When you think about the best cooks in your life, one of the first people who might pop into your mind is your grandma. You spent days watching her in the kitchen, whipping up vintage snacks no one makes anymore, and creating holiday feasts that could feed an army. But try as you might, you just can’t seem to replicate your grandma’s successes in the kitchen. And there are actually a few reasons for that.
Don’t feel bad about not being able to replicate grandma’s cooking. She was required to learn how to sew, cook and more in home economics class, which used to be a must-take high school course for women. Now if you want to learn how to cook, you have to figure it out yourself, which is just one way school has changed in the past few decades.
Every family likely has that lasagna recipe that came from your grandma’s church friend Carol. Grandma was a good cook because she wasn’t afraid to crowdsource. After she would go to a potluck, she’d exchange the best party recipes with her girlfriends. And that is how her recipe Rolodex grew with all sorts of retro appetizer recipes like deviled eggs and cheese fondue.
A house wasn’t a home until it had a garden, and those fresh veggies made all the difference in grandma’s cooking. Luckily, grandma knew that a fresh heirloom tomato picked right off the vine made for a pasta sauce that’s beyond comparison. And even if she had to make the occasional grocery store trip, grandma always knew which produce was in season and when.
Grandma understood the importance of making everything by hand. She knew that the greatest cooking hack for an amateur chef was to not cut corners. And for your grandma, sausages weren’t just something you bought by the pack. She would season the pork meat, stuff the sausages herself and then fry them up for supper.
Sure, you can make a great pie crust using vegetable shortening or cold butter, but the best crust is made using lard. And granny wasn’t afraid of a little lard. Instead of using a spritz of vegetable oil, your grandma would fry her morning eggs using bacon grease. She also knew that chicken fat is the secret to great savory dishes. If you feel like your food is flavorless, consider adding in some fat, and other ingredients no one cooks with anymore, but should.
Sure, that salt isn’t particularly great for your blood pressure, but like cooking with fat, grandma knew that the flavor was in the seasoning. She’d salt her pasta water liberally before boiling her noodles, and she’d generously season her roast chicken and other weeknight dinners. Grandma understood that seasoning is just one of many secrets to cooking chicken, turkey and steak correctly.
If Grandma missed a pantry staple during her weekly grocery shop, she didn’t have to forego dinner just because she didn’t have milk for her classic mac and cheese recipe. She already knew all of the unexpected ingredients that go great with mac and cheese. When you opened up your grandma’s cabinet, she had a handy cutout with all these swaps.
A meat thermometer might be the most accurate way to make sure your steak is cooked to a perfect medium-rare, but your grandma didn’t need kitchen gadgets to make her food correctly. She cooked by taste, touch and texture. Ever wonder why Grandma’s crepes are amazing but she doesn’t have a recipe? It’s because she tasted the batter and developed it over time, a cooking hack she likely learned from her parents.
Grandma knew how to be thrifty, which is, believe it or not, one thing that made her a great cook. She wasn’t afraid to use leftover meat or green beans in her cooking for the next night. Avoiding food waste and getting creative in the kitchen was a grandma specialty, which is why she knew all of the brilliant ways to use leftover chicken.
By the time you were eating your grandma’s food, she had been making those same family recipes for decades. And while you can break open the cookbook and try to replicate her style, you’ll be missing her secret ingredient: experience. Well, experience and nostalgia, of course. If you’re missing grandma’s cooking, try whipping up one of these vintage recipes no one makes anymore but should.
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