A Saturday afternoon and I am in the kitchen, ministering to a steaming pot of pork and chorizo stew, much as a parent might attend to their baby in the bath. I know this dish intimately. I understand its rhythms, the way the garlic and smoked paprika, the pork and tomatoes will first shake hands and then drop into a deep hug if properly introduced. As a result, I never deviate from the set method, because that would feel like choosing to walk in the wrong direction in the misguided hope of eventually finding my way home.
Except this time. Today I am making adaptations. It is forcing me to concentrate. Usually, the stew contains a tin of drained butter beans. Usually, the pork is cut into one-inch dice. Neither is true today, because this bubbling pot is not for this evening’s dinner. I don’t really know when it will end up on the table. Possibly three weeks from now, maybe sooner. I am about to be incapacitated briefly, while I become the proud owner of a shiny new hip; certainly, I won’t be able to take my regular position standing at the stove, sorting family dinners. Instead, I am cooking for the freezer. I am here, projecting a part of myself, the greedy feeder part of me, forward in time.
Cooking for the future is entirely different to cooking for the day’s table. It is a rare mixture of the eminently practical, and the deeply emotional. It’s practical because not everything gives itself to the freezer. Try roasting a chicken then freezing it, thawing it and reheating it. On second thoughts, don’t. You’ll end up committing culinary GBH on the poor bird. It will become dense and dry and fibrous. You might as well stuff your mouth with kapok. (Although, of course, braised chicken is usually fine.) Anything made with fully cooked rice or pasta risks turning into slurry. Cooked cabbage will go floppy. Jellies will weep, as will I.
For the stew I’m making, I know the butter beans need to be added once it has been defrosted and is being reheated or they will probably turn to mush. Likewise, I need to keep the meat in bigger pieces than usual so it doesn’t all break down and come out as a mess of soup. A great tasting soup, but a soup all the same. There are other considerations, to do with the depth, and width of containers, so I can win the forthcoming championship level game of freezer Tetris.
And yet all this culinary engineering really does have, at its heart, a softer motive. I tend to flinch when people talk about cooking with love. It feels emotionally incontinent, and I’m never quite that damp. But cooking forward does have about it a deep sense of care and consideration. I may not be at the stove but I can still feed. Anybody who has ever cooked a few dishes for bereaved friends and relatives, so they don’t have to worry about getting food on the table through the first hostile agonies of grief, will understand. You may not even know the person you’re feeding. My household, like so many others, has been involved in cooking for vulnerable groups during the pandemic. It can feel like a military operation at times but hard logistics do not overwhelm motive.
My pork and chorizo stew is done. I will let it cool, skim off the fat and decant it into something square and freezer friendly. Then I will start again. There is a curry to be made, and perhaps a Chinese hot pot, spikey with preserved chillies and black beans. There are family dinners to be prepared. I am carefully measuring out the future, one dish at a time.