Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Eating from your pantry

I adore fresh, home-cooked food made from fresh products. It's really the best for you – tasty, healthy, nutritious. But sometimes, compromises must be made. A generation or two ago, when fresh vegetables and fruit were still available only seasonally, during the winter people ate mostly fruit and veggies preserved in various ways – canned, salted, pickled, made into jams and jellies. Salted fish and meat were also common ingredients in winter meals.

Our grandmothers were experts in canning. Often, the circumstances required it – if you didn't can and preserve, you would have nothing to last you through the winter. Today, canning is oftentimes a lost art, but people who have large gardens with lots of surplus products are re-learning it. And some foods, like olives for example, are usually only eaten in their preserved/canned form. About a year and a half ago, my husband collected some olives and canned them (I don't remember exactly how he did it, but there was no special equipment involved). We only finished the jar a couple of months ago, and the olives did not spoil.

As a rule of the thumb, fresh produce is usually cheaper than pre-packaged, processed foods, but canned foods and grains and dry beans can often be cheaper than fresh vegetables and fruit. When your grocery budget is low, sometimes you have no choice but to opt for the cheaper parts of the fresh produce aisle, and heavily supplement your diet with ingredients from the pantry, whether they are something you grew/preserved yourself, or store-bought.

Here are some ideas:

Rice and lentils, in its varieties. Quick, easy, cheap, nutritious, readily available. Can be served as a side dish, but for us on weekdays, it can also be dinner, when served with something little on the side like salad or sautéed vegetables.

Tuna salad, made from canned tuna, again in its varieties – with avocado, canned corn, tomatoes, onions, pickles, olives. Served along with some bread, cheese and hummus, it can be a light lunch or dinner as well.

Enrich your soups with dry and canned beans. Ironically, canned beans can sometimes be cheaper than dry. Canned beans have the advantage that you don't have to soak them before use, but I prefer to buy dry beans whenever possible, because they take up less space than cans.

Other things that can be kept for a long time: onions, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, apples. Those, too, we often buy in bulk and later use up in small portions.

An unexpected bonus of eating seasonally is the excitement of waiting for all those fruit and vegetables to become available (or available at normal prices, in our day!). My mother told me that the first time they ate fresh cucumbers after a long winter, was like a small celebration. This is something we are unfamiliar with, used as we are to anything being there all the time. I think doing without certain foods for a while would make us so much more appreciative of God's bounty when we can eat them again.

PS: anonymous comments are back, for the benefit of my faithful readers who were having some problem with the OpenID option. I added word verification, though. It's annoying, but with the amount of spam I've received lately, I'm afraid there's no choice.


Heather said...

Ah, lentils...my husband makes a 'lentil loaf' that is out of this world!

Gothelittle Rose said...

Completely agree with this post. If you're having trouble affording milk, you can stretch your gallon of fresh milk with reconstituted canned or powdered without affecting the taste much.

Up here, frozen vegetables are inexpensive and taste fresher than canned. They're very easy to "reconstitute", just heat in water. I have an extra freezer downstairs for meat purchases, and there's plenty of room for the vegetables too.

Persuaded said...

I made a berry pie for a certain elderly pie-loving gentleman in our church, and he was so surprised to have a berry pie in winter. He said his mother had always told him that berry pies were for summer and custard pies were for winter. It got me to thinking that of course berries wouldn't have been available in winter! How times have changed... and I agree that we have been spoiled. There is now a push for folks to eat mostly locally grown foods, to help save on the costs of transporting foods from the other side of the world. I agree that is a good thing, but the immature selfish part of me realizes that where I live I'd only be getting fresh produce for a couple of months a year:(

Lady Anne said...

I do a living history presentation on life in the 1700's, and the students can't grasp the concept of eating "what's in season". With food being flown in from all over the world, asparagus is an easily available in December as it is in April. I finally had to explain it to them with flowers. Forsythia in the spring, then tulips, and on to orange leaves in the fall. Even city kids can grasp this.

When I mentioned storing root vegetables, they first had NO idea things grew underground, and then swore up and down they'd *never* eat anything that grew "under the dirt". Imagine their surprise when they found out where potatoes and peanuts came from!

Bless 'em, for all the things they know, they are still so innocent!

Anonymous said...

We always stock up on canned tuna- it is super affordable and best for those days when I don't feel like complicated cooking, or simply when I'm sick and can't stand to spend too long in the kitchen. Lentils are great to stockpile - I use them to make puree for my baby. Really nutritious and for only 88 cents per pound you can't really go wrong. :-)

As far as rice, we bought them at the Asian market on a 25 lb bag for a fabulous price. Lasts us practically forever!

Canned goods we tend to stockpile are tomato and its variety (tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes and the likes).

And another great thing about stockpiling that I found? Taught me to be creative! At the end of the week when we don't have much of anything fresh in our fridge, I rely on my 'stockpile staples' to create a dish. Again and again I was 'forced' to whip up something new from those ingredients - and it's an interesting and thought-provoking process, as cheesy as it sounds. It's a lot of fun! And what can be better than 'affordable AND fun' ? :-D


SinginginHisName said...

Anna I have read your blog for a while and I love this post! Its so true that buying in bulk is so much cheaper and you can still eat a healthy meal. My family mostly buys our veges, fruits, meats, etc. in bulk from the local wholesale stores and we buy from a organic good coop. So its really just so much easier, healthier, and cheaper. Also we too have been eating just from our pantry because of having bought our food in bulk and not being able to get the to the store for a week with the snow storm has prevented us from buying unnessasary items. God bless and I enjoy reading your blog! its very encouraging!

Ella said...

I lived in Russia for awhile and still fondly remember the time when the first cucumbers and tomatoes were available - it was the best salad I've ever had. We counted out each slice so everyone had the same and it was a great family experience.

I can't wait to try canning again, it's not an option in the kitchen I have right now.

Anonymous said...

I like to 'beef' up reconstituted dried beans and peas with a can of or servings of the defrosted vegetables in the winter, especially for spiciness, if I don't have the fresh herbs and spices in my cupboard. One time I fixed a white bean soup for the folks at the homeless shelter, by cooking up a package of dried white beans, several cans of beans, cans of Campbell's bean soup, and fresh diced carrots, onions, and potatoes. Served with whole grain waffles. It disappeared; no leftovers. The French expression is pot au feu (I think) for the several hours cooking time for soups on the back burner on low heat; helps with heating the kitchen on cold winter days, too! For us people with sinus problems, the dry winter air sometimes causes blocked passageways, and what's better to keep the nasal openings draining than a hot bowl of tomato & basil soup? (Mebbe a cuppa tea?)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Anna!

(I suppose you could get a goat, if feasible, to provide milk as well. I'd like to do that someday!)

I really learn a lot from your blog.

I am curious to know, what is lentil loaf?

Chedva said...

I wouldn't imagine that canning is a lost art, seeing the large pallets of canning jars that appear in our local hardware store towards the end of summer.

As for canned tuna, here it's almost a dollar a can, which is also the price for a much larger can of beans. Unless it's on a big sale, I rarely get it.

Jo said...

I buy longlife milk which tastes just like fresh milk but much cheaper but I can keep it in my cupboard for months. We use it all the time.

Anonymous said...

I had to smile, Anna, reading about your mother's memories of the long-awaited first fresh cucumber. I remember the excitement we felt eating our first asparagus of the season, our first tomatoes, & so forth. My mother would usually say, "Make a wish," as we took our first bite of the long-awaited food. "What should we wish for, Mommy?" And she would invariably instruct us to "Wish for more!" :o)


Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,
How your husband most probably preserved the olives was by brine fermenting them. The process leaches out the bitterness. Fermenting is one preserving process that actually increases the nutritional profile of the food through the production of lactic acid which in turn helps promote healthy intestinal flora. Yogurt and sauerkraut are the most familiar examples of fermented foods in the West, kimchee and miso in the East. Almost any vegetable and some fruits, there are a few exceptions, can be lactic acid fermented. See if you can find a copy of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.