Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Mar 24, 2009 05:58 PM

Cooking from scratch...

I'm curious about how other Chowhounders define cooking from scratch. The answer was always really obvious to me, but from reading various threads I'm starting to think the answers vary a lot more than I originally thought.

To me cooking from scratch basically means not using mixes/convenience foods. Some ingredients are"pre-fab," like peanut butter, but I would still consider the cookies made from scratch without grinding the peanuts myself.

So, how far do you go in the pursuit of made from scratch?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I think for me the dividing line can be defined in terms of biscuits: biscuits made from Bisquick don't qualify as "scratch", but biscuits made with self-rising flour do. The difference there is how much actual work you have to do that must be done properly to make the biscuits come out well. As long as you don't overmix and overwork a Bisquick dough you'll get OK biscuits, but with scratch ones there's an art to cutting in the fat, whatever kind you use, that includes physical finesse and the correct temperatures of the ingredients.

    I've seen and eaten cakes that were the result of some elaborate planning and execution, but they were based on boxed cake mix, so although they might have been beyond my own expertise they were still not "scratch."

    7 Replies
    1. re: Will Owen

      I'm with you. When I say I make all my cakes from scratch, I mean I measured out the flour, sugar, baking powder, etc. myself, not based it on a box.

      But funny story: my mother, who isn't much of whiz in the kitchen, has been making these peanut butter chocolate chip cookies for about a year now - after decades of never baking anything. She's been insisting to everyone that she makes these from scratch. Well, about a month ago, I found bags of Betty Crocker Peanut Butter Cookie Mix (just add water!) in her pantry. I confronted her, and it turns out "from scratch" means "from Betty Crocker's bags with chocolate chips added".

      1. re: RosemaryHoney

        yes rosemaryhoney remember mama is always right

        1. re: RosemaryHoney

          One of the best pineapple upside down cakes I ever had was made from a box. I was floored.

          My sister in law does the food confronting in our family. Apparently bread unkneeded by one's own hand does not qualify as from scratch. But does she mill her own flour and harvest wild yeast?

          It is all relative.

          1. re: Sal Vanilla

            A favorite recipe of mine is for peach upside down cake, my version of pineapple. Canned peaches, boxed mix. Other than the eggs, not too much from scratch. But it is GREAT cake and still make in to this day. I actually tried to make it fresh or from scratch and it was a disaster ...

            All relative

            1. re: kchurchill5

              Peach? Yum. I bet you have to really sop them before you lay them out for the cake. I did it with overripe plums last year (little italians) and it was off the charts good. Tried it with green gage plums too... not so good. This summer I am thinking of doctoring up a few more box cakes. I bought a pile of lemon cakes, yellows and whites for 69 cents a piece. So easy and fun for summer.

              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                I love plums. Made plum tarts but that sounds good.

            2. re: Sal Vanilla

              Well, I wouldn't say I do "food confronting", and I have a rum cake recipe that is based on a box mix, but the reason I avoid the boxes has more to do with the ingredient list. "Propylene Glycol Monoesters of Fatty Acids" , "Dicalcium Phosphate", and "Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate" typically motivate me to break out the measuring cups :)

        2. I really think condiments are exempt from this *scratch* rule. Hello...catsup, PB, nuoc mam, shoyu, mustard...jam, for jeebus' sake!

          Scratch to me is not defrosting some Stouffer's thing and serving it up. Scratch is using real ingredients (and yes, condiments are real ingredients!) and cooking something that isn't in a plastic microwave tray. It's moving from the raw and multiple (possibly bottled or jarred) components to a finished product.

          Will's comments on the work that goes into a scratch meal appeal to me as well, although I know there are different levels of work.


          1. For me the dividing line is that the basic or key ingredient(s) are in or close to an unprocessed state. This does not mean grinding wheat into flour, but it also doesn't mean a boxed cake mix.

            So if I am making spaghetti sauce the question is can I use canned tomatoes or tomato sauce? To me canned tomato would still be from scratch, canned tomato sauce is maybe "transitional". But opening a can or jar of pre-made spaghetti sauce and doctoring it up with some spices is not scratch.

            2 Replies
            1. re: KaimukiMan

              Given that I basically refuse to eat fresh tomatoes outside of a window from late July to early October, I consider canned tomatoes a perfectly viable ingredient in "scratch" cooking.

              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                ditto onthe canned tomatoes
                as far as cooking with
                a jarred sauce
                b any thing like cream of crap canned soup
                forget about it if your going to cook with those items open acan of cat/dog food and start makin' your meatballs or burgers

                although when making my homemade soups i make them in a 4 gallon pot
                and in place of salt i use 2 bouillion cubes

                that is one reason i dislike recipes out of woman's day or redbook or that awful taste of home 95% of the recipes are can this jar that
                and that my friends AIN'T COOKIN'

            2. I love to make mashed potatoes from scratch, I refuse to have instant mashed potatoes in my house, and I enjoy green beans so much that I even buy them fresh in winter when they get quite pricey. But when life gets rough I've learned to compromise for sanity's sake. So often I'll have the homemade mashed potatoes and the frenched green beans but with a Costo chicken or, more likely, their fresh breaded tilapia that I just throw in the oven for less than twenty minutes.

              1 Reply
              1. re: givemecarbs

                And there ain't nothing wrong with that. I make meals, but I buy desserts.

              2. I make both. I love from scratch when I can. Getting home at 9 or 11 at night and having to get up at 5 doesn't allow much sleep. So sometimes I don't get from scratch. I may use a jar or a can. But yes from scratch means pretty much what else was written

                However, I do use a tube of polenta at times and I don't mind that
                Also, canned tomatoes is fine
                Boxes mixes is not from scratch
                I don't mind peanut butter and even mayo I can handle but I think we all have our versions of from scratch.

                I just when I can use as many fresh ingredients as possible.