Blog January 10, 2022

Grandma Knew Farm to Table Cooking

Grandma Knew Farm to Table Cooking

My daughter in law turned me on to a FB posts from Glen and Friends who is in Canada and posts of food he cooks from cookbooks or recipes dating before 1950.  It is wonderful.  It got me so excited that I started going through my cookbooks collections (which I have about 500) and look at my antique cookbooks. So at least 2 to 3 times a week I make a dish from one of my own cookbooks,  It has been so much fun and a real learning experience to figure out what they are saying ie: measurements. 

Then it brought back the memories of making dishes with my mother and 2 grandmothers.  Especially canning food.  All 3 ladies were in the Great Depression and during shortages of both World Wars. The one thing all 3 taught me is to make a mean biscuit. I still have my mother’s beloved cookbook and her handwritten recipes.  

The Old Becomes The New: Farm to Table

If you shop at the farmer’s market, keep a Tupperware (or repurposed yogurt container) filled with homemade stock in the freezer, or have tried your hand making pickles or jam, you have—knowingly or not—embraced “grandma cooking.” Broadly speaking, grandma cooking refers to an approach to food preparation that is thrifty, intuitive, inherently seasonal, and delicious—the kind of food that nourishes and delights without unnecessary flash. 

If you think about grandmas, they are some of the most experienced cooks in the world, you right. Anyone who has chased their own grandmother around the kitchen, trying to capture the secret behind her beloved apple cake or special family recipe, understands their magic.

Increasingly, food experts say that embracing grandma cooking also has larger importance. For generations, grandmothers (and grandfathers too, though the majority of home cooks have historically been women) literally cooked from scratch. They slaughtered and plucked chickens for soup. They grew the onions, tomatoes, and garlic that would become jars of sauce to last through the winter. They gathered together to roll and fill hundreds of pastries or dumplings for festive meals. In doing so, they gained traditional wisdom and skills that could be passed down to the next generation.

In stark contrast to the grandma cooking philosophy, today’s conventional food system typically positions itself as forward-looking—using technology and lab-made ingredients to feed consumers. As more households came to rely on canned convenience foods and microwaveable meals over the second half of the 20th century, people lost touch with cooking’s familial, communal, cultural, and ecological significances.

Thanks to many cookbook writers, bloggers, Chefs and home cooks, the tide is turning back toward deep, connected, and skillful cooking. But whether you are a cooking novice or a bonafide grandma cook yourself, there is always something to learn. 

The more one cooks, the more patterns begin to emerge and a culinary muscle memory kicks in.  I’ve heard countless stories of grandmothers putting the pot of water on to boil before sending the kids out to the garden to pick corn.  “Just a few minutes, they’d tell the kids, could mean a noticeable loss in sweetness.”

This kitchen wisdom checks out scientifically: The sugar content in starchy vegetables like corn diminishes rapidly after harvest. But the grannies probably did not know that. They cooked by touch, by smell, by taste—pulling from an intuitive knowledge developed and refined over generations of inherited trial and error.

Novice and experienced cooks alike should consider moments at the stove as opportunities to further develop those instincts. Smell seasoning pastes and taste before you add it to a dish. Learn to listen to the sizzle of garlic or the gurgle to gauge when to move on to the next step. Experiment and discover how a dash of salt or sugar can take a dish from blah to blessed.

Plan In Advance For Your Leftovers

Most recipes begin with a list of ingredients, and end when the food hits the table. Cooking is best approached from wherever you find yourself when you are hungry, and should extend long past the end of the page of a receipt.  There should be serving, and also eating, and storing away what’s left; there should be looking at meals’ remainders with interest and imagining all the good things they will become.

Thriftiness, both using every part of an ingredient and repurposing leftovers to avoid waste, is one of the hallmarks of grandma cooking. Begin weeknight meals with a mental or visual scan of what is in your fridge—both ingredients and leftovers—and think about how a container of roasted Brussels sprouts or leftover roasted chicken might be repurposed. Out of ideas? Go for making the French dish, oeufs en restes, or “eggs in leftovers,” which, true to name, takes meat or veggies from a previous meal, warms them in a pan with a little broth, and tops them with a sunnyside up egg. After dinner, end the meal by transferring whatever remains into see-through glass containers.

Advice from home cooks, chefs and grandmother? Look past the sell-by date, which contributes significantly to the 33 million tons of perfectly edible food Americans waste each year, and get back to your senses. “Look at food. Smell it. Taste it—if in doubt, just have a small taste,” she writes. A piece of cheese with a bit of mold on the surface may just need a trim. A carton of eggs may have a month or more beyond the sell-by date before it spoils.  When I was young, if we came across some mold in a pot of jam, we were told to stir it in. ‘It’s penicillin, it’ll do you good!  I don’t know if that was true or not, but we survived to tell the tale.  If moldy jam isn’t your thing, set your own boundaries. But learn to trust yourself, not an arbitrary number on a package.

Make Technology Work For You

Embracing a grandma cooking philosophy does not mean you have to shun technological or culinary advances.  You know the minute the food mill was invented, folks started using it. The trick,  is to figure out a way use those advances to support the same traditional food values. So if your goal is to make homemade yogurt or trade in canned beans for dried ones, go ahead and flip on the Instant Pot. Or if you are committed to making baby food or preserving summer produce, there is no shame in employing a Vitamix to whirl up some roasted sweet potatoes or a heap of pesto for the freezer.

Expand Your Grandma Community

Those of us who have a skilled cook (or two or three) in our family to learn kitchen secrets from should count ourselves as blessed. But if your own grandmother is more likely to burn toast then prepare a from-scratch family meal, hope is not lost. Find a friend who knows how to bake sourdough bread or injera, or roll from-scratch linguine, and make a cooking date. (Always offer to bring wine and provide the ingredients.) Or work your way through one or more classic cookbooks. There is no reason that, with a little patience and practice, Julia Child, Edna Lewis, Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey, Alice Waters, Claudia Roden, Sandor Katz, Yotam Ottolenghi, Diana Kennedy, or Samin Nosrat—to name just a few—cannot become your personal cooking elders.

Food is so much more than just a source of nourishment and subsistence. Its richness colors culture, history, and even literature. Its coalescing prowess brings people together into communities by creating a sense of familiarity and brotherhood. Some might go so far as to say that food is one of the major forces forging a national identity. It gives individuals a feeling of belonging that is at the core of nationalism. It serves as a hobby, a passion, a profession and sometimes even as a refuge.

It is interesting to see how food preparation has evolved through history, from the Paleolithic man’s roast meat cooked over the open fire in shallow pits to the modern art of molecular gastronomy. Some ancient recipes, however, have miraculously stood the test of time and continue to be in wide use even to this day. 

 Focuses on the oldest enduring recipes that are more intricate than just bread, rice, meat roasted over the fire or dried in the sun, noodles or for that matter soups. Most of us know that bread was one of the first foods prepared by man, some 30,000 years ago. Although there are many recipes of flatbread, leavened bread and others that are more complicated than just toasting a flattened gruel mixture over the fire, they largely belong to the category of staples much like rice, kebab, and noodles. Here, we are more concerned with specific recipes or at least family of recipes that use spices and herbs to enhance flavor and have slowly evolved over time thanks to advancements in cooking technologies.


The liquid that’s leftover after boiling kale, mustard, turnip, or collard greens is called “potlikker.” It’s as rich in vitamins, minerals, and flavor as it is wrought with historical significance.

The byproduct emerged as a centerpiece in the early days of American slavery, when enslaved Africans working in kitchens throughout the South made use of the leftover broth after cooking greens for white slave owners. On its own, it was taken as a tonic or a soup. Otherwise, it was built into a stew with the addition of whatever alliums, greens, and pork was available. For the fortunate few, it could be enjoyed with cornbread.

As with many dishes born of enslavement, potlikker became an icon of Southern cooking, even making its way into the national spotlight with the great “Potlikker and Cornpone Debate of 1931.” The phenomenon pitted a traditionalist newspaper editor from Atlanta against a U.S. senator from Louisiana in a row over whether it was more appropriate to crumble cornbread into potlikker or to dunk it. In the midst of the Great Depression, the debate gripped the country for weeks. The dispute today remains unsettled.

Also most country folks, farmers, or during some period of financial hardship has eaten Potlikker. 

If you’ve got some ham hocks, ham (drippings from you baked ham) or any smoked/salted pork kicking around, this recipe serves nicely. For vegetarians, mushrooms stand in well for the umami of hearty cuts of ham in this alternative recipe. If cornbread is a possibility, crumble or dunk as you see fit.

This recipe all 3 ladies of my family made.  We used cabbage, collards, turnip greens or kale for this.  I still do it today when I cook ham, ham hocks to season greens or dry beans with the broth, or just eat the broth cooked with greens with cornbread or soda crackers (saltines). Potlikker, YUM!