When you think about the best cooks in your life, one of the first people who pops up in your mind is your grandma. Christmas Eve feasts that could feed an army, Sunday afternoon lunches after church or a freshly-baked batch of cookies when Grandma was on babysitting duty were highlights of many childhood dining experiences. And while you may have a family cookbook full of authentic recipes your grandma actually made, there’s something about your own cooking that just… isn’t as good. 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…
Why was your grandma such a darn good cook? Well, she learned how to cook in school! Home economics was once a must-take high school course for women. In addition to learning how to sew buttons and darn socks, your grandma also learned the basics of cooking in this class. Yes, even how to boil water correctly. Now, if you want (or need) to learn how to cook, you have to seek it out.
Every family has that cheesecake 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 delicious pasta dishes and cakes that are better than anything out of a box.
A house wasn’t a home until it had a garden, and that fresh produce made all the difference in Grandma’s cooking. A grocery store tomato can be mealy, flavorless or overly acidic, but a fresh heirloom tomato picked right off the vine made for a pasta sauce that’s beyond comparison.
And what goes great with that irresistible sauce? A pasta that was made from scratch. Grandma knew the importance of making everything by hand. Sure you can buy a loaf of bread at the grocery store, but it’s nothing like bread she made at home. 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. It’s not the healthiest fact in the world, but flavor comes from fat. Instead 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. Grandma knew that.
Sure, that salt isn’t particularly great for your blood pressure, but like cooking with fat, Grandma knew that 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. Of course, your grandma also knew how to use paprika, garlic, parsley and other seasonings to enhance a boring ol’ chicken breast. If you want your food to be flavorful, don’t forget the basics: salt and pepper. They go a long way!
If Grandma missed a pantry staple during her weekly grocery shop, she didn’t have to forego dinner just because she didn’t have buttermilk for her fried chicken recipe; she knew to add a tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of milk. When you opened up your grandma’s cabinet, she had a handy cutout with all these swaps.
A meat thermometer may be the most accurate way to make sure your steak is cooked to a perfect medium-rare, but your grandma didn’t need crazy 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.
It may sound cheesy, but food just tastes better when someone else makes it for you. You can have the same techniques, fresh ingredients and recipes as your grandma, and while your food will be amazing, it won’t have the nostalgia and feeling you had when eating with Nana. Call it that special ingredient: love.
Your grandma wasn’t just cooking with love, she was cooking with experience. By the time you were eating your grandma’s food, she had been making those same family recipes for decades. After you make a lasagna a few dozen times, you’re going to be pretty darn good at it! By the time you’re a grandma (or a grandpa), you’ll have the same set of skills, and who knows, you may be cooking recipes that are even better than your grandma’s!
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