Sunday, 30 September 2012

Let's Make Cooking Easy With Convenience Foods !

Photo of drying Buffalo meat  for pemmican
Today there are so many convenience foods available that if we buy the right ingredients and have them on hand, anyone can cook.   They save the consumer time in the kitchen because they are quick, require very little preparation, are packaged for a long shelf life and can be purchased frozen, chilled, boxed or canned.  They require few cooking skills.  

Canada has a long and interesting ‘convenience food’ history.  Before the invention of commercial food preservation methods, Canada’s First Nations people relied on their own convenience food called ‘pemmican’.   It was very nutritious, portable and long-lasting.  Dried meat was combined with berries and fat.  Pemmican   was stored in bison-skin bags called ‘parfleches’ that were sealed with melted lard.  As the skins dried, they shrank, compressing the pemmican   creating a vacuum seal which kept the contents from spoiling.  First Nations people sold pemmican, as a convenience food, to the Hudson Bay Company in the 1820’s.   European fur traders bought it at the HBC to take with them on their travels. 

Breakfast cereals are a well know convenience food.    In 1930, three doctors in   Ontario invented Pablum.  It was a nutritious pre-cooked, vitamin enriched baby cereal that was easy and fast to prepare.
During World War II, all available food was sent overseas to feed Canada’s military.   This created a food shortage for civilians.  The Canadian Government issued War Ration Books to each family to guarantee that everyone got a fair supply of staples like milk, cheese, sugar, butter, coffee and tea.  Home cooks had to make do with less ingredients and substitutions.  Cookbooks, magazines and government pamphlets introduced new meatless recipes as well as sugarless and eggless baking. In 1937, J.L. Kraft, originally from Ontario, introduced Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  His timeing,  when there were food shortages , had a lot to do with its success.  Convenience foods are very profitable and their development has had a lot to do with the manufacturer’s point of view regarding the sales potential of the product.   

After the war, foods like cake mixes and dehydrated juices were introduced to the Canadian public.    Pre-packaged foods were invented by the military in order to feed the post war population increase.  New products developed at a rapid pace.  By 1962, research scientist Edward Asselbergs, Department of Agriculture, Ottawa, invented instant mashed potato flakes. They were sold as a packaged  convenience food  that could be reconstituted by adding hot water or milk. It was sold world-wide. 

A hundred years ago the average grocery store had about one hundred food items for sale. Thirty years ago there was a choice of approximately eight thousand items.  Today’s modern grocery stores have more than 17,850 convenience foods to choose from.  Every Canadian household uses convenience foods in one form or another.

A few of my handy staples include: canned tomatoes (whole, diced or crushed), flour, sugar, bouillon cubes of various flavours, an assortment of pasta’s, rice, spices, canned salmon and tuna, peanut butter, frozen vegetables and fruits etc.. 

When my kids were young they would pitch in and help make “Clean Out the Fridge Soup”.  The reason I called it that was so that we could take anything that was a left over, meat or a vegetable (all within reason and food safety in mind) and incorporate it into a pot of home-made soup.  Here is a simple recipe that my mom made for a basic tomato soup.  By jazzing it up with what you have in the fridge it can become your original recipe and a hardy meal.

Basic Tomato Soup
1/2 cup of celery, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large can of crushed of tomatoes  
1 can of water or stock
 Salt and pepper to taste.

Add a bit of oil, usually about 2-3 tablespoons, to the bottom of a soup pot.  Sauté ½ cup of celery and 1 onion in the oil.  *While you are at it see what’s in the fridge if you have carrots, broccoli, zucchini, peppers, or any other veg chop that up and add that to the pot. Sometimes I add a bit of fried bacon, sliced wieners, or leftover cooked sausage. Add the can of tomatoes and then fill the same can with water or stock and add that to the pot.  If I don’t have stock I add low sodium bouillon cubes.   Add salt and pepper to taste.   Bring the pot to a low boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.  You can add about one cup of cooked elbow macaroni to this or left over cooked rice if you like, some canned chickpeas or any other canned beans. You can eat it as is or add a few toppings for added interest like a spoon of sour cream, yogurt, pumpkin seeds or grated cheese, a sprinkle of a fresh herb or parsley.  It is all good and nutritious.

The main point is to get a feel for cooking.  It doesn’t need to be a big production. Convenience foods make the job a lot easier. Enjoy!

When baking, follow directions.  When cooking, go by your own taste. 
Laiko Bahrs

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