Lose the myth, keep the lore

beans and chocolate

Adding salt to beans makes them tough. You must use a double boiler to melt chocolate. Searing meat seals in the juices. Kitchen myths like these live on far after science renders them inaccurate. While these myths should be debunked, we shouldn't forget the history that created them, says Bee Wilson of The Telegraph.

Ms. Wilson explores myths debunked in James Steen's recent book The Kitchen Magpie as well as other kitchen lore. Although we understand the science behind cooking much better than in generations past, Ms. Wilson argues that we should keep in mind the conditions in which our ancestors were operating when these myths came into being. Much of the lore belongs "to an era in which ingredients behaved differently. The advice to 'desalt' aubergines to draw out the bitter juices made sense when aubergines were acrid and full of seeds."

Likewise, Steen notes in his book that the chocolate melting rule made sense "when our mothers used that cheap chocolate-flavour covering" that separated easily. So even though we should lose the fear of checking souffles because we believe opening the oven door will make them collapse (it won't), we should not forget the lore entirely. "Right or wrong, these quaint rules are a reminder of how many cooks toiled before us in the kitchen."

Do you find any kitchen myths charming even though you know they aren't true?

Photos of chocolate and beans from the EYB Library


  • mr.paul  on  8/8/2014 at 7:49 PM

    No. But, to be fair, I'm a data and science junkie. I do, however, find how they came about interesting. The why behind behaviour is often interesting. But I'm not charmed, and would sooner put my efforts in cooking somewhere productive.

  • FuzzyChef  on  8/10/2014 at 12:37 AM

    You can also find a lot of old recipes which call for salting cucumber slices; again, this was because cucumbers a century ago were a lot more bitter than now. I think a lot of the double-boiler advice was due to using old stoves where the heat was a lot harder to control. One which is still very popular is the idea that you always have to pre-heat the oven; in fact, this is necessary only for things which you want to cook crisp (like pastry or pizza). Preheating the oven for something slow-cooking like lasagna or apple pie is completely unnecessary, it just takes 5 minutes off the cooking time. There's also the myth that you can't use a metal knife on lettuce, which is a holdover from before stainless steel.

  • darcie_b  on  8/10/2014 at 8:41 AM

    Fuzzy, the oven preheating brings to mind the recipe called Cold Oven Pound Cake. Although I wonder about the effects of the top heating element in modern stoves affecting the baking - most old stoves only had one element or burner at the bottom.

  • hillsboroks  on  8/10/2014 at 12:06 PM

    When we were first married my husband drove me nuts with his obsession about not leaving spoons in food, even for a few minutes. I think he must have grown up with old time cheap silverware and his mother had made it real issue that you never left a spoon in food even for serving! But we had brand new nice modern 18/10 stainless flatware and I kept explaining that I was not going to kill him or give him food poisoning leaving a spoon in a pot or serving bowl. It took me years to debunk that old idea with him.

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