lost cooking methods of 1958

Headlines from page six of the Regina Leader-Post, June 18, 1958:

Modern market thing of beauty: "True to the Cinderella story, they have not forgotten their humble origins and, despite their radiant appearance, they cater to everyone on an equal basis".

Shopping habits affected by car: "If the automobile has caused so much change, what will the transportation of the future bring. Who knows what cheap air transportation will mean in deciding where you will live, where you will work and how you will shop".

Friendly courtesy stressed: "Self-service's greater efficiency created lower buying costs for Mrs. Housewife and won her cooperation".

And my favourite, Braising is simple: "Braising is a simple method of cooking by moist heat which is known to all housewives. But perhaps you don't get as much variety out of it as you should".

Like most of the mainstream media of the fifties, the Leader-Post was relentlessly forward-looking and optimistic about the future, with its ever-increasing edge of efficiency and consumer pleasure (and as a counterweight, there was some scrotum-tightening Cold War terror). I figured that if braising were simple in 1958, it must be child's play for the advanced minds of 2004. So I conducted a survey of various people. I chose mostly women for my survey because a) I don't know any men and b) I don't know the phone numbers of the ones I do know. I phoned, emailed or personally approached a representative sample of seven people. Here are the results:

The Lotus didn't know what braising was exactly, wanted to know what I planned to braise and when I'd be home to braise it. I explained that my question was so-see-oh-logical and not practical. She sent me a definition of braising by email. The link made it sound extremely simple. She and I agreed to braise together in the future. Because the future is our most valuable resource.

Friday didn't know what braising was either, but knew that it was connected to cooking. She offered to come over with her boyfriend (one of the men that I know) and eat whatever it was I was braising.

Jamie was patient with me. She doesn't cook, but she found another link to braising with butter that included some helpful tips, such as "it's best to find a pot that's almost too small for the food you're attempting to braise". That sounded a bit pornographic, and frankly, I envisioned braising as not only a simple technique but a pure one as well.

Jennifer's husband cooks and brews beer, so she, I reasoned, would be in a good position to tell me whether or not braising was simpler in the 21st century. She knew how to glaze but not to braise, and when she googled "how to braise a ham," Google asked her if she meant "how to raise a ham," which confused me, since they're not born that way.

Helvetica was happy to hear from me but taken aback by the question. Apparently nobody in her 26 years had asked her this question. She told me that she'd just seen The Day After Tomorrow (my ramblings on the movie can be found here), and that her flatmate had been an extra in the film. She lives with Ian Holm.

Craig, who is one those men that I know, sounded as if he were at a party or a bar when I called him. His reply to the question was a succinct and highly contrary "No". Braising, according to Craig, is a monstrously involved task requiring the GDP of a medium-sized industrialized country. It is easier to get tritium-3 from the moon than to braise pork and potatoes. You are better off, he continued, trying to gather all the sand from the ocean floor with tweezers. Go to hell, he said. Go there, and may you braise for all eternity, and may all your roasts be dry.

My mother, who hails one generation back from the rest of us sorry losers, knew exactly what braising was and how simple it was, which is: very. It turns out it's not tough to put something in a pot with liquid, turn up the heat and cover it. We discussed how some fairly basic domestic skills were being lost, and how cooking, once an integral part of the domestic skillset, has been given over to professionals. This may be a consequence of increasing gender equity in the workforce. I worried that we may be in trouble if all the chefs, sous-chefs, short-order cooks and pastry chefs die suddenly. My mother was cordial and friendly throughout the conversation, considering that her eldest son should have better things to with his time than conduct surveys on braising and generally make a mockery of sociology and conversation in general. I believe she gave me the benefit of the doubt because I am her child. And children are our most valuable resource.

What I discovered was that, in my generation, the question of whether braising is simple is moot, because nobody cooks habitually anymore. This is bad news. Even though domestic food preparation has traditionally been bound up with patriarchal power, it worries me that our meals are increasingly becoming a paid service handled by professionals. Once food has left our kitchens, what more is left for us to outsource? I predict that one day the very act of spending money will be handed over to a group of professionals who will spend it for us and charge us a premium for the pleasure. We will sit in empty houses eating from take-out boxes, wondering how to respond when I ask whether buying a television is simple. Or maybe I'll pay someone to do that for me.