The idea that, as a society, we are "cash rich, time poor" has always struck me as having a whiff of bullshit about it. The slogan first gained currency in the mid-1990s, around the time that a host of potentially time-saving technologies and products - the internet, phone-banking, convenience foods - were becoming available. For those with an interest in flogging such products, it made sense to make us believe that we were strapped for time. If people feel that they are too busy, they are more likely to invest in time-saving devices.
But the irony is that the more we come to rely on those devices, the more we realise that we do have time to spare. Perhaps this explains the recent revelation, by the market research company Mintel, that as a society we are no longer "cash rich, time poor". Rather, we are "cash rich, time rich". It seems that things have come full circle, and slowness has a chance to make a comeback.
Except that, in the arena of cooking, it seems unlikely that it will. Those consulted by Mintel claimed they bought convenience foods not because they did not have time to cook, but because they preferred not to. "It may be that we do not want to have to think about what to cook or because we want to be able to watch a favourite TV programme while dinner is cooking. Or it may just be that many of us feel we can't really cook the dishes from scratch," Mintel's statistician noted.
During the past decade, the UK's convenience-food market has expanded dramatically, and now accounts for one-third of food purchases. The takeaway and restaurant markets have enjoyed
similar increases. Despite the popularity of TV chefs, we're
cooking less than ever before. But just in case there are any "cash-rich, time-rich" folk who don't intend to devote all their leisure time to home improvement and exotic minibreaks, here are three items that ought to be cooked at home, but rarely are.
Mayonnaise. It is a scandal that most of us are so reliant on bottled varieties, which bear no relation at all to the real thing. Once the technique has been mastered, mayonnaise is simple to make. And it goes well with all sorts of things that bottled mayonnaise would spoil, such as roast vegetables.
Tomato sauce. Again, the bottled varieties are never any good, even the ostensibly upmarket ones, such as Loyd Grossman's range. Shop-bought sauces make a travesty of pasta.
Porridge. Proper Scottish porridge is made not from Quaker oats, but from pinhead oatmeal, which is available at most health-food shops. The longer and slower the cooking, the better: ideally, it should be simmered all night in the slow oven of an Aga. If you don't have an Aga, an hour or two on the hob will do, although obviously this involves getting up very early.