Even if you have never made your own bread or pickles, no doubt you have at least whipped up a batch of cookies from scratch. It is likely, however, that most of our grandmothers or great-grandmothers made these items--and lots more--on a weekly or even daily basis. Yet for better or for worse, modern grocery stores provide us with pretty much everything we need on a day-to-day basis. Convenience, particularly when our lives are busy, is a great thing; but great-tasting food ranks even higher on my list. The unexpected pleasures of common, everyday foods can be a revelation.
A couple of years ago I started baking my own bread. At first I did it because it was fun (which it still is), but now I also do it because it tastes fabulous...and doesn't contain any hidden additives. This was driven home recently when I purchased bread at a local store; a loaf that I used to eat all of the time. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but in this case it was quite the opposite. The bread I once enjoyed had an off-taste, from some type of preservative, I presume. A big disappointment.
Bread isn't the only staple that tastes better when homemade. Jams, jellies, pickles, cookies--and even pasta, butter and cheese--can be made at home without a lot of fuss. Pickles are a good example. Store-bought sweet pickles are often cloyingly sweet. When you make your own, you can adjust the sugar level to suit your taste. Likewise for ketchup, where not only can you make it less sweet but you can spice it up with chiles if you choose.
Of course, I'm not the only one who has discovered that homemade is better. Each year more and more newly published cookbooks provide inspiration for experimentation at home. Earlier this year I shared my thoughts on recent bread books (and one pasta book) for those interested in trying their hand at those particular foods. For a more general-purpose resource, I am quite taken with the recently published The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. I appreciate the way Alana boosts the reader's confidence by guiding us step-by-step through the recipes. I also like the wide variety of foods presented, and the stories of how her homemade cooking evolved as her family developed. The book truly has something for everyone, and will no doubt make you eager to try out new things. It has motivated me, for example, to venture into making my own oatmeal, cheese, and even yogurt.
If you suspect this involves a lot of extra time in the kitchen, you may be surprised. In this book, for example, the homemade oatmeal is actually a recipe for instant oatmeal; so you make one large batch and not only will it cook-up quickly, it will also last in the cupboard for a quite a while. Many other recipes similarly utilize the pantry and freezer for make-it-once-and-enjoy-it-multiple-times. And I can tell you from personal experience--and Foodie Husband will attest--even frozen homemade bread tastes better than freshly-baked store-bought.
Recipe from The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila (Clarkson Potter, 2012)
Recipes to try: 5 viewable recipes from "The Homemade Pantry".
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.