There are some foodstuffs that are so easy to make from scratch that I wonder why anyone buys pre-mixed packaged versions. I suppose one reason might be that these people don’t know how easy the “from scratch” version is. Or maybe they just lack confidence in themselves.
Pancake mix is one example. I know people who buy a box of dry ingredients and then add in milk and an egg and mix it up and cook it. Apparently they don’t realize that they just paid twice as much as it would to make it from scratch and they still do more than 50 percent of the work. The only thing in the dry mix is flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, plus all those good chemical stabilizers and preservatives to keep it on the shelf. Really, the version in “Joy of Cooking” is very simple and takes very little more time than the box stuff.
Hot chocolate is another example. Folks rave about the various hot chocolate mixes out there, from Swiss Miss to Ghirardelli. (The Serious Eats foodblog does a review of hot chocolate mixes.) It’s just not that difficult to start from scratch. I used to Hershey’s powdered chocolate, but now I use Dutch-processed chocolate I get from a mail-order spice house. It’s a much richer flavor than any mix and it’s so easy to use: Combine milk, chocolate, sugar, dash of salt, a little vanilla and heat it up.
I use this Back to Basics CM300BR Cocoa-Latte Hot Drink Maker I got for Christmas a few years ago for the recipe. It’s nothing special: It mixes the ingredients; heats them up to a predetermined temperature; and then dispenses them through a spigot. But it’s a lot easier than riding herd on a saucepan to make sure the milk doesn’t scorch.
We’ve become a “ready-to-use” prepackaged society, but I think the tide’s starting to shift toward a resurgence of the old, do-it-yourself, make-it-from-scratch ways of the past and I think that can only be a good thing. It means less preservatives and chemicals on the one hand and a lot better taste on the other.