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How to Cook Like a Tradwife


You’ve seen the videos: A woman, apron tied around her waist, plunges her hands into a bowl of soft, bubbly dough. She speaks in dulcet tones — or perhaps not at all — as she details the two-day process of mixing, proofing, and baking a loaf of sourdough. She makes cheese from scratch for the homemade macaroni and cheese that she lovingly serves to her children. She presents it as a meal, yes, but also as an opportunity to avoid the “toxic” dyes and other chemicals lurking within the blue Kraft box. This woman isn’t just a mother, or a wife, but a tradwife.

If you haven’t seen these videos, or somehow managed to miss out on the tradwife phenomenon entirely, tradwife (shorthand for “traditional wife”) content is essentially a group of mostly young, almost exclusively white women who insist that a simpler life of cooking, cleaning, and raising babies is the most fulfilling pursuit of womanhood. To best adhere to this “traditional” lifestyle, they say, women must cook, clean, and rear children, all in service of their husbands. They glorify the exhausting work of cooking every single meal from scratch while making allusions to — or outright arguments for — reclaiming the virtues of modesty, chastity, and diligence in the home. And usually they do this in flowy, immaculately clean dresses. Unsurprisingly, the moral problem of the tradwife has been debated at length. At best, it’s a veiled attempt to reinforce regressive views about the role of women, and in doing so, walk back decades of feminist progress. Some argue that the tradwife “movement” is also intrinsically rooted in white supremacy.

And yet I cannot stop watching.

I am a wife. It’s a weird thing to say, considering how many years of my life I spent insisting that I would never marry because I did not want to participate in a practice that I viewed as anti-feminist. My views on the institution have evolved throughout the years, and in 2017 I found myself marrying a dude who I still can’t stop talking to. I am in no way a “traditional” wife, and my husband certainly would not expect me to be.

But as my TikTok For You Page filled with apron-draped women making elaborate recipes and scrubbing away stubborn stains, I had to admit that I felt a level of envy. Thanks to their personal and economic privilege, these women occupy rarefied air, living lives that most of us will never experience. I do not want to bear children, but a small part of me is deeply jealous of the time, money, and ability these women have to busy themselves with labor-intensive tasks like baking and pickling, activities I think I’d enjoy doing a lot more often if I didn’t also have to work at least 40 hours a week. Also, how did their hair never seem to fall out of place?

The more I watched, the more I began to fixate, not on perfect hair but something else these videos have in common: the importance of feeding families wholesome, scratch-made meals. Was all of that work actually worth it? Was the baking, the cheesemaking, the pickling all guaranteed to produce a more satisfying experience than just buying everything at the store?

And so I decided to spend the only free time I do have — the weekend — eating, and cooking, like a tradwife. I established some simple rules for the ensuing 48 hours. Everything I consumed — at least three meals a day — must be made from scratch, including as many ingredients as I could make myself. I would bake bread and stretch cheese and churn my own butter. That said, I also cheated: To make my entree into tradwifery at least a little bit easier, I dropped $143 on a “weekly special box” from Ballerina Farm, the Utah-based lifestyle brand helmed by Hannah Neeleman, the biggest star in the tradwife realm.

A legit beauty queen and Juilliard-trained dancer, Neeleman now runs an actual farm in Utah alongside her husband Daniel, with whom she shares 10 children. She bakes beautifully scored sourdough loaves in her $20,000 vintage oven, and is happy to sell you the supplies to make your own at home — fancy bowls, a $20 bench scraper emblazoned with the farm’s logo, and “sourdough spatulas” are all available on her website. You can buy a packet of dehydrated starter named Willa, nurtured by Neeleman herself, and a bar of $22 solid dish soap made with Ballerina Farm lard and “inspired by the farms and ranches [the Neelemans] explored as a young family while living in Brazil.”

Ballerina Farm’s marquee offering, though, is its “mountain-raised meat” — heritage pork and beef that can be shipped overnight to all 50 states. According to the Neelemans’ website, “there is no better life for an animal than at Ballerina Farm,” where the cows and pigs enjoy a “natural, stress-free environment” instead of crowded factory farm feedlots. The box I ordered included a giant pork roast, a pack of uncured Canadian bacon, and a pound each of ground beef and ground pork. There were also a half-dozen croissants, both plain and chocolate, and a bag of chocolate-almond granola spiked with cinnamon and coconut flakes.

Heading into the weekend, I was pretty confident. I already cook complicated meals on the regular, and my house was decently clean, so how hard could it be? I also had the incredible advantage of doing this experiment without the added pressure of keeping human children fed and entertained.

Ah, hubris.

Friday, 3 p.m.

Pulling the frozen blocks of meat from the dry ice-encased Ballerina Farm box, I was surprised at how excited I was to dig in. As both a feminist and a lazy person, I should not have been this jazzed about a weekend of cooking and cleaning. Fortunately, the included croissants meant that breakfast was sorted for the next two days. I’d serve them with yogurt, topped with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of that granola. I even considered making a run to the farmers market for fresh eggs, but figured the (organic) 18-pack I’d just purchased from Costco would be fine.

For lunch, I looked to a different tradwife-adjacent star: Nara Smith. The wife of model and internet “it” boy Lucky Blue Smith and an influencer in her own right, Smith creates intricate cooking videos that have been the subject of much conversation in recent months. I, too, have been entranced watching her make her own cereal — from scratch! — and pickles and countless loaves of bread, all while impeccably dressed. I did not have any glamorous gowns in which to cook, but I could, at the very least, attempt to replicate the viral grilled cheese sandwich for which Smith makes every single element of the recipe herself, including the cheese. For dinner, I would slowly braise the Ballerina Farm pork roast in beer, and serve it with crispy roasted broccoli and mashed potatoes. A hearty, traditional feast.

First, I needed bread. Shortly after my tiny envelope of Willa arrived, I stirred the powdered starter into flour and water to bring it back to life, a process that would take at least six days. Luckily, I already had my own sourdough starter because I’ve spent too much time sucked into tradwife TikTok, which sparked my interest in baking bread a few months ago. On Friday afternoon, I stirred together a dough, strengthened its gluten structure with a series of stretch-and-folds while it fermented on the counter for a few hours, and stuck it inside the fridge to cold-proof overnight alongside the pork roast, which would need that time to thaw before cooking. The croissants, too, were laid out on a cookie sheet to rise. Already, I was killing the tradwife game.

Saturday, 7:30 a.m.

When Saturday morning rolled around, I knew I needed to hit the ground running. I had a whole lot of cooking to do, which really interfered with my plans to lie around and read in bed all day after taking a cannabis gummy. It occurred to me that today’s tradwives would not take weed gummies before baking, so I regrettably decided to embark on this adventure sober as a judge.

The first task on my list was driving to a nearby farm, where I could buy raw milk on-site. Like most folks, I’m pretty skeptical of raw milk — pasteurization has literally saved millions of lives — but since raw milk is good for cheesemaking, and tradwives tend to love it, I was willing to risk it this one time. I plunked down $10 for a gallon and also snagged a pint of cream, because I’d need to churn my own butter, just like Smith, to cook my sandwich. Let no one suggest that I was not, at least for now, deeply devoted to tradwife cookery.

As my bread dough continued to rise, I set to work getting my gigantic Ballerina Farm pork roast into the oven. I seasoned it on both sides with lots of salt and pepper, then threw it into my cast-iron Dutch oven to sear. Dutch ovens are an important tool in the world of tradwives — preferably Staub or Le Creuset, in keeping with the subdued modern farmhouse aesthetic. Cast iron doesn’t have any of those freaky chemicals that linger in nonstick pans, and they just look old-fashioned.

Once the roast was browned on all sides, I doused it with a bottle of stout beer and put it in the oven for a low, slow cook. Then I quick-pickled a bunch of thinly sliced red onions with a little chile and dill seed, the perfect acidic foil to my decadent, porky dinner. It was at this point, about an hour in, that I realized that I was going to need that same Dutch oven to bake my bread — unlike Neeleman, my husband’s father didn’t co-found an airline, which means that I am limited to one piece of bougie cast iron at a time — and that wrinkle completely fucked with the timeline I’d planned for lunch.

Stewing over this early rookie mistake, I rage-crunched handfuls of granola. My anger was compounded when I realized that I had forgotten about the damn croissants, which now looked a little flat, an indicator that they were likely over-proofed. The croissants, of course, baked at a completely different temperature from the pork roast, which meant that I would have to take out the latter, wait for the oven to preheat to the correct temperature, and then bake my croissants, which might or might not turn out well. Clearly, I had underestimated the orchestration and planning that is a crucial part of tradwife cooking, and I was hungry.

Thankfully, the croissants were fine. Maybe slightly dense, but the chocolate was nicely bitter and even a just-fine croissant is better than no croissant at all. I turned the oven back down, put the pork inside to cook, and resigned myself to a really late lunch. I survived, thanks to two and a half croissants and uncounted more handfuls of granola. A couple hours later, the pork was perfectly tender. I scooped it into a dish to rest, scrubbed my Dutch oven, and baked my bread. I’m no stranger to sourdough, so that went pretty smoothly, even though I did almost drop the just-shaped round of dough on the floor as I tried to transfer it to my blistering hot oven.

As the bread baked, I channeled my frustration into chopping fresh herbs to make pesto. I blended them with Parmesan and walnuts, the latter because I forgot to buy pine nuts, and lots of garlic and olive oil. I also cut the butts off two heads of garlic that I slathered in olive oil and roasted in the oven until the cloves within were dark and gooey.

Saturday, 12:26 p.m.

It was time to make the most intimidating part of my from-scratch meal: the cheese. I wasn’t going to capitulate to the modern marvel that is the American supermarket. Instead, I was going to make mozzarella, arguably one of the easiest cheeses to DIY. But I was still intimidated: Although I’d successfully made ricotta on my own before, a stretchy, melty cheese seemed like it required another level of skill. Or maybe tolerance; there’s just something about pouring vinegar into hot milk that is endlessly unappealing. And yet there I was, preparing to separate curds and whey.

Following the directions from the first recipe that popped up on Google, I lifted the congealed curds from the whey and into a mesh sieve to drain. They looked unmistakably cheese-like, and I felt a surge of pride. I warmed the whey to the prescribed temperature, and dunked the mass of curds into it. The heat apparently makes the cheese easier to stretch, but I was not having much success. My lump of mozz was a little stringy and coarse, but it eventually coalesced into a rough ball that mostly looked like the fresh cheese I’d bought in stores.

While the cheese rested in its brine, I poured cream into the bowl of my KitchenAid stand mixer, where it churned for nearly 10 minutes until a glossy mound of canary-yellow butter appeared. I squeezed the buttermilk from the butter, mixed it with a pinch of flaky salt, and wrapped it in parchment paper, just as I’d seen Smith do on TikTok.

Saturday, 1:19 p.m.

I threw a chunk of the butter into a hot skillet and listened to it sizzle while I assembled my sandwich. I spread the roasted garlic on one slice of bread, a thick smear of pesto on both, then added four thin slices of my homemade cheese. The second the sandwich hit the slightly browned butter, my stomach began to rumble, and I could barely wait for the cheese to melt.

Finally, it did, oozing slightly from the sides. I cut the sandwich and scarfed the first half in practically one bite. The sharpness of the pesto mingled with the milky cheese and roasted garlic, and the sourdough’s faint tang brought everything together. Taking a cue from Mormon tradwife influencers in Utah, I stirred up a dirty soda — Dr Pepper, cream, and a squirt of lime juice — to go with my entirely homemade sandwich. I was exhausted, but also absolutely satisfied.

But I’d committed a crucial error and made my own sandwich first — tradwives, of course, serve themselves last. My husband strolled in as I was chowing down, and I offered him a grilled cheese. He declined, saying he could make his own sandwich like the decent man he is, but after only a little prodding was happy to accept a griddled ham and cheese.

Saturday, 2:37 p.m.

Still a little drunk on my own cooking prowess, I sobered up quickly when I turned to look at my kitchen. Practically every pot, bowl, spoon, and knife I own were dirty, and my sink was overflowing with the evidence of my experiment. Tempted as I was to abandon my tradwife responsibilities and go watch Bravo in my bathtub, I persevered and scrubbed every trace of bread dough and buttermilk from my dishes, started the dishwasher, and decided to take a break.

Saturday, 7:59 p.m.

Oops, I took a nap. A pretty long nap. I was exhausted after baking and cheesemaking and squeezing butter and washing 1 million dishes, sue me. I was also deeply grateful to my past self for having already cooked that godforsaken pork roast, which was sitting in my refrigerator after several hours in the oven. I made mashed potatoes with warmed cream and melted butter, plus lots of salt and pepper. The “roasted vegetables” I’d planned turned out to be half a bag of frozen broccoli I threw in the air fryer. Both sides were aggressively fine. But the pork was incredibly tender and juicy, a little fattier than what I might find at the supermarket, evidence that there might be something to the Neelemans’ insistence that their pigs are living their best life.

Saturday, 10:32 p.m.

After finishing dinner, I began preparing for the next day. I spooned the leftovers into containers and did yet another load of dishes. I handwashed the seven knives I’d dirtied for various reasons and swept the flour and crumbs and other debris from the floor, which remained speckled with flour and God knows what else even after I swept. I briefly contemplated giving it a thorough scrubbing before I said “Fuck that” and played Nintendo for about five hours before collapsing into sleep. Tradwifery is a journey, not a destination, and one cannot be expected to do it perfectly on day one.

Sunday, 8:30 a.m.

When I woke on Sunday morning it was not with a sense of relaxation from having engaged in all these slow, supposedly fulfilling tasks, but instead the rage of a 1950s housewife obligated to do this work day in and day out. I had underestimated the amount of labor that would go into cooking even simple meals from scratch for an entire day, and watching Smith’s and Neeleman’s seamlessly edited videos fed into that miscalculation. They transform hours and hours of labor into 30-second snippets, which imbue the viewer — namely me — with a real sense of false confidence.

Fortunately, I could at least make breakfast without too much work. I sliced a piece of sourdough from the loaf, spread it with pesto, and griddled it in my homemade butter before whisking together a quick omelet stuffed with goat cheese and chives snipped from my windowsill plant. I fried two lopsided slices of “Canadian-style” bacon from Ballerina Farm, and spooned yogurt into a bowl with a heavy sprinkle of granola and a handful of blueberries. Sitting at the counter eating breakfast, I could only focus on the messes I’d left behind from yesterday. My husband, both confused and sympathetic, offered to help several times as I hovered over yet another sink full of dishes. I shooed him away; no proper tradwife would let her husband do a task so emasculating as the dishes, especially ones she dirtied.

To make matters worse, this was also the point at which I realized that my dog, a 13-year-old heeler mix, was sick. I’ll spare you the details, but rest assured that the episode gave me some hint of the true tradwife experience. I may not have children, but spending much of the day scrubbing carpets and trying to coax an anxious, nauseated dog into eating a bite or two of rice really felt like a real — and horrifying — glimpse into the world of constant caregiving.

Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

When lunchtime rolled around, I had to muster up the energy — and appetite — to get back into the kitchen. A proper tradwife would’ve made an entirely new meal from scratch, something that would look delicious and please her husband, but I simply could not. I pulled the previous night’s pork roast and my homemade mozzarella out of the fridge, cut more bread, and cobbled all of it together into a sandwich. I snuck a bag of Ruffles from the pantry and ate those too, because the thought of slicing potatoes and frying them into chips at this exact moment might have caused me to break.

Sunday 2:53 p.m.

Now it was time to fully lean into another key element of tradwife life: cleaning. Keeping a perfect home is, after all, the tradwife goal, and cooking is only part of that experience. I threw a load of laundry in the wash and wiped down my bathroom countertops, all while pondering what the hell I was going to make for dinner. I couldn’t bear the thought of another sandwich — sourdough is great, but it really shouldn’t be a fixture of three consecutive meals — and, anyway, I’d used all the mozzarella that I made. As I scrubbed those flour spots from the floor and dusted every surface in sight, my husband looked on like I was a maniac.

After much debate — conducted as I polished the front of my refrigerator — I settled on “breakfast for dinner,” a meal of sourdough discard pancakes, some of that Ballerina Farm bacon, and fried potato fritters made with last night’s mashed potatoes. It seemed like an easy enough way to end this experiment, a gentle letdown after two days of what felt to me like hard labor, but was probably just business as usual for someone who is actually dedicated to living the tradwife life.

Sunday, 9:07 p.m.

This is the part where I would love to tell you that I made those sourdough pancakes and topped them with a compote of fresh blueberries before plating them with crisp fried bacon and the aforementioned potato fritters. But that is not what happened. After scrubbing and scraping and degunkifying my entire kitchen, there was no way in hell I was going to dirty it again to make some breakfast-for-dinner bullshit that I didn’t even want. There was no implied honor in doing it the hard way, no one waiting to hand me a medal for Best Wife of the Year in recognition of my two days of labor.

Instead, I sent my husband off in search of a McDonald’s, where chicken nuggets I did not have to form and fry myself awaited. (Someone, I reasoned, had to stay at home with the still-sickly pup.) That I, and most women, are no longer expected to do this kind of labor day in and day out was in that moment a visceral relief.

This is, of course, something I knew intellectually. I was aware that the feminist revolution, such as it was, was born from women who lived exhausting, unfulfilled lives and wanted something more beyond the home. And it’s not that these tasks can’t be fulfilling — I enjoy baking bread for people, and I’m thrilled when I make a meal that my husband loves — but the sense of obligation that tradwife thinking demands is crushing. It is truly never-ending, thankless, and totally uncompensated work, and there is real harm in glamorizing the idea of it, whether or not that’s what creators like Neeleman and Smith intend.

That’s especially true considering that what they show us is highly curated. We never see when Nara Smith burns the grilled cheese because her kid started crying at an inopportune time, or the moments when Neeleman is so tired that her eyes are burning. At the very least, I hope that these women give themselves a break off-camera. They have the wealth and privilege to do it every day — for now — but that doesn’t mean that burnout isn’t lurking in the shadows. And if their videos are just a show, and they’re making content that urges women to hold themselves to standards that they themselves know are completely unreasonable, that’s even more sinister.

I’m also not convinced that all that work is even worth it. Homemade butter is great, but it’s not that much better than the fancy stuff I can buy at the store. My grilled cheese was likewise great, but I’ve made equally satisfying sandwiches with bagged Wonder Bread and American cheese. Pastured meats are, both ecologically and in terms of eating, better than their factory-farmed counterparts. There is absolutely no shame in buying things instead of making them yourself. But shame is what tradwife content wants you to feel. Its primary aim is to make women believe they’re inferior if they don’t make their own Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and ironically the only way to really understand that is to try it for yourself.

Heedayah Lockman is a Glasgow-based illustrator and designer.



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