Kikkoman in Jutland

Now when I’m trying to think about recipes from Malaysia and Honduras and synthesize some ideas, I find myself with few models who look like me: young women of color, lower middle class, etc.

I miss homecooks who are honest about their complicated relationship with food and cooking. I miss cookbooks that include a more intentional reflection on the collection of recipes being a snapshot of the authors’ life as it looks right now. In my case, the Garden’s recipe collection gives you a sense of my relationships, my physical location, and really, it is a quite vulnerable project, in particular since it is documented on the Internet (albeit in this case, a very secluded corner of the web).

Returning to the missing models in the cookbook scene: in my childhood home in Copenhagen, we had a recipe book “Frøken Jensens Kogebog” (first ed. 1901) by Kristine Marie Jensen. Her book is considered to be a dictionary of “authentic” and “traditional” Danish food and has been published in multiple editions. It details how to make “frikadeller” (meatballs) and “syltetøj” (jam) and so on.

full width image Frøken Jensens Kogebog cover

We also had a book (or perhaps several) by Camilla Plum, a contemporary homecook, who my mom consulted about “advanced” cooking such as Christmas cakes and duck roasting etc. Plum also advises Danish homecooks on “foreign” dishes and “exotic stews” aka daal and curry, which my mom always had an interest in.

Other than Christmas meals, my mom rarely cooked traditional Danish food. She grew up on a farm in rural Jylland, harvested grains with a tractor, took care of chickens, cows, etc., and wore wooden clogs exclusively until her midteens. She ate boiled potatoes and carrots every day with some sort of pan-fried pork, drank fresh milk, and had rolled oats with sugar for breakfast. Salt and pepper were the only spices. When she moved away from home age 16, she started cooking “Indian” food, perhaps as a rebellion against the very traditional home.

On the contrary, my dad is quite savvy with Danish cuisine. When he first moved to Copenhagen, he spent about a decade working jobs in kitchens both as an amateur chef and also as a dishwasher, waiter, etc. He worked in Jensens Bøfhus and in various cantines and because the clientele was Danes, he picked up Danes’ food predilections. This is also the time when my dad became known as “Kikkoman” because he “seasoned” the “frikadeller” (meatballs) with soy sauce. If anyone at home cooks Danish food, it is my dad.

We had some interesting discussions about how the food industry and lobby has changed recipes over time. We noticed that a lot of the American breads (banana bread, pumpkin bread, yogurt bread, corn bread, etc.) use vegetable oil instead of butter. When did this shift happen? (the shift from butter to margarine/shortening that is). I think there are several reasons for this: vegetable oil is easier to store, it’s cheaper, and unlike butter, you don’t need to melt it before you stir it into your bread batter. Basically, it helps busy homecooks + women working full time at home and outside the house. I also think there’s some beef between the oil industry and the dairy industry, but I’m not sure what exactly this is. At least I know that in Denmark the pork industry heavily lobbied and won over the fishing industry, so over the last seventy years or so, Danes have come to consume pork as the main protein instead of herring and other local fish.