Should your family, however, begrudge you your victory–should they rail against you, calling you Soup-waterer or Chicken-stretcher, several rejoinders are possible. For the first, remind them that if it’s festal cooking they want, they had better provide you with a more festal food allowance. For the second, ask them when they last had a roast that could stand comparison with your lightly sherried chicken in the supreme sauce with mushrooms. (Sherry is essential to ferial cooking. It provides the perfect life for the dish, and the perfect squelch for the smart aleks who are always throwing festal cooking in your face.) Finally, point to the pot now simmering once more on the stove, and remind them that out of today’s discard of bones and stems, they will all have mushroom soup tomorrow, provided they stop carping and behave. (A good ferial cook, like a judo expert, always keeps her opponents off balance. She is all confidence and bold response. Her only real enemy is self-doubt.) Once you have regained the upper hand, however, be gracious. Offer them a drop of your Sherry.
The ferial cuisine, you see, was the poor man’s invention out of necessity, but it is light-years away from poor cooking.
I have an amateurish love for old-fashioned, ferial cooking. New-fangled donut-makers and turducken concoctions be damned! Not every day warrants a standing rib roast. Lasagna is better the second day, right? There’s something kind of amazing about an ordinary broth seasoned with just bay and onion, about stretching a single chicken to last a week for a family of four. It’s like knitting with food — making something good out of nearly nothing. Like hand-knitted wool socks with a yarn-over repeat. It’s common and useful and comforting because it’s not attention-seeking.
My dad tells the story about begging his mom to make what, to them, seemed a “gimmicky” way to cook chicken — fried. Grandma relented. But, of course, she boiled it first. You wouldn’t want to waste all that good in those bones! There’s a perfectly good pot of soup right there!!
Grandma exuded her own kind of judo confidence. Remembering that makes the leftovers I hawk every other night at dinner seem noble.