The Road To Culinary Self Sufficiency

You could quite easily be bowled over by all the things you can do for yourself that are actually really easy. I’m talking in particular about food and drinks here, especially things like sauces and cured meats and that sort of thing. Some of them seem like they might be really complicated- For the most part you buy them in a tub or a jar or a packet from the supermarket (or wherever) and you can’t even begin to get your head around how some of these things are made. How, for instance, would you make a paté? Where would you begin? It must take ages and a lot of work, right? Well in many cases making these foods yourself is actually a simple and straightforward task, and more often than not the end result is tastier and comes with the added benefits of having fewer additives or preservatives. With most foods in fact, you do need to use pre-prepped. You can do it yourself. You can be entirely self sufficient if you want to be.

“I stopped with the convience aspect of things. I kept buying packet sauces and gravy for a while but only until I was confident enough that I could make them myself.”My own journey to culinary self sufficiency began a few years ago when I looked at the ingredients on  the back of a pizza box and saw the ungodly amount of sugars and other pointless preservative things in there. I began to make my own and I began to leave behind the whole world of convieniece foods and ready meals. I’m not self sufficient yet but I’m getting there. I have been taking it one tiny step at a time so as not to overwhelm myself. I started with my main, evening meal. I began to make my own pizza and I stopped buying things that came ready prepped, like Spring Rolls or the occasional potato croquette or things like that. I stopped with the convieniece aspect of things. I kept buying packet sauces and gravy for a while but only until I was confident enough that I could make them myself. Even then, I did it bit by bit. I started making my gravy from scratch (the proper, thick gloopy kind… Not the sort that is so thin it flows like a river) and then I moved onto pepper sauce and eventually cheese sauce. I began to make my own my own pesto and spring rolls. I began to, slowly, traverse the road to culinary self sufficiency and these days practically the only ‘convienience’ I turn to for my evening meal is dried pasta but every once in a while when the mood takes me I will make it myself, from scratch.

Not being a confident baker I still buy my bread but, slowly and with each attempt I make, my home made variations are getting to a point where I will eventually be able to stop buying and start baking. My foccacia was good so there’s a thing I can try again. I tried my hands at chocolate chip cookies and though I first, somehow, made scone type things, I got there in the end. I made shortbread and tried making digestives. The shortbread worked but the digestives turned out a bit odd. Another attempt is required on that front I think. I made my own hot chocolate and tried making a paté, which at its most basic is just some chopped up chunks of cold, cooked meat or fish (I like using anchovies) and creme fraiche whizzed together in a blender. At first it may look a little sloppy but after a few hours in the fridge it will firm up. If you have some leftovers from a sunday roast you could use them if you really wanted (I haven’t tried that though.) My own paté is now something I make regularly.

And this week I have successfully added two more items to my repertoire: Cured fish and Iced tea, specifically the variety that comes in a bottle and is marked LIPTONS. The amount of sugar in a bottle of Liptons is staggering… It is one of the biggest sugar offenders on the market and as I get through far too many bottles in a week I thought I would try my own. It was one of those things I thought might be overly complex but turned out not to be. It was quite the opposite in fact. All it took was a couple of fruit tea bags (TWININGS variety,) a spoonful of sugar and some time in the fridge. As far as Iced teas go it was an incredibly basic recipe but the taste was little different to the Liptons, perhaps more watery but not by much. It is so simple and definitely something I want to continue making.

“I want to see what happens when I try curing a mackerel or a bream.”The second thing I made was the cured fish- In this case that perennial swedish favourite, gravlax. My first attempt at curing was a pork loin at the end of last year and that turned out reasonable but it hasn’t been something I have tried since. This was thus my second attempt at curing and my first with fish… It required a little more work than some recipes but only in so far as going to the fridge and turning the beast every few hours is considered ‘more work.’ The actual curing (using a mixture of salt, sugar and dill) didn’t take long at all. And it turned out so great I want to cure more fish… I want to see what happens when I try curing a mackerel or a bream. I’ll admit too, some of it went to making a wonderful paté- mixed in with a spoonful of capers on this occasion.

I am, as yet, nowhere near being culinarily self sufficient. As far as I am already making things for myself, from scratch, I still have a long way to go. I need to improve my baking ability, especially in terms of bread and biscuits and that should be my next step. In the longer term I should be thinking about how I can actually source my own ingredients rather than buying them. Some things I’ll never be able to source myself, obviously, but if I can get as much as I can without having to buy from a shop that would be great. I already grow a few things- beans and strawberries with tomatoes on the way any day now. And I have a couple of grapefruit trees but they haven’t developed to the point where they’re producing fruits yet. Recently I planted some orange seeds and a couple of apricot seeds and this week the first shoots have come through. In a couple of years both of them should be producing fruits. Next year I’m thinking of harvesting some red pepper seeds and growing a vine. I don’t have acres of land for growing but I can make the most of the small space I have. Eventually I will need more space but for now that isn’t really an option.

The road is ahead is still long but as someone once said, it is only when we look back that we realize how far we have come. I have come a long way and there is still a long way to go. Thing is, sometimes the modern world just sucks a huge pair of big hairy monkey balls and the food industry is one such place where it happens to suck the most. Following the self sufficiency route and making my own food has already yielded great results. And the best part is you don’t have to compromise. Quite literally, everything that you can buy ready prepared you can make yourself. And an awful lot of it is easier than you would think…



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