Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How homemade is it?

I’ve been pondering this question for a little while, after reading this post over at Taylor Made Ranch. How homemade is it?

We met up with some friends over the weekend. These friends are also living a simple life, although I don’t think they have defined it as such. They aspire towards having a farm or smallholding, they make the most amazing walnut wine, use cloth nappies with their small son, and knit lovely homemade gifts. (They gave me a fabulous hat for Christmas.) We were talking about how do-it-yourself and many of the old skills so often discussed, rehearsed and learned in the online simple living community - cooking from scratch, making your own cheese and so on.

We were discussing whether something is really homemade if you get a kit. If you don’t source and measure the ingredients yourself, but everything comes pre-measured, pre-washed, pre-prepared, and you just have to mix it and stick it into the oven. A posher version of instant cake mix.

I would see this approach as a stepping stone or halfway house. For instance, my little cousins make their own Christmas cake. They are able to do this at the age of 8 and 10 because they get a kit, with all the candied citrus and dried fruits included. When you’re learning - at whatever age - it’s a great way to get started, minimising your risk, your initial outlay, stacking the odds in favour of success.

But I think you should ideally want to move past this. If you are baking your own cakes but ALWAYS buy pre-measured kits, for years, then this feels a little like cheating. It also undermines the cost saving side of doing it yourself, which I feel is important.

However, how far should you take this? Where is the line? Is a half-baked loaf which you bought in the supermarket and finish off in the oven for ten minutes homemade? (By the way, whenever you see somewhere offering sandwiches or bread ‘baked in store/here’, this is what they mean.) I bake bread using flour, yeast, water and salt - but I don’t grind the flour myself, or grow the grain. The yeast is shop-bought, not a homegrown sourdough starter.

I frequently find myself wanting to take things ‘back’ a notch - to go from mending a jumper to knitting a jumper to dyeing the wool to spinning the yarn to carding the fleece to shearing the sheep… At what point is it homemade? It’s a sliding scale, rather than an either/or.

I sometimes feel that it’s not enough, I’m not doing enough of these things, but I keep reminding myself that as with a cake kit, it’s a stepping stone. My first cheese will probably be made from shop-bought yoghurt, but my second might be from homemade yoghurt using shop-bought milk, and maybe one day I will have a goat for milk in the back garden.


  1. Oh I hear you! I have often bemoaned the fact that with a full time job I dont have the time to do so many things I would love to do. Then I make a soaked oatmeal or sprouted grain bread over the weekend and it makes up for it all. I think it is good to have an idea of things we still want to try when we have the time.

    1. Absolutely, the weekends are key! I spend the week thinking about what I'll do at the weekend, and I never manage to do all I want to, but it helps when I'm having to work late despite the call from the crafting basket...

  2. Such an interesting ponder. I'm not sure I can answer that for myself. I call a knitted article home made if I've knitted it from bought yarn, but even more hand made if I've spun the wool, but now if I just had a sheep well it could be even more handmade. There's a little bit of this pondering in most things we do here on the farm, but I do draw the line at using pre packaged stuff myself, but then again isn't yarn a little prepackaged. Who Knows. I guess we start from wherever we are at and go from there, and if you're like me there's always something that could make it even more home made!

    1. I think on reflection you have a good system with homemade vs more homemade - ie feel good about what you've made or feel even better about what you've made. Plus as you say we have to start somewhere, and there is (somewhere) a limit to the number of skills we can achieve any degree of competence in, at least in one lifetime...

  3. I also like the idea of homemade vs more homemade. I cook all our meals from scratch as ready meals just aren't really an option for vegetarians in Portugal, but regularly use bought tomato pulp (passata) - the only ingredients are tomatoes and a bit of salt, but I still hope that one day I will grow enough tomatoes to make my own passata. I think my meals are still homemade now, just like I think they are homemade if I use vegetables I bought from the supermarket - they will just be even more homemade when I am able to use tomatoes and vegetables I have grown myself.

    I make my own yoghurt but not cheese and I don't expect to be getting a dairy animal anytime soon. I made red lentil kofta this evening and don't think they are any less homemade because I didn't grow the lentils myself - that isn't likely to happen either.

    It is a really interesting subject - I have been looking at everything we eat and working out if I can make it either homemade or more homemade and what that definition of homemade is. I'm pretty comfortable that part-baked bread finished off in your own oven doesn't meet my personal definition though!

    Love the blog by the way!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I think it's definitely constantly shifting, and I think perhaps the approach we share is constantly looking at the things we use and thinking 'how can I make this more homemade?'



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