TO Saturday afternoon and I’m in the kitchen, tending to a steaming pot of pork and chorizo stew, much as a parent might tend to a baby in the bathroom. I know this dish intimately. I understand their rhythms, the way that garlic and smoked paprika, pork and tomatoes first shake hands and then embrace deeply if they are introduced correctly. As a result, I never deviate from the established method, because it would be like choosing to walk in the wrong direction in the wrong hope of eventually finding your way home.
Except this time. Today I am making adaptations. It’s forcing me to focus. The stew usually contains a can of drained butter beans. Pork is usually cut into one-inch cubes. It’s also not true today, because this bubbly pot is not for dinner tonight. I really don’t know when it will end up on the table. Possibly three weeks from now, maybe sooner. I am about to be briefly incapacitated as I become the proud owner of a shiny new hip; I certainly won’t be able to occupy my usual position standing by the stove, organizing family dinners. Instead, I’m cooking for the freezer. I am here, projecting a part of myself, the greedy feeding part of me, forward in time.
Cooking for the future is completely different from cooking for the table of the day. It’s a rare mix of the eminently practical and the deeply emotional. It is practical because not everything is delivered to the freezer. Try grilling a chicken and then freezing, thawing, and reheating it. On second thought, don’t do it. You will end up committing culinary GBH with the poor bird. It will become dense, dry, and stringy. You could also fill your mouth with kapok. (Although, of course, braised chicken is usually fine.) Anything made with fully cooked rice or pasta runs the risk of turning into a pasta. Cooked cabbage will become mushy. The jellies will cry, just like me.
For the stew I am making, I know that the butter beans need to be added once it has thawed and is reheating or they will probably turn to mush. Likewise, I need to keep the meat in larger chunks than usual so it doesn’t break apart and come out like a soup mess. A great tasting soup, but a soup nonetheless. There are other considerations, related to the depth and width of the containers, so that you can win the next championship level game of Freeza Tetris.
And yet all this culinary engineering really does have, deep down, a softer motive. I tend to shudder when people talk about cooking with love. It feels emotionally incontinent and I am never that wet. But cooking forward takes a deep sense of care and consideration. It may not be on the stove, but I can still feed myself. Anyone who has ever cooked a few dishes for grieving family and friends, so they don’t have to worry about putting food on the table during the first hostile agonies of grief, will understand. You may not even know the person you are feeding. My home, like many others, has been involved in cooking for vulnerable groups during the pandemic. It may seem like a military operation at times, but the difficult logistics don’t overwhelm the motive.
My pork and chorizo stew is ready. I’ll let it cool, remove the fat, and decant it into something square and freezer-safe. Then I’ll start over. You have to make a curry, and maybe a Chinese hot pot, with hot peppers and canned black beans. You have to prepare family dinners. I am carefully measuring the future, one plate at a time.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism