Another thing that never ceases to surprise me in England is the amount of processed food consumed. I remember that it struck me even when I first arrived here, nearly forty years ago. In most homes, the world-famous English custard was made up from powder, meat gravy from granules. When people proudly served home made mince pies, I discovered that these were generally filled with shop-bought mincemeat. I also realised that most people buy tinned pulses instead of a packet of dried ones to soak overnight, come Dio comanda*, as the Italians would say. I’m told it’s a hassle to have to soak beans overnight. What’s easier than covering them with water and doing nothing for 10-12 hours?
Convenience and pre-packaged foods were and still are very popular. My personal bête noire is pre-peeled, frozen potatoes, ready to stick in the oven. I mean pulleeease… Yes, people work and food preparation is very time consuming. Moreover, the proportion between preparation and eating time is frustratingly uneven, and unfair. You spend at least half an hour or even an hour crafting a dish you then eat in fifteen minutes. That’s not counting washing up time. But, surely, isn’t it better, healthier, to have a freshly-made, plain omelette than something out of a plastic tub covered in clingfilm you have to pierce in several spots then stick in a microwave?
Sadly – and to the shame of our Government – the popularity of processed foods is largely due to poverty. Perversely, the more processed, the more filled with additives and chemicals, the cheaper it is. Cooking from scratch is expensive. Eating natural, fresh produce is becoming more and more costly. It used to be the case that only the rich could afford sophisticated, refined foods, while the poor fed on wholesome, even if scarce, fruit and vegetables. It is now the other way around.
Taking this important, unforgivable reality of 21st-century Britain into account, it is perhaps also true that, unlike in France and Italy, cooking from scratch is not exactly part of British culture.
I have a full-time job that all too often stands in the way, preventing me access to my life, so I certainly don’t cook elaborate meals every day. Spaghetti drizzled with olive oil with roughly flaked parmesan (because I am too lazy to grate it) and fried eggs on toast or with half an avocado frequently feature on our table. As are scrambled eggs with rice. During our long, cold winters, hearty soups are always popular, since I can make enough to last three days… so – yippee! – no cooking required for two of them. The washing up is also minimal: only 1 bowl + 1 spoon per person.
Sometimes, a simple soup, stew and even sauce can be vastly improved with good stock. Here again, it sounds complicated but making vegetable stock from scratch is one of the simplest things in the world… and the most pleasing to your olfaction.
* As God ordains.
(all measurements are approximate, see https://scribedoll.com/2023/01/15/new-blog-feasts-fancies/)
❧ Bay leaves
❧ Dried porcini mushrooms
❧ Sundried tomatoes
❧ Salt (just a pinch)
❧ 1 litre of water
The above ingredients are what I used to make my own batch of stock a couple of weeks ago. It will last us at least six months, and next time I make it, the components may be different. Making vegetable stock is an exercise in improvisation and using up whatever you may have left in your fridge vegetable drawer and herb rack. In this case, I used fresh herbs because I happened to have some. Usually, I use dried ones. They are, of course, stronger, so for 1 litre of water, I would recommend 1 teaspoon of each herb, a couple of bay leaves, and three peppercorns. Tweak as you see fit. Have fun with it.
If you’re using fresh herbs, chop them very roughly – not forgetting to breathe in the aroma they leave on your fingertips – and put them into a saucepan. Peel 1 medium-sized carrot, 1 onion (cut it in half) and three large cloves of garlic and add these to the pan, together with two small bay leaves, 3 or 4 celery sticks (ideally with the leaves left on), a few dried porcini mushrooms and a couple of sundried tomatoes. 3 peppercorns and just a small pinch of salt will help bring out all the flavours even more.
Cover with 1 litre of water, bring to boil and simmer on a very low heat for 15-20 minutes, taking care the water doesn’t evaporate too much. Then turn off the heat, cover the pan. I then let it stand either overnight or all day, to allow all the fragrances and flavours to perform their alchemy. Of course, if your kitchen is warm, you will need to refrigerate the stock as soon as it has cooled down.
Once cold, strain into a jug, discarding the herbs, peppercorns and vegetables, and decant the broth into ice-cube trays. Once the liquid is frozen, store in an appropriate container in the freezer compartment of your fridge.
Whenever you need to add stock to your recipe, just use 1 or 2 (or more) iced stock cubes.
It’s as easy as that.
Your stock sounds marvelous. I haven’t made vegetable stock in years, but I will definitely try this. It is an ongoing contest between trying to keep up with getting wholesome nourishment and getting all that has to be done in a day done, isn’t it? I keep thinking about how much I could prepare and store with a standalone freezer, and then I remind myself it would be one more thing to clean. No thank you. But, I still prepare many dishes in bulk, and freeze them. That helps. I think your stock will be next on my list! Thanks for the recipe! xo
Do let me know how it turns out!
What a great idea to freeze it in cubes!
To be fair, I think someone else may have suggested it to me.
Have sent this on to the gardeners in the family, as they grow a lot of these. Happy days ahead.
[takes a bow]
Like you I make stock – regularly – but I need to add a few more ingredients – I might be missing a flavour!
It takes a while initially, but stock is a very impressive baseline for other recipes….
Love the narrative…keep it going….