Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend Cooking: A mid-life passion?

This week I found the following quote in Fleur by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, the second book of the Kirov Saga trilogy set in Russia and the novel was written in the early 1990s from memory.

Fleur yielded without struggle to his charm. Polotski told her at once that she reminded him of his dear wife, and as she translated this correctly as the highest compliment he could pay her, they hit it off splendidly.

Apart from his wife, his great passions seemed to be cooking, and jewellery. "Cooking is man's most truly creative art," he told Fleur in the course of their first long conversation. "It is the most aesthetic. All other art is contaminated by materialism. But with cooking, the end product is utterly ephemeral, and unique. It is an art which exists for its own sake alone."

"I hadn't quite thought of it like that," Fleur said.

"Of course not! What has a young lady like you to do with cooking? It is a passion for man's middle years, when other passions have cooled. You, so slender, so beautiful, may only sense it dimly. What can you know of the poetry of spices, of soured cream, of truffles? How can you appreciate the triumph of man over the forces of nature, as represented by the perfect souffle?"

I should probably give a bit of context to this quote. The book is set in England and Russia just before and during the Crimean War (so in the 1850s ) and the speaker is a mature Russian gentleman.

What I thought was interesting was the idea that cooking is a mid-life passion. I wouldn't necessarily say that is correct any more, at least in most first world countries, but it would be interesting to think about when exactly it was that cooking changed from a mostly functionary pastime to one that excites people across a variety of ages, incomes and cultures. Is it the onset of more leisure time that has been the overriding factor, or perhaps the fact that we are better off economically. Is the multi cultural nature of our society now? Is there some other factor that has contributed more to it? I should clarify in that I am not talking about people for whom cooking is just a vocation, but rather those for whom cooking is a passion as a hobby.

Over the last couple of years there appears to have been a significant upswing in the number of young people who are interested in cooking, with cooking shows such as Junior Masterchef being both a product of that change, and an instigator of continued change as more and more kids get interested in cooking. Last year, for example, my son was showing a lot of interest (you can read about his efforts here) and so one of his Christmas presents was the Junior Masterchef cook book.

When I look at my own experience, my mother is not interested in cooking at all, or in trying a lot of new things. She would be described, at best, as a functional cook. Personally, I have always liked the idea of finding a recipe, buying all the ingredients and then cooking it, but I really don't like Monday to Friday cooking.

What do you think? What about the notion that cooking is man's most truly creative art?

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.


  1. He poses an interesting idea, but I agree that I am not sure it is still true.

  2. Not sure either that cooking is the most creative art. Just because the result is not lasting you still don't usually cook for cooking's sake, but because you have to eat.

  3. One thing about cooking being a passion for midlife for my generation is that by then (1) you have the money to buy all kinds of interesting ingredients and (2) the kids have moved out and you don't have to worry about picky eaters.

    Today, however, young people seem to have the time and money to cook -- could it be because they are delaying having babies? Or is it just that ingredients are now so readily available, even in small towns? Maybe it's the product of the cooking shows and channels.

    In any case, I do love the creative aspect of cooking but sometimes despair at how quickly hours of work (fancy meal, holiday) can be consumed and gone!

    Weekday cooking can be a challenge, I'm saved because I work from home.

  4. Great post! My mother is like yours somewhat, sort of a functional cook, but then she didn't have to because her mother did all the cooking for us! I came to cooking quite late but now I am passionate about it. It was either that or starve :) Not sure if what he says is completely true these days.

  5. What an interesting post! For my mom, cooking was part of her "job." Maybe because I have a job outside the home, I can look at some of those former chores as "relaxing?"

  6. This is a fascinating post...In thinking about it, I realized that I cooked alot more when my daughter was home (she's now in college)...For me, the mid-life thing has worked in the reverse I guess. I don't have the passion I used to for the kitchen, although I do still enjoy baking from time to time.
    My mother was a very plain cook, meat potatoes and a vegetable every night, no real spices, etc...
    and I tend to be very different in that regard.
    and I t

  7. Very interesting! I enjoy cooking much more these day, probably for the same reasons Beth F listed - more money for ingredients, kids older and less picky, and it HAS become more of a creative outlet. It also helps that two of my daughters love to cook, too.

  8. Honestly I don't cook much and wish it wasn't that way. I am always so busy we eat a lot of "quick items" and I try when I can to do a better job of that. this meme actually helps me find meals I can use :)

  9. Food for thought. I guess if a man has no other creative outlet, then for him, it is truly his creative outlet, but on a whole, I can't say that I agree

  10. I don't cook because I want to, I cook because I have to. I like trying new things and redoing recipes, so I guess in a way I agree with him.

    You can visit my Weekend Cooking HERE

  11. I am most happy in the kitchen and just love preparing daily meals and menu's for my family. One way I show love is by preparing a meal, or special treat for someone. I love teaching my children and grandchildren how to prepare foods and I love eating food!

    I think very special memories are made baking/cooking together.

    My mom cooked because we had to eat. Her forte was behind a sewing machine. I took over cooking for the family at a young age. I remember making mud pies when I was just a little girl.

    I have many creative outlets including photography, knitting, crochet, genealogy research, gardening to name a few. But preparing foods that make people happy is top of the list of joyful endeavors for me.

    Well, that is a long comment from someone who is a first time visitor to your blog! :)

    Thank you for taking the time to comment at my place!

    Kindly, Lorraine

  12. I think I have always been a fairly functional cook. My mother taught me to cook simple meals for myself then when I was at Uni I worked in a restaurant kitchen where there was always a pressure to be as quick as possible. What tends to happen in our household now is that my wife does the experimentation and then I work out how to cook it quicker.

  13. I think Beth F has a point there. I'm 31 and obviously one of the generation that delays having kids, and I do have enough time on my hands to spend on creative cooking. Also, more "exotic" ingredients are indeed readily available at the Asian and Middle Eastern food stores scattered around the city. My CSA complements the selection by offering "forgotten" vegetables like salsify and topinambour.

    But cooking the ultimate form of human creativity? Nah, don't think so.

  14. I am thrilled to pieces to read that young people are getting interested in cooking! Wonderful, wonderful news. It is a great joy in my life. And a bit of a miracle to be able to put some ingredients together and come up with a delicious meal.

  15. I don't know if it's fair to say it's man's most creative art, but it certainly be very creative and wondrous at times. Even when you are cooking from a recipe, and go on to deviate from it, it can become something all your own, and that is something that I love about cooking. There have been so many times that I have adapted a recipe, and it turns out to be nothing like what it on the page, but makes my family and I very happy indeed! I just love the quote you used from the book. Very evocative and lush. Great post!

  16. Great post Marg!

    I usually love to cook but sometimes, such as days I work late, I would love to have a vegan chef come to my home and cook hubby and I a delicious and nutritious meal. A woman can dream, can't she. LOL!

    Hubby will cook but he doesn't have much of a repertoire. I prefer that he do the dishes and so does he, most of the time.

    Reading so much historical fiction, it does seem that wealth people all had live-in staff, including a cook. I think I would be quite uncomfortable to have a paid person to live with us, I think a lot of people feel that way, now a days, at least in the west.

    Today, I think more of us are putting more money into our kitchens to make them more user friendly. Case in point, in 2010 we re-did our kitchen. Were were lucky enough to have the room to extend our counters and put in more cabinets and pot drawers. I no longer complain about not having enough counter space. LOL!

  17. ooo, that sounds yum!
    Really nice extract from the book, I'd love to find this book :)