Kitchen appliances have gone high-tech.
Perhaps more than any other time in history, technology is moving us forward at such a rapid rate that things are obsolete before they’re out of the box. Even humble kitchen appliances have gone high-tech — we could spend thousands on the latest time-saving devices for the kitchen, but before long one wonders what the point is of all these contraptions.
Cast your mind back to school history lessons about colonial Australia, or recall the stories your parents and grandparents told you about their lives growing up. When my mother was a girl, she was the family dishwasher, and there were few conveniences in the kitchen (the sifter she gave my grandmother for mother’s day one year was considered a luxury). The ice delivery came once a week, but this was OK, as the concept of an icebox was a novelty and quite a step up from the metal meat safe. Mum learned to cook at her mother’s side, referring to family recipes and basic cookbooks such as the copy of the Commonsense Cookbook that is now in my cookbook collection. In those days, utensils were made to last — the aforementioned sifter resides in my kitchen now, and is used along with my nanna’s Pyrex pie dishes, rotary beaters and wooden rolling pin.
In contrast, today we have freezers to store food safely for long periods, ovens that are always reliable in their temperature control, and gadgets too numerous to list — we can buy machines to make everything from omelettes and toasted sandwiches to doughnuts and fairy floss. And coffee machines? You practically need to do a barista course before you delve into buying one of those.
Yet, more than ever, we grab meals on the run, stopping at drive-throughs, buying pre-packaged convenience food in the supermarket and drinking our caffeine fix from paper takeaway cups or aluminium cans. Many children are more likely to be able to read the menu board at McDonald’s than a recipe to make patty cakes. We have become consumers to a disturbing degree, with some children not even realising that biscuits don’t always have to come out of packets or that vegetables grow in the ground.
Thinking about the future
Fortunately, tables have started to turn, with many Australians moving away from a culture of rampant consumerism. While the worst of the global economic crisis seems to have passed by with a relatively small impact on most Australians and with consumer confidence again on the rise, it seems the combination of recession fear and a growing environmental movement has rekindled a desire to return to simpler times for many families — one that takes less toll on the environment and our budgets.
There is a global movement towards ‘urban homesteading’ which, in its simplest terms, means growing food instead of grass. More and more people are planting veggie patches out the back and planting fruit trees instead of ornamental varieties. Chooks are becoming the new family pet and people are beginning to realise that it doesn’t take a huge amount of space to grow your own food. Gardens are watered with tank or grey water, and children everywhere are again falling in love with the idea of collecting eggs, digging for spuds and sneaking down the backyard with a spoon in hand to raid the passionfruit vine.
Another trend that looks set to stay is the move towards consuming local and in-season produce. After years of making meals based on what we felt like, people are again realising that our grandparents had the right idea in choosing only local produce — even though for them, there wasn’t a lot of choice. If it’s not growing locally right now, you are paying much more money for a cold-stored product that doesn’t taste as good. Yes, you can pay a premium to buy Californian cherries in July, but who really wants fruit that’s better-travelled than you are?
Relearning Old Skills
Just as knitting and crocheting is experiencing a resurgence in the craft world, ‘old-fashioned’ kitchen skills are once again being learned and appreciated. Many of us have never made a batch of jam or lemon butter using the glut of fruit from trees in our backyard, but more and more of us are willing to give it a go. Food dehydrators are readily available, allowing you to extend the life of in-season fruit and vegetables. Preserving and bottling is becoming increasingly popular.
Many of us are returning to baking, too. As people become more wary of the additives in heavily processed foods, there is a return to simpler baked goods. It’s amazing what variety of things a few pantry staples can make — if you have flour, sugar, vanilla, coconut and cocoa in your pantry, plus milk, eggs and butter in the fridge, the possibilities are endless.
In a world where preventable diseases are our biggest health problem and nutritional concerns begin at birth, it’s somehow refreshing to see small children donning their aprons and learning the art of turning a few ingredients into a mouthwatering cake or polishing off a salad or bowl of stewed fruit they helped pick the ingredients for.
In many ways, we are luckier than our ancestors. We have wonderful technology at hand to make cooking easier and faster. If we need a recipe, we can look on the internet. The range of bakeware and saucepans today takes much of the guesswork out of cooking. There are utensils and appliances to make light work of everything. So rather than take this for granted, we should appreciate what we’ve got and use it!