I don't think it's a big stretch to say that we do many things here at the farm that are rapidly becoming "lost arts". The most obvious is our choice to depend on draft horses and antique machinery for our field work and hay making. Raising heirloom plants and heritage livestock is another area we've ventured into. It's no surprise to me that most people have no idea how to blacksmith, making tools and useful items with hot metal, coal and a hammer, although I think it's really neat that Dan can, and one of these days we'll find some elusive spare time to do it more. What is surprising to me, however, is how cooking is becoming a lost art as well.
Although I've seen articles touting the resurgence of home canning, and I think that's great, what I see more often at our stand is that people simply don't know how to cook whole, unprocessed foods anymore. We have beautiful bone-in hams, but many people are so accustomed to deli food that I frequently get requests for a pound of ham. When I explain that it is a several-pound piece of meat that will need to be cooked thoroughly, plenty will find another item to buy that isn't "so much work." Folks don't have a clue how to pick out a good squash, or what to do with it when they get it home, so they put it back down on the table. I lose sales by offering only whole chickens and not skinless thighs or breaded, frozen chunks of white meat. Folks either don't know what to do with a whole bird anymore or feel that it would be wasteful since there would be leftover food. How self-reliant can Americans really be these days if we can't put together a meal for ourselves or our families without step-by-step directions on the packaging?
I have to admit though, it wasn't long ago when I considered making a Hamburger Helper meal to be "cooking". I'm proud of how far I've come, how I can make an entire meal with only what we've raised on the farm, other than a bit of olive oil or a dash of black pepper. I guess what is surprising to me is that it really isn't that hard if you just give it a try. Sure, a chicken or ham might take 2 hours to cook, but once you put it in the oven, you really can just go about your usual routine, watching TV or helping the kids with homework, while it cooks. The longer cooking time seems a small price to pay for knowing exactly what is in your meal (ever read the ingredients on packaged convenience food? It doesn't really tell you what's in there unless you have a degree in chemistry!) not to mention controlling the fats and salts that we all know we eat too much of anyway.
I also find the more I learn about cooking from scratch, the less I waste. This really isn't much of a surprise, as the virtues of cooking the way our grandmothers or great-grandmothers did valued feeding your family even when food was scarce. While virtually all my kitchen scraps get fed to another creature on the farm, there are ways to stretch each meal a bit further and I try to master new ones all the time. Pigs are omnivores and enjoy most everything we do. I could give my boar, Wilbur, the scraps of the chicken I made for dinner last night, but it was so good, roasted with a bit of my white wine vinegar and home grown sage and rosemary, that I'm making chicken stock with the whole carcass today. This again, isn't hard, but it's something I haven't really tried before. After picking off all the meat I could, I put the whole picked over bird into a big pot full of water, added some big slices of onion and a sprinkling of salt and pepper, put a lid on it and turned up the heat. It's been simmering for an hour and a half now, and all those last little bits of meat are falling off the bones, the liquid is deep golden yellow and it smells like something you can't get enough of on a rainy fall evening. I imagine I'll strain out the bones soon and then I'll need to decide how it will become dinner. A hearty stew, or maybe a rice dish, cooking the rice right in that liquid. I do know it will be good, that it will be healthy, and that it will be worth any effort it took to make sure I respect the chicken that gave its life for our meal by not wasting any more than necessary.