over for a freezer-party.”
Robert Owen Brown, The Hinchliffe, Hebden Bridge
Liver and onions
“I’m 48. As a kid in Bury, offal was commonplace. I loved watching my gran make flash-fried liver with onion gravy and mashed potato. It’s a 20-minute meal. Faggots, made of minced heart, liver and lung, were a school dinner favourite. I’d eat whatever was put on the table. If you didn’t, there was nothing else. Today, I know friends who’ll cook three different meals for three different kids. It’s crazy.”
Manjit Kaur, Manjit’s Kitchen, Leeds
Black chana daal
“I was six when I started helping my gran in the kitchen. It was just expected that us girls would cook. At weekends, we’d help out in the Sikh temple kitchens feeding the community and – using this big burner at my dad’s in Chapeltown – we’d cook huge batch curries and daals. Daal is such a heart-warming dish: simple, cheap, beautiful. We’d give this food to friends or use it for family weddings. This was before people used caterers. We’d chop hundreds of onions, but there was no waste. Any spare vegetables or lemon and lime skins we’d pickle or make into chutney, and that’s how I run my kitchen.”
Raymond Blanc, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire
Comté cheese soufflé
“I grew up in the Franche-Comté, in a village between Burgundy and the Jura mountains. Money was tight, but my grandmother was an extraordinary cook who passed that knowledge on to my mum, who taught me to do a lot with very little. She always used seasonal vegetables from our garden or the forest, where we foraged for berries, mushrooms and wild asparagus. My mother had five children and used a lot of pulses and cheese – meat was a special treat. A simple, cheesy comté soufflé was a staple on our table. It encapsulates my region.”
Lisa Goodwin, Allen, Northcote, Blackburn
“My dad’s mum had a roadside cafe in Ingleton called the Three Peaks and what struck me about Nana was that she never used recipes. It was all instinct. Both her and my mum used whatever they had in, cooking sustainably without being aware of it. My mum makes an amazing cottage pie using, as she says, ‘everything from the top shelf’. It’s the same base, but she adds whatever she has in the fridge. With one-pots and cottage pies you can play around, substituting ingredients so nothing is wasted.”
Alex Shaw, Blanchflower, Altrincham
“I fondly remember picking fruit with my gran, Minnie, in her garden in Sheffield: wild strawberries, jewel-like currants, raspberries, hedgerow blackberries. She’d make jam or use the leftovers for cordial – my gran was naturally thrifty – but the most fragrant fruit would be reserved for summer pudding. Put the fruit in a pan with some sugar and the odd tart gooseberry and it yields this beautiful glossy purple juice. Soak up the juice with some slightly stale bread and layer that up with fruit in a pudding basin. Serve with double cream.”…
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