You won’t know the real kitchen tip until you read it.
Cook’s Illustrated’s Quick Tips is, in my opinion, the best front-of-the-book column out there. Readers write not with the recipes they recommend, or even the ingredients to use, but with the small and sometimes small adjustments they make to their cooking methods and use of their kitchen equipment. I can’t get enough of this weird little tidbit you can literally use: North Miami’s Dan Lundberg has discovered that it’s better to flip the container over than the lid; Anne Camps of Parkton, Maryland, thought she was holding a splatter screen over the top of the pan when she flipped her cake, wondering if you might want to try it.
The guides write under male and female names, and I have no idea their ages, but the voice of the column, as it appears in my head, is 60 or 70 years old—in fact, the voice of a certain high school. His friend’s father, who knew where everything in his kitchen should be He was Tells you. The information provided may be on the level of a TikTok kitchen hack, but rather than feeling incredulous, the vibe of Quick Tip is that it’s coming from a cook who’s been doing it forever. In a May/June column of this year, Chicago’s David Sanchez recommended saving the mesh lids that liquor stores slip over your bottles and using them to separate containers in drawers so they don’t scratch the nonstick material. (Did you know you’re supposed to throw away nonstick pans when they get scratched? You better listen to David Sanchez! I did!) In 2001 — and yes, I read the old quick tips for writing this article — Hawaii’s Bobbi Love asked readers to use Pan lid to hold the browned beef while you prepare soup to avoid dirtying an extra plate. I have done so ever since I read it.
The Internet’s recent explosion in amateur nutritional advice is indeed abnormality.
“In 1992, when the magazine launched, this section was a way to signal to readers that the magazine was about home cooking, not chefs and restaurants,” Brian Franklin, a spokesman for Cook’s Illustrated, said of the column’s genesis. The format does much more than that: it makes a strong case that cooking can be satisfying not just in eating, or even in pleasing others, but in a job.
I’m not the only one who likes quick tips. Dan Souza, the magazine’s current editor-in-chief, told me that the quick tips, along with the Kitchen Notes and Ingredient Notes columns, are consistently the highest-performing parts of each issue, as measured by responses to reader surveys. The column receives a large number of letters, and Syndication Editor Annie Petitto tests it herself before the magazine commissions illustrator John Burgoyne to make distinctive drawings of disembodied hands using chopsticks to clean waffle irons, or immersion blenders to scramble eggs.
The quick advice has a pedigree. People who write about American home cooking—its history and its politics—often note that it can be difficult to craft an honest account of what actually happened in our kitchens over the years. This is because the record is often about what professionals did and advised amateurs, not about what those amateurs actually did. We have restaurant menus, reviews, and restaurant owner diaries. We have a business history in industries such as canning, meatpacking and frozen foods. We have cookbooks, recipes and magazines aimed at home cooks. But the recent explosion of amateur nutritional advice on the Internet is actually an anomaly in this archive.
Food media seems to have perfected the “hint” unit of magazine use in the early 1920sy a century. As people moved from their families to urban areas around that time, young women who would have been trained mainly in the kitchens of their mothers or neighbors lost the opportunity to pass on practical knowledge. At the same time, the industrialization of American food systems was offering more and more interesting possibilities for cooks: canned and processed foods were on the rise, refrigeration was becoming easier and easier, and electricity was touching the edges of the home kitchen. People needed “hacks” and tips.
Into this landscape came the Discoveries column, published in Good Housekeeping magazine in the 1910s and 1920s. Readers can write in a tip they received while doing housework or cooking. “Discoveries are required!” Run the ad.
What are the little things you do to save time, money, or worry, or to add beauty or interest to anything in your home? We will pay at least $1 for every available find. Address, Discovery Editor, Good Housekeeping Magazine, 119 West 40th St, New York City.
To browse through the finds is to see that home cooks of the time, who were getting some strict moralizing from home economists about the “correct” kinds of cooking to do, sometimes really liked being in the kitchen. You can see amazing moments of innovation, as when HDN, from Oregon, describes the hybrid appliance she created to replace the electric motor she wanted to buy for the kitchen but couldn’t yet afford. (People who wrote in Discoveries are identified by initials only; I will assume here that they were female, given Good Housekeeping’s typical audience.)
“I unscrewed the blades from my electric fan, and inserted a rod with three strong wire loops into the end,” HDN wrote. “The converted fan motor was then mounted on the kitchen wall at the appropriate height above a wide shelf.” This device then became her electric blender. “I can make mayonnaise, beat eggs, whip cream, mix dough, do dozens of things that used to mean arm pain; a lot of time spent. Until you try it, you don’t know what a pleasure it is, while mixing a cake, to have a little motor purring and thumping.” Egg whites. As the owner of KitchenAid, I Do I know how much fun it is, and I’m impressed.
You can trace some interesting trends into the 21st century, Souza told mestreet Century Kitchen in submissions to quick tips. For years, guides have been suggesting ways to conserve items like aluminum foil and plastic wrap, and storage solutions for kitchens with too much equipment and too few cabinets — in other words, the kinds of advice relevant to America’s rich kitchen culture where there’s too much of everything, and waste is a problem. Always a temptation. But there are also less socially defined patterns. “For a while, a few years ago, there was a trend where people would suggest ways to use power tools in the kitchen,” he added, a great moment of intersection between separate DIY worlds, like a Food Network meetup. Royal brothers.
Discoveries guides will recognize this motive. ODB, writing in Discoveries from Iowa, described using an ax to open Hubbard’s pumpkins and “generally ending up with at least one disabled member.” She had a better idea, suggesting that people wash the squash after breakfast and put it in a “stove oven” or wood stove. By dinnertime, you can open the squash with “any regular knife,” then add “a little cream and spices.” She wrote this way: “All her sweet juices have been preserved and so have my nerves!”
One thing that Discoveries gives you is that takeaways — limited to the physical world of a piece of equipment and food — are not a sense of the social worlds that develop around food. Ms FCM, from New York, described an arrangement she had made with a neighboring housewife. Farmers help each other during busy times; Just as their husbands did, she and this wife arranged to help each other by taking turns vacuuming, canning together, and taking turns baking and ironing during the summer. “We really enjoy our collaboration, and I would advise any good neighbors to give it a try,” Ms. FCM concluded. There are dozens of such examples among practical advice.
But this practical advice is king. “Pouring melted butter, warm oil, sauce, or almost any liquid from a pan will often result in a drip down the outside of the pan,” says Cook’s Illustrated Quick Tip, May/June 2002. This is a common problem: It happened to me recently, I made a graham pie crust. But I survived: “Kimiko Bush of Turbotville, Pennsylvania, discovered how to prevent dripping with a simple flick of her wrist. Instead of immediately turning the pan right side up after pouring the contents, you continue to turn the pan in the direction of pouring, through a complete revolution, until it finally ends up right side up. This forces the liquid back into the pan instead of down the side. (Kimiko Bush, you can turn this into a TikTok.)
I suppose, if we look at it from one angle, it’s sad that we get this kind of knowledge from strangers rather than from family. This skillet is something you have to learn from sitting in the kitchen with someone, watching them do the same thing over and over again. I learned a few things this way, from my mother and father, just as my daughter learned from me how to hold a carrot to peel by sticking the thumb of your unpeeled hand into it. (Keep the thumbnails long, people.) But reading the quick discoveries and tips, I feel strangely optimistic about the home kitchen world we’ve created, even if it’s sometimes less intimate than it used to be.
People’s brains are out there working on the world, and we are all better for it He. She.