I'm on those last few days before I start back to school, and as usual, I'm trying to cram as much into those days as I can. One thing that I always end up doing is cooking some of those kinds of foods that take a lot of time. Yesterday I decided to cook some dry pinto beans. I very rarely make them, because they have to cook so long. I scooped a couple of handfuls out onto the cabinet, checked them for little stones and withered beans, washed them, and put them on to boil. The first time I lifted the lid to check on them, I smelled that rich, earthy aroma. And it made me reflect on how much different food is now than it would have been back at the time of our ancestors.
While the beans were simmering all morning and then all afternoon, I thought about all the other foods I rarely cook because they take so long. Baked potatoes, for example. I love oven-baked potatoes, but there's just not enough time once I get home from work to cook them in a timely manner before it's time to start getting the kids ready for bed. So we don't have baked potatoes. I know, I could bake them in the microwave, but they just don't taste as good and they get hard quickly. I also don't cook roast beef (except once in a while in the slow cooker, but it's just not the same). I never make hot rolls - they have to rise, not once, but twice. I don't even make homemade biscuits for breakfast; there's just not enough time.
It occurs to me that the so-called "time-saving" devices really haven't given us more time; they've just made it possible for people to fill their time with more stuff. Cooking for the family would have been a major activity of the day for a pioneer mother. Maybe it would have even been THE major activity of the day, given how time-consuming real cooking is. Whether it was making loaves of bread, or roasting and basting a turkey, or peeling potatoes, or whipping up a cake from scratch, cooking a real meal for a large family would take a long time. That was her job (assuming, of course, that she wasn't also helping in the fields and having to cook supper after she came in - which I'm sure happened plenty of times).
But now cooking supper is something that needs to be done quickly between getting home from work and getting the kids to bed at a decent time so it won't be too hard to get them out of bed the next morning to get to school on time. So it's less about "cooking" than it is about "throwing something together." I scanned through my cabinets and found the following items: packaged noodle mix, a taco kit, some Easy Mac bowls, muffin mix in a package, biscuits in a can. All of it can be "thrown together" in 20 minutes or less. Of course, canned biscuits aren't as good as homemade biscuits, and Easy Mac isn't as good as my homemade mac-n-cheese. But I guess we sacrifice some taste for some convenience.
Don't you wonder what a woman from 100 years ago would think if she looked into my cabinets???