For or a new generation of cooks, there is a new generation of cooking information.
Plenty of reasons have been offered for why, some 10 or 12 years ago, people stopped cooking and began thawing, reheating, microwaving, grazing and going out: more working mothers; cutbacks in home economics education; a desire by women to avoid the stereotype of the female as cook; a surfeit of money; a shortage of time.
Food preparation didn't disappear, but increasingly it was being done by people who were paid for it -- in factories, take-out shops, restaurants, grocery stores.
But times have changed. A stubborn recession means money is tight. Busy as they still are, few people can afford to pay others to prepare all their meals.
Add to that the fact that most folks know a lot more about their own health and the health of the planet than in the past, and you have a stampede back to the kitchen.
"It's what the '90s are all about -- a return to tradition," said Sally Peters, director of consumer services for the Pillsbury Co. of Minneapolis. "A return to home cooking and special occasions. In tougher times, people just seem to want to hang on to those rituals."
Pillsbury is seeing evidence of the trend on its 800 line for consumer inquiries, Ms. Peters said. "We're starting to hear from people . . . who don't know how to cook. They're asking basic food-preparation questions; they want to know how to store things, they want to know what specific ingredients are, and basic cooking techniques."
Along with those requests, she said, "We're getting more requests for recipes. We know people are real interested in recipes. . . . They do need help [in understanding them]. We've found a lot of different places are offering that kind of advice." Magazines are reviving old "how-to" columns, she said. "And basic cookbooks are very popular."
Last spring Pillsbury introduced a new magazine called Fast and Healthy. Published six times a year, the magazine is packed with recipes, tips and nutrition information. Articles in the November/December issue include: "Turkey and the trimmings in half the time"; "Holiday meals take heart, festive meals that are delicious and good for your heart"; "Brush up on food safety"; and "Less guilt for working moms," on a report finding that children get about the same nutritional value from the foods they eat whether their mother is a full-time homemaker or a full-time worker outside the home.
Another new magazine, to be test-launched next month, is really an old friend in a new guise. Cook's magazine founder Christopher Kimball says the revamped Cook's Illustrated magazine will be addressed to "home cooks who take their cooking seriously." The magazine, also published six times a year, will accept no advertising. There will be step-by-step illustrations, ideas on how to improvise recipes and "in-depth" stories on cooking techniques.
"I think it's time that people really learned how to cook again," said Mr. Kimball, who is publisher and editor of the new magazine. "When I learned to cook, back in the '70s, we were dealing with a really aristocratic style of cooking" based on French traditions. "But today, French cuisine is dead. It's just gone. What you really have is working-class, everyday cooking. The skills you learned in the '70s are not the skills you need in the '90s."
"People are cooking at home," said Lora Brody, a professional food writer, lecturer and cookbook author. "But I think the way people are cooking has changed."
Ms. Brody's latest book is one of a recent spate of "basic" cookbooks: "The Kitchen Survival Guide" (William Morrow, 1992, is a how-to book with recipes and tips that cover everything from defrosting a freezer to carving a turkey. She was inspired to write it by her son, Max, who came home from college and announced that dorm food was so bad he was moving into an apartment and would cook for himself. Of course, he didn't know how to cook.
Her guide covers all the basics: how to read a recipe; how to set the table; how to make great coffee; cooking terms and what they mean; essential equipment.
"There are so many new foods available these days," said David Ricketts, a food writer whose latest book, in conjunction with the editors of Family Circle magazine, is "The Family Circle Cookbook, New Tastes for New Times."
"Through eating out, people have been exposed to different kinds of foods, and though chains like Chi-Chi's and The Olive Garden, to ethnic foods," he said. "Plus, going through the supermarket, they're seeing a lot of new things" they're curious enough to try at home.
Health-conscious people are using more spices and more flavors to replace the fat in traditional recipes, he said. Recipes that are low in sodium or fat are labeled in the "Family Circle Cookbook," as are those that take less than 30 minutes.