Food writer Tim Hayward has always loved taking things apart to figure out how they work, and in his first book he deconstructs popular items like bacon, crumpets and pickled eggs. Andy Welch reports.
Once upon a time, if we wanted to eat something, we had to catch it or grow it ourselves.
From there, humans developed different methods for cooking and preserving foods, but over time these skills have all but disappeared, lost to convenience, pre-packaged goods and mass manufacturing.
Don’t feel bad about it - most of us don’t have time to make our own sausages. Life’s too short, especially on a Sunday morning when all you really want is a quick bacon butty while reading the paper.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know how to do these things, though, even if you’re not going to quit your job to begin a career smoking mackerel, or move to the country to concentrate on rearing rare-breed pigs?
Tim Hayward knows a thing or two about the old ways, and is worried that once they’re gone they’ll die out forever. He’s an award-winning food writer, broadcaster and all-round food expert and in his new book, Food DIY, details how to make everything from restaurant classics like confit duck legs to items you’re more likely to find at the local chippy, such as pickled eggs.
“The intention was to do something unlike other cookbooks, really,” says 50-year-old Hayward.
“It’s more than just a recipe book, it’s about an ideology, and I would never expect the people reading to change the way they shop and eat forever. We’ve evolved beyond making your own bacon for the rest of your days.
“What I want is people to try it once, and then I think it changes your relationship with the food you’re eating. Make your own bacon, and you’ll never buy that unpleasantly-made stuff that turns to water in the pan ever again.”
Hayward, who lives in Cambridge with his wife and daughter, started down this path years ago and says it’s a natural extension of being a “massively nerdy child” taking apart radios and clocks to see how they worked.
“I think it’s a way of getting more certainty in your life, taking things apart to dissect them,” he says. “I don’t just want to make a stew, I want to know what happens to the meat when it’s cooking. I went to art college, so maybe this comes from an interest in craft, because cooking, after all, is just another craft.”
He started out making bread, perfecting various sourdough recipes before trying to master his own version of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“I spent a lot of time in the Deep South in the US, so knew that fried chicken could be better,” he says. And it can be - there’s a recipe for the best-tasting chicken in his book.
“I wouldn’t say this way of living is some Good Life thing, it’s not about being self-sufficient and saving money, although saying that, making your own smoked salmon will save you a fortune. But on the whole, it’s about a high quality of food, not thrift.”
Where to start then? There are some recipes and techniques in Food DIY that will need some working up to - spit-roasting a whole lamb won’t be for everyone - but there are plenty for even the most amateur of home cooks to try.
“I would suggest the bacon as an easy starting point,” says Hayward. “It takes minutes to do and the results are fantastic.
“Once you get your head around the fact you can cover some meat in salt, hang it, wait a week, then eat it - and it won’t be full of bacteria - then there are no limits to what you can achieve.”