why cook from scratch?



A lovely reader called Susan asked a damn good question in the comments on the weekend which has had me thinking. And thinking. And thinking. Why do I cook from scratch? she asked. Is it because it's cheaper? It tastes better? or is it for environmental reasons to cut down on food miles?

It's so weird, Susan. No one has ever asked me that question.

They've asked me if I'm bonkers (well my sisters have), because really, who makes their own butter? People have asked about the time commitment because, again, who really has time to make all their own bread and crackers and pasta if they have a job? Even if that job is at home raising small people. 

Let me answer the fundamental question first.

Although I've cooked forever, and on occasion for a living, I first started diligently cooking from scratch when I figured out that Henry, then about three, reacted to artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. 

Everyone knows kids react to sugar. That's obvious. But it was when he would get completely hyper after eating "healthy" rice crackers and dried fruit that I started paying attention. After discovering the amazing Sue Dengate, I started by taking him off dairy. This wasn't easy as his diet at the time was pretty much made up of milk, cheese and yoghurt. But after about three days he was an exponentially calmer boy and I wondered if I was onto something. 

I started really reading the back of the packet (particularly of rice crackers and dried fruit.) I was surprised to find nasty flavour enhancers in plain rice crackers (not to mention the sodium) and discovered an insidious preservative in lots of things called 160b which really seemed to affect his behaviour. Anyway, the first step was avoiding all artificial preservatives. The natural next step is to make everything yourself. 

I should say one thing: although I'm a huge advocate for kicking all artificial stuff out of kids diets and I have first-hand experience in how much this affects kids concentration and calmness, I don't think it's wise to attribute all behaviour to food. What I mean is that I think sometime kids get ratty, and it's not necessarily because of something they've eaten. If you're constantly telling a kid that their behaviour is being moderated by the MSG-laden chips they just ate, I wonder if they might stop taking responsibility for the way they're feeling and behaving. Just a thought.

So that was my first motivation.

Then I discovered how much deep joy I got making stuff from scratch. I am so intensely proud of my homemade yoghurt, and pulling a jar of homemade butter out of the fridge in the morning makes me freakishly happy. Maybe you start because it's a good idea. It is definitely cheaper – bread, 40 cents a loaf! But you keep on, until you discover yourself making not just breakfast cereal and peanut butter and icecream and hummus and stock and baked beans and pies and quiches but all your own cleaning products and washing powder too. Because it's FUN. Really fun. Freaks that we are. (You're here, aren't you? I'm betting you've at least made a loaf of bread once.)

And yes, food you made yourself from scratch does taste better. 

Well, food made by someone else can sometimes taste better! Adam made a lasagne the other night which brought a tear to my eye. 

But food from a box or a bag or a packet? It never does. Those frozen watery vegetables? Anemic boxed microwave meals? They never do. 

Time, though. That is an issue. 

To make everything from scratch takes time. But for me, so does going to the supermarket with three children. I figured out a while ago it was much quicker making my own pastry from my bulk bag of flour, and egg and some butter than going to the supermarket, buying frozen pastry then waiting for it to defrost. (If you don't make your own pastry, this should be the one thing you try. It's so fast if you have a food processor, you will never go back. Recipe later this week.)

And food miles? 

I remember when I was quite little and Victorian milk started being brought into NSW, undercutting the local milk price. I was a dairy farmer's daughter. It was a big deal. You supported the local dairy co-op or the local farmers went out of business. 

I'll admit though, since then I didn't give a whole lot of thought about food miles until this year and I found myself lucky enough to live in an area with a food co-op who are all about reducing food miles and supporting local farmers. 

I also saw Food Inc and starting listening to impressive local market advocates like Joel Salatin.

So, Susan, in answer to your question, I cook from scratch for lots of reasons. Because it's healthier, because I love it, and I want to know where the ingredients have come from. 

There's one more major reason. It takes me outside of the ridiculous and evil market manipulation that is large grocery chains. It un-links me from the chain of commoditisation that consumers are pushed into, ending with people putting crazy "fruit strings" in kids lunchboxes. (They're lollies, people. Don't let anyone tell you they are a healthy snack choice.) It's my little up-yours to giant food companies who have successfully convinced people it's cheaper to buy frozen pies and chips for dinner than a bagful of vegetables. Cheaper how?

Have you seen this animation?




Anyway, I hope that answers the question.

And perhaps inspires one person somewhere to make their own pesto rather than buy it. 


31 Comments on “why cook from scratch?

September 20, 2011 at 1:18 am

A wholehearted, resounding ” I agree” across the sea to you. From another like-minded cooker-from-scratch. Not much compares to the satisfaction of feeding my family a truly home-made, home grown meal.

green ink
September 20, 2011 at 1:46 am

Love your work, as always, Fi! Your enthusiasm for making your own got me making my own sourdough, muesli, hummus and pesto, which I LOVE. You do get a strange sense of satisfaction from it, from being a part of the whole production process. Now, thanks to your post today, I’m going to try making my own pastry, which has always ended in disaster in the past, but I’m going to give it a go!!

And you make the excellent point that even if people don’t want to quite go down the road of making their own, they can always support local industries who do – it will always taste better than a frozen box from the supermarket freezer. Food is such a powerful way for people to connect with their community.

Here’s to being unlinked from the chain of commoditisation!! xx

September 20, 2011 at 1:54 am

Excellent! I thought I did quite well with homebaking, but now I realise I probably only make 20% of the food you make from scratch! You should consider writing a cookbook, I would buy it! Off to make an apple pie from scratch now lovely lady!

Karmyn R
September 20, 2011 at 2:03 am

I’ve been meaning to start making my own pasta. I know that once I give it a try and realize it isn’t as complicated as I’ve made it out to be – then I’ll do it again and again. (this happened with pancake and waffle mix…from scratch tastes so much better than out of the box and so easy to make.)

Part of me thinks Advertisers and Marketers have really tricked our minds into thinking we can’t do it ourselves.

September 20, 2011 at 5:07 am

I also make everything, (except bread because I live in Paris) and started using a Thermomix 6 months ago, which means it all takes less time.

September 20, 2011 at 6:07 am

please do share how to make pastry using a food processor. That is one thing that I am hesitant to make, but if it is easy, I would love to try it. I really love reading your blog and all your wonderful recipies.

kim at allconsuming
September 20, 2011 at 7:29 am

I love this and am in the process of returning to making a lot of our own ‘snacks’ as well as ‘just’ our meals and treats. For me it is love, it is unbreaking that chain to the big supermarkets, it’s healthier, it’s (over time) cheaper but for me the biggest thing is how it gets me back into a more natural rhythm with life. As I knead a dough or cream some butter and sugar or roll out some pastry I can almost feel my circadian (sp?!) rhythms returning to something far more ‘in sync’ with the world. It’s like I can hear the passage of time softly passing in a happy contented meander. And that’s pretty addictive.

September 20, 2011 at 9:08 am

Fiona like you I cook from scratch, other than a few forays off-course I’ve always done so. My husband Tony is a slender fit man who has been diagnosed with the genetic condition haemachromatosis. We can keep his Type 2 diabetes (a common complication) under control with a good diet and I find home cooking makes that a lot easier.

As you said it often takes a lot longer to go to the supermarket, park, get and item and come home than to simply make it from scratch. And made-from-scratch products are better not only for little people such as yours but also for middle aged digestion systems.

Terrific animation!

September 20, 2011 at 9:11 am

I love to make my own food, but find that with work and living alone I don’t have the time/usage balance right. I find the time and cook from scratch then end up with too much food and eat the same thing all week.

I do make my own bread and jams. The jams was to reduce sugar content and I love citrus rhuebarb ginger jam which is hard to find locally or in the supermarket.

Linda Woodrow
September 20, 2011 at 10:32 am

I love that line “It’s my little up-yours to giant food companies who have successfully convinced people it’s cheaper to buy frozen pies and chips for dinner than a bagful of vegetables.” Can I steal it? It is just such a beautifully succinct way of saying it.

September 20, 2011 at 10:33 am

Sing it, sister. xo

September 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Hi Fiona,

Your lifestyle choice inspires me. x

September 20, 2011 at 1:41 pm


taste taste taste. tweak tweak tweak. perfect..

that is why we cook so much from scratch.

Currently on an thai/asian-fusion style cooking experimental binge as I couldn’t do those from scratch myself and missed the flavours. simple recipes such as pad thai now perfected. indian was perfected a number of years ago. moving onto a larger variety of asian-inspired salads..

September 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm

and of course rocky road….

September 20, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Hi Fiona. I clicked over to your “making butter” post and now somehow I’m crying. Crazy! The last few months at home haven’t been great. I’ve lost all inspiration for cooking and housekeeping and usually wishing I was anywhere else but at home with the kids and sitting in a messy, dirty house that I can’t get under control. I’m trying to find the “joy” of it all again and I think making some butter might just be a great start for me 🙂 My food processor died a little while ago so I’m about to pack the kids into the car and go buy another just so I can make butter. I’m truly thankful to have found your blog. Thank you.

September 20, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I meant to comment on your earlier post Fi, but somehow my thoughts didn’t manage to pop out of my head and into the computer, as I keep wishing they would!! 😉

Your post is timely for me as lately I’ve been fretting about trying to reduce my reliance on a few convenience type foods (crackers etc) and generally get us eating a bit more close to nature. I’m also trying to convince my very stubborn neighbour to STOP GIVING MY KIDS LOLLIES! Even when I specifically ask her not to she still does… arghh! Anyway, I digress… As a SAHM I should have enough time to make most things from scratch but I find if I do then there’s no time left for other things (namely my sanity-saving sewing and blogging 😉

Recently when I had a busy week I relied on quick meals (pasta etc) and meals I’d previously frozen to get me through, and at the end of the week couldn’t believe how much time I’d saved – it dawned on me just how many hours I spend cooking each week and STILL I have to supplement with store-bought stuff. I guess I just need to work on coming up with quick nutritious meals and keep a balance. Thanks for the great post xx

September 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Thanks Fiona, yes that answers my question.
My husband bought me this book for Christmas ‘The Lost Art of Real Cooking – Rediscovering the pleasures of traditional food one recipe at a time’ by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger. The back reads ‘… heralds a new old-fashioned approach to food- laborious and inconvenient, yet extraordinarily rewarding and worth bragging about’. Good read, think you may enjoy it.
I think your blog is lovely.

September 20, 2011 at 9:11 pm

They have, I agree! xx

September 20, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Thanks Barbara! Recipe for pastry coming shortly – blackberry pie maybe? xx

September 20, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Me and my words are yours to do with what you will, o amazing garden guru!!! xx

September 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Oh wow. Yep. I totally get it. And when you’re low on energy it’s super hard to find the mojo to make stuff. Butter is a good quick win, I hope you found a processor. Maybe bread, too? a simple no-knead is my go-to at moments like this. Great to meet you, Natalie. xx

September 20, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Yay to you, such a great topic. I am sure you are inspiring your kidlets too, passing on the goodness to the next generation. PS I need a new food processor, one that does the job and is easy to clean, do you like yours? Absolutely dying to make some hummus and nut butters again.

September 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Yep, yep and yep.

Firstly and foremost-ly, I like to make stuff. Lots of stuff. Any stuff. I’d rather make stuff than buy stuff. I like my kitchen and my sewing desk way better than shops.

Then because of the thriftiness.

Then because of the health benefits and the low cost to the environment.

Please continue to share your recipes for simple stuff like bread and butter and cleaning products and the rest – I’m learning so much!

September 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Well said!!!

And I love that animation.

I think i’m almost as excited as you likely are about Buena Vista’s future 🙂

September 21, 2011 at 8:31 am

Fantastic post! My journey to cooking from scratch with wholefoods is so alike yours it is scary – grew up in Wollongong, dairy farmer’s daughter, my son reacted to preservatives…..then my son had a very serious illness & I became very serious about what we ate. This then flows over to cleaning, edible gardening & then the farming methods used to grow the food we eat. It is all linked.

I loved the animation & so did my kids! They watched it & then proudly announced that we are ‘Going Back to the Start’. Thanks heaps for posting this today.

Christie-Childhood 101
September 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm

I admire your passion, energy and resourcefulness. I seem to be missing this home cooking gene and it saddens me in so many ways. While I do try to feed our family as many ‘whole’, unprocessed foods as I can, taking this next step seems such a huge leap for someone with absolutely no history of this type of resourcefulness. Even the thought of breadmaking, and yeast!, terrifies me 🙂

September 22, 2011 at 3:56 am

Great post, loved it. Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

I love the strength that comes from self-sufficiency. A community of likeminded people is a wonderful thing, too.

September 22, 2011 at 9:33 am

Blackberry pie sounds lovely. They are out of season here (Canada, but I am sure I can find some frozen ones. We are into pumpkins and squash at this time of year.

Charley @Secret_Water
September 22, 2011 at 10:19 pm

We started making our own pasta a couple of years ago when ona rainy day my engineer husband decided to have a play with the wedding present that had not yet made it out of the box. We have never looked back and my husband point blank refuses to eat dried pasta now, which is brilliant becasue if I need some I just threaten dried pasta and he rolls up his sleeves and knocks up some dough. It took us a good few go’s to prefect the recipe and temperature, humidity and egg size can all throw you off course. But the satisfaction, and taste makes it worth the effort. Especially with home made pesto from home grown basil 🙂

September 23, 2011 at 8:30 am

Yeah! I loved your post. Over the past year, our lives changed dramatically as we moved overseas, mama stayed at home, and now moving back overseas again. One of our constants has been mama-made food. It’s amazing to see how a meal out of our family recipe book helps us all feel like home while we’re in the middle of a 2 month period of visiting others. All the other reasons you mentioned – here here!

October 7, 2011 at 9:17 am

I have just come across from little eco footsteps this morning. My son is 6 and having learning difficulties at school. We were recommended to get Sue’s Dengates book. Yesterday I collected it from the library along with a copy of the dvd Food Inc.(I haven’t looked at either yet). I have been dreaming of a little farm and self suffiency for a long time but for now, that is not possible. I am addicted to the River Cottage dvd’s and books.But then three weeks ago it was like a lightbulb went off. I needed to give my children the purest food that they can eat and now. I have started thinking differently. I look at the items in my pantry and ask myself ‘can I make that?’ Yes of course I can. I too, have always cooked, there our no frozen or ready meals at our house, but what about bread, butter, yoghurt, cheese, gnocchi, rice crackers, pasta, etc. At the moment there are 4 kilos of local market tomatoes on the bench to soon become tomato ketchup, tomato paste and passata. I even tried butter last week.

Sorry for waffling on, but I couldn’t believe what I was reading this morning. I am just starting out on this journey, for much the same reasons as you. I think I will be popping by for quiet a bit of advice. I’m so glad I have discovered your blog

Jacki x


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