About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Old fashioned cooking

When I hadn't known her very long, I was chatting with Ian's aunt about cooking and roast dinners in particular. She said, In the old days, you know, people used to boil down the bones afterwards to make stock. Well, I've been doing that for years. So here I am, cooking in the old days.

I quite like the fact that I cook the way they did it in the old days. My mother was a good cook, and her mother was a good cook, and so was her mother, so I'm told. Quite a lot of my kitchen equipment is inherited from them and I have their cookery books. I love that connection with the past. It gives me a sense of rootedness; of continuity through the generations.

In addition to making stock from old bones, I've been trying to extend my repertoire of old fashioned cooking skills. I'm focusing mainly on meat at the moment. This is mostly because it's expensive but, with Ian to feed, unavoidable. Stock is not the only product of boiling down roast dinner leftovers; there's also fat. In the past I've always thrown this away, current received wisdom being fat = bad. At the same time, my culinary education was good enough that I recognise fat as an important ingredient in most cooking, and that most cooking fats are to some degree interchangeable.

I now not only keep the fat that comes from making stock, I also keep and render down other waste fat, such as bacon rinds. Sometimes I find I have stock as a byproduct! I use this in place of cooking oil for frying onions (the starting point for many dishes) and in place of butter in making pastry. I may yet try to use it in soap-making. I've noticed I'm using far less oil than I used to, though I can't say the same for butter as I've also taken up baking, and some cake recipes use an awful lot of butter (mmm, chocolate brownies...)

I don't have any good pictures of brownies, but Sarah over at Cake in the Country does. Her brownies probably taste better than mine, too :-)

Dragging ourselves away from chocolate brownies briefly, my other attempt at old fashioned meat cooking is to use cheaper cuts of meat. Learning how to make these edible chiefly involves stewing. This is a very slow process, especially if I'm trying to separate out the fat (less in the stew, more to use later - it's win-win!) I first stew the meat in water (gas mark 'S' for slow) for several hours. Then I take out the meat and leave it and the liquid to cool separately. The fat floats to the top of the liquid and sets, so it can be removed quite easily, though getting excess fat out of the meat is more fiddly. After this, meat and cooking liquid can be recombined and veg added and the whole lot heated up to cook the veg. Finally, I usually add some flour to thicken the gravy.

The whole process takes the best part of a day, though obviously I don't have to stand over it all the time. Not only are the tough cuts of meat cheaper to start with, but I've been surprised at quite how much veg I can add and still end up with something that's essentially a meat stew, and I get the cooking fat, so it's very economical all round. When it works, it's very tasty and there are usually leftovers (stew again; pie filling; dilute to make soup) but I'm still learning. I now know that no matter how long you cook shin of beef, it will still be full of gristle and it takes a hell of a lot of work to pick it all out. It's unfortunate that the in-laws were visiting when I learnt this lesson.

I mentioned that I've taken up baking since moving - I didn't really do any before. Having learnt how to make bread, we hardly ever buy it. I generally make a loaf every three days plus pizza bases (Friday night is pizza night - make two at a time and stick one in the freezer). This has now become normal, which is what needs to happen at this stage - when I'm learning how to process and store the harvest (hopefully!) I don't need to be thinking about how to make basic things like bread.

My other baking activities include little pies, which I love but Ian doesn't. I'm sorry about that, but he has to put up with it because I do the cooking. Then of course there are cakes :-) I'm a dab hand at running up a batch of cupcakes by now. Which is nice.

Homemade scones with homemade lavender jam syrup.


  1. I have just rendered down most of the beef fat from a cow we are butchering, I was very suprised at how much came of from it (it was a tray full of all the fatty bits cut off) but the whole down stairs smelt of it for days, oh well

  2. I was surprised too, that I could get a useful amount from leftovers. I've heard dire warnings about the smell from rendering fat, but it doesn't bother me. Maybe it's because I do such small quantities, or maybe I'm just odd ;-)

  3. Thanks for the mention! I'm doing similar lately, budgeting and trying to get the best out of everything we use. It's amazing the flavour you can get out of the cheap cuts of meat and use the bones etc for stocks. I freeze them in ice cube bags then so I can pop out a few for flavour!

  4. Well, if I'm nicking your pictures, the least I can do is include a link. I think the concept of referencing is rather deeply ingrained in me ;)

  5. Hey Rachel, what is your pizza base recipe? I have tried this in the past, and it hasn't been as successful. Certainly it has not been so tasty that we would like to do it every week (or very often at all)! But I really like the idea. I know you can get pre-packed mixes, but it's not the same...

  6. Hey Gillian :-)
    I just use plain bread dough - and the dough I make is really plain, just flour, salt, yeast and water. When I started making them, they came out really well, then they got less good, for some reason. Now I part cook the base (with or without tomato sauce) before I put the cheese on, because the cheese was burning before the base was cooked through. I can't say they're brilliant, but then your average takeaway pizza isn't that great either. Not a patch on Swiss pizzas with smiley faces, anyway ;-)


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