How do (i)you(/i) define "from scratch"? Or "homemade?"

plllogAugust 8, 2014

Following what Bumblebeez and especially FOAS said in the Laugh thread (I'm hoping to adequately acknowledge their contributions here without hijacking the other thread), I was wondering how you all define "from scratch" and "homemade"?

Here are my own definitions:

From Scratch: From basic, singular ingredients as they come, transformed into something new.

To me that means entire foods and staples. There are many ingredients that can go into scratch cooking that have been made previously and preserved, but they should still be basic staples. These include stock, tomato puree/paste, flour, peanut butter, mayonnaise etc. These might have been homemade previously, or boughten. To me, scratch doesn't have to be Annie's level of scratch, where first you feed up some chicks and dig up some roots...

There are some fine lines. FOAS mentioned a can of stock in cooking in the question. I make my own from water, roots, aromatics and chicken parts, and freeze it. If I make chicken soup or tomato soup from mine, I call it scratch. I'd still say that tomato soup with a canned chicken stock in it was from scratch. OTOH, a chicken soup which doesn't have a lot else than the can of stock making the broth, no matter what's floating in it, doesn't seem like scratch to me.

Homemade: A dish that is created at home.

To me that means that the ingredients have been transformed rather than served as is, but that some of them might be packaged products. FOAS also mentioned a lasagna made with packaged shredded cheese, jarred sauce, etc. If I don't want to crank, I will use boxed pasta, and I buy my sausage and cheeses (and let the Cuisinart shred them), though I've been known to make mozzarella and ricotta.

Even if I made the sausage and only used pasta and cheese that I'd made--all within my abilities and experience (though for flavor I'd rather buy at least some fontina and romano, which I probably could make if I tried but I'm not about to try)--that is, even if I'd made all the ingredients from scratch, I wouldn't consider mine any more homemade than the one with the pre-shredded cheese and jarred sauce. It would be from scratch, while the other would not, but it would be equally homemade. OTOH, buying a lasagna at Costco and topping it with some extra sauce and cheese is decidedly not homemade.

Which leads us to "doctored".

Doctored: A prepared dish that is improved and altered with additional ingredients and preparation.

Bumblebeez mentioned baked beans that were doctored, having started out as canned baked beans as one ingredient in a recipe. Making baked beans into baked beans doesn't qualify for my definition of homemade because the dish--the bakedness of the beans--wasn't created at home. My grandmother, when she didn't feel up to making gefilte fish for a crowd, as she got older, would buy the jarred kind and recook it with her own seasonings. That's doctored. My mother cooks extra chicken and freezes parts in small packages. When she uses them for dinner, she'll add a sauce, vegetables, etc. Doctored. (Yes, that's what she calls it. "I doctored some chicken for dinner.")

OTOH, when she takes the leftover doctored chicken and cuts it up with a bunch of crunchy vegetables and adds a dressing, that's homemade chicken salad. It's not "from scratch" since it's made with prepared food, even though she did the preparing. I make chicken salad from scratch by poaching the chicken for it (because I don't often have leftover chicken that hasn't already been 'et).

I never even thought about these definitions before. I find the lines very interesting.

Where do the rest of you draw the lines?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

To me, from scratch means all basic ingredients to start with. Especially with baking. Homemade could mean a pre-prepared item but prepped and cooked at home. I usually bake from scratch but I do make BBQ baked beans starting with a can of pork and beans and adding my own ingredients, so there is probably a blurred line there. I rarely use anything pre-prepared such as canned spaghetti sauce, etc. but I do occasionally use pre-prepared things such as boullion, etc., canned tomatoes, etc.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 6:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ritaweeda, thanks for chiming in. :)

Sorry, everyone, for the Subject line. I forgot that tags don't work there. I see that it just transforms angle brackets. Sigh. The tags do pretty well as emphasizers, a la asterisks, however. :)

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 6:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is very interesting. I've never given it much thought.

I do know that I *never* buy a frozen meal and heat it in the microwave and other short-cuts like that.

I buy canned tomatoes, to be sure, but also freeze a bushel of romas when they are available in stores into sauces. I make my own chicken stock when I roast a chicken or turkey, but I also buy the cartons when they're on sale for 99c or slightly more. I make mayonnaise and our favourite types of salad dressings. I make a house blend of spices to flavour a lot of our food.

I don't buy frozen packages of meats and meals......M&M type of stores.

I like buying dried black beans, cooking and freezing them.
I'm not even going to consider making pasta, so will always buy that in packages.

I love making our own bread though. I don't like the frozen tart shells, so I make my own pastry for tarts and pies.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 7:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't know the exact legal definition of "Made in USA" and "Assembled in USA"

Perhaps "From scratch" & "Home made" can be defined similarly, based on % of actual purchased ingredients and hand made ingredients.


    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 7:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Thanks for starting this pllog!

I have my own personal standards that I don't expect others to use but I do enjoy identifying with those that do.
I have always lumped homemade and scratch in the same category and doctored in another.
If I make a cake that uses a cake mix, I am almost always apologetic about it but if it is from a regular cake recipe (and it turns out good) I am proud it.

I am very involved in hospitality at my church and once for an all church luncheon, I baked some frozen yeast rolls, the kind that are set out as frozen rectangular dough blobs to rise then baked and brushed with butter. They are tasty, easy peesy and sufficient for that group when needing hundreds. Well, they were publicly praised over and over and I was so embarrassed.
I wanted to scream that they were frozen store bought rolls.

I like everything as long as it tastes good and is reasonably non toxic, I don't worry too much about how it lands on the table. However, I don't consider it cooking.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 11:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I lump "from scratch" and "homemade", too. It means taking basics and making the dish from them. Now, I would say it's from scratch even if I use a canned or jarred product if the main part of the dish isn't based on it.

For instance, my daughter and I made an apple tart. We made the dough, sliced the apples, but used jarred jam to drizzle over the top. Most of it was "from scratch", so that counts in my book. If I bought the tart and drizzled home made jam over the top, it would be "doctored".

I will "doctor" a jar of sauce, for instance a spaghetti dinner, and won't call it home made because I didn't make the sauce. I will call a sauce home made if I use canned tomatoes, though, because I added the herbs/spices and simmered the thing for a day! I'll say it's home made if you buy dried pasta, even though I've made noodles "from scratch" on occasion.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 2:06AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

When we took this subject up several months ago I shared the Ziggy cartoon a number of friends sent me...

Ziggy is sitting watching a lady on TV saying - Today on 'Cooking With Cindy' ... We'll teach you to prepare a meal from scratch! ...So first... plant some wheat! ;-)


This post was edited by grainlady on Sat, Aug 9, 14 at 7:22

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 5:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I only think of the word "scratch" as referring to baking..for example a cake. I don't associate that word with making main dish type stuff. I consider a cake mix cake "homemade" but not from scratch! I don't much care whether the sauce is made from canned tomatoes or fresh ones...if it is cooked and simmered and flavored it is homemade enough for me. I don't really try to define other types of food. If I cook it in my kitchen from mostly basic ingredients it is homemade to me.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 7:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I also think "homemade" and "from scratch" are sort of the same . . . "doctored" to me is that can of frosting that you'd add a smidgen of Grand Marnier to and then use it to frost a cake (store bought or homemade) or the chicken salad that you take out of the package, throw in some herbs and put it in a bowl; or the bought rolls that you brush with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs and bake.

And to me, from scratch doesn't mean that you start with a chicken to get your eggs. . . but rather "whole" ingredients although some may be "convenience" foods (i.e. canned tomatoes, canned beans, etc.) I would assume by that definition that the infamous Green Bean Casserole would be considered "from scratch"? Even though all the ingredients come from one kind of can or another.

I think some restaurants use the term "home baked" which people translate when they read as "homemade" for some of their dishes (especially breads or other baked goods)

It's an interesting topic.

I feel that I'm a "from scratch" cook but obviously, I do use some "help" in canned or frozen goods that I use to make dishes.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 11:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Linderhof1208, that's why I make a differentiation between "homemade" and "scratch". The infamous green bean casserole qualifies by my lights as homemade, but it's anything but from scratch!

I've started milling my own wheat for the flavor, but I do think that bread from boughten flour still qualifies as from scratch!

Alex9179 makes a good point about the jam. Jam is a pantry staple, but has a lot of presence in the drizzle over the pie, unlike when you put a spoon of it in a sweet and sour. I agree, however, that the pie was scratch. I guess it's a matter of proportion in this case.

What about a jam tart? Crust from scratch, bought jam. Since jam is the star, I'd put that one in the homemade column with the cake mix.

I agree on the canned tomatoes, especially if they're not seasoned, but I'd be willing to put extruded pasta in the pantry staple column, too. Homemade sauce with box spaghetti could be called "scratch" even though spaghetti is one of the main ingredients. Hm... If it's mostly pasta, just wetted with sauce, then no. Arguably yes if there's a rich, lumpy sauce like a good bolognese or primavera. That is, if the pasta is the point, boxed isn't scratch. If it's just there to convey a marvelous sauce, arguably yes. Normal people--including restaurant chefs--don't generally make extruded pasta from scratch. But, that statement kind of negates what I said before.

Maybe there needs to be a special category for prepared foods like bread and pasta and jam? Made up foods that are still pantry staples to be used as ingredients in other dishes? Where a judgement of their impact on a dish decides which side of the homemade/scratch line they are?

Fascinating! I love these ones that straddle the line. So much fun to pull them apart.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 11:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Definitely an interesting topic!
And one I have never given any previous thought to.
As long as it tastes good, who cares? ? ?

Well, I would be very upset if I made a pie
and someone thought I'd used a purchased
frozen crust and canned filling.
So I guess I do care.

But, as interesting as the reading has been,
I find the subtle differences in 'categories'
wa-a-a-a-ay too nit-picking for me.
And that is definitely NOT intended as any kind of insult
to anyone at all! ! !
It is simply a statement of my opinion,
Respectfully submitted!


    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 1:12PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
beachlily z9a

Rusty, I agree. I'd rather cook than split hairs. It's way different cooking every day vs. cooking for guests.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 1:54PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Beachlily, you're right. This is a digression and not about cooking at all really. I find nomenclature interesting, as well as the hair splitting, and I find that it helps to order my mind, which, in the end, also helps my cooking.

Rusty, opinion respectfully understood and appreciated. It is nitpicking, and not of interest to many people, I'm sure.

I have certain language bugaboos with cooking. I'm entirely aware that they're my issues, and not something that I expect others to cleave to or participate in. It doesn't bother me if people call purchased prepared food that they've doctored "homemade". To me, that just means they have a different definition of homemade. So be it. I do, however, have an issue with opened a bunch of cans and dumped them in a dish being called "from scratch". Again, I realize that my having an issue with what people want to say about their food is entirely my own problem, not theirs.

In the USA, at least, there's a tradition of food snobbery in which "from scratch" demands a level of respect. I don't say "from scratch" about my cooking or baking, even when it is. If someone asks, I'll say I made the crust, or whatever, and might even use "it's from scratch" if asked about the process, but it's not a way I identify myself or my work. It goes with the kind of snobbery that insists that something hand sewn is superior to something machine sewn (not counting computer programed sewing machine work, which is its own category). Good results are good results, no matter which tools you use to achieve them. The grated cheese issue is a bagatelle: it's really all the same whether you pare it, grate it by hand, grate it in an FP, or buy it grated. The main reason for doing it oneself is that one often buys tastier cheeses than they put up pre-grated, and it keeps better as a block.

Since we have that culture of admiration for the scratch cook, I think the person claiming the honors ought to be honest about it. I wouldn't think ill of anyone who doesn't put the line exactly where I do. That's why I started this thread--to learn where others put the line. But if you tell me that you made a frozen green beans, condensed mushroom soup and French's canned fried onions casserole from scratch, I'm going to think you're awfully naïve...

My other bugaboo is people who don't know what the words mean extending them to mean other things. Again, totally my own issue and the world marches the way it does without regard for it. But hummus means "chickpea" not paté or puree, many hummus dishes use whole, not mashed, chickpeas, and you can't make chickpeas out of black beans. Aioli means "garlic oil", not flavored mayonnaise, and can be made without egg yolk (i.e., not like mayonnaise), but not without garlic. Some aiolis aren't sauces at all, but more like a paste or relish, but all have garlic and oil.

So, I've learned a lot about how far the words "scratch" and "homemade" can extend without breaking and some points over my own lines that cooking people allow. I hope more people will contribute their ideas. And for those who just don't care, thanks for letting us know that too...

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 4:16PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Kitchen Gadget Over-the-Top?
Drinking Straw Cleaner? I don't think so but checking...
Slightly shocket at Joy of Baking video
I started watching the Apple Pie video and right at...
Waterlogue app
Photo of vegetables for tonight's dinner run through...
Happy Birthday Lars!!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY LARS! Wishing you a joyous year filled...
My new pantry with pictures
OK, it's nearly done. We still need to replace some...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™