I only cook on weekends, but cooking during the pandemic is not like my weekend cooking before the pandemic. My meal planning now is driven by the fact that I do not want to go out and wait in line at a grocery store and so I must use the ingredients that are on hand.
For example, ever since the weather became warmer, I have been thinking about summer seafood dishes: bowls of mussels and clams in a saffron broth, but these must be bought the day you are going to make them.
I will have a taste for a salad with avocados and the avocados will be gone. I think of how perfect a grilled lemon would be with certain Greek dishes and there are no lemons left on the counter. There is a lady who is usually at my market who grows oak leaf lettuce that makes a perfect summer salad, and the markets are not open. I have been to three garden stores in the last 2 weekends but I still have not found French tarragon or rosemary to grow in my garden. I wanted to freeze fiddleheads as I usually do, or have them in a spring salad, but it seems as though ferns are not coming up this year. Every time I think about what to make for weekend meals, I feel as if I am living in an episode of Fridge Wars – and I am not coming out ahead!
What I am not doing is wasting. Often, after making strawberry jam, I don’t have the energy or inclination to make strawberry wine jelly, but my mother and aunts and grandmother would never have neglected this and this year, I didn’t either. Strawberry wine jelly is made from the stems of the strawberries you hulled for jam. You cover the bits that you cut off with water and boils this until you get bright, red strawberry juice. For every 2½ cups of strawberry juice, you need one cup of dry white wine and a package of pectin crystals. You boil the juice with the crystals and wine and when there is a good rolling boil, you add four cups of sugar and boil until set. Strawberry wine jelly is the bright red of a stained glass church window. It is perfect for glazing open summer fruit pies, for burying into plain muffins, for putting between the layers of a cake. It is economical and was made by women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generation, who never wasted anything, and especially not food.
I grew up with garlic scapes. If you grew garlic, as my Eastern European relatives did, you had to cut off the tops, or scapes, so that the plant would focus on growing bulbs of garlic and you would have a good harvest. These were pickled with a mixture of half cider vinegar and half water with peppercorns and sea salt and dill seeds. Someone asked for a recipe, but the only consistent part of this pickling is that the salt is about 2 cups of sea salt per gallon of water. Like Strawberry wine jelly, this was a lovely pickle that you had because you would never have wasted any part of a plant that was edible.
Today, if one takes the time to make these foods, it is usually because one is privileged enough to have learned about them and the time to prepare them. Neither my father’s nor my mother’s family were wealthy or privileged. Being frugal was a necessity, but so were the pleasures that you built into your life.
My grandmother once told me that I should not have a goal to be happy, but rather that I should strive to be useful and that happiness would likely follow. If all I am missing are some avocados and lemons and my favourite lettuce, I suppose I should just stop complaining.