Recently I had fun trying to recognize the desiccated ingredients of the boiling bag I was emptying into the slow cooker. After a few minutes of frugality CSI (cooking scene investigation), I identified the following:
Onion skins, Asian greens (they’ve gone to seed so I’m removing the last small leaves), teeny-tiny green apples (to avoid stressing our newly planted trees, DF took off most of the fruits), carrot tops and greens, potato peels, and small green tomatoes (jumpers from our greenhouse plants).
Also cucumber peels (from fruits too high in cucurbitacin to eat as-is), red romaine leaves (too bitter after bolting for salads, but fine for broth), green-bean ends, squash blossoms (from our blue Hubbard plant), dandelion greens and a little chickweed (because revenge).
After adding a freezer container of vegetable cooking water – from corn, peas, lentils, potatoes and green beans – I had quite the potage de garbage going. Cooked and drained, it smelled a lot like Campbell’s vegetable soup and tasted even better.
All this recycling reminded me of the notion that energy can’t be created or destroyed, but rather transformed from one form to another. In our home, food gets created – we grow the stuff as well as cook it from supermarket ingredients – but it never really goes away.
Bones and vegetable and fruit scraps go into the boiling bag. As noted above, vegetable cooking water gets frozen; we also toss in things like the dregs of a ramen lunch, the liquid from home-canned turnips and the pan juices from roasted meat. Once I had an “empty” jar of applesauce with a bit of puree inside; I added a small amount of water, shook the jar well and poured the slurry into the vegetable cooking water container.
Potato water and sometimes even pasta water go to DF’s breadmaking efforts. Whey drained from my homemade yogurt (to make it Greek-style-thick) also gets added to bread, as well as to my morning oatmeal or an evening stew or stroganoff.
The seasoned liquid from black beans (which we cook and freeze flat in Ziploc bags) or pinto beans (which we add to chili) makes superlative soup when added to those veggie stocks.
The salt from the bottom of the pretzel bag? Into the next pot of stew. Soaking water from dry beans? Plants like to drink it. Did the last of the milk go sour? Freeze it for future pancakes. Those pan juices referenced above? Before they become one with the veggie stock they get cooled and their fats lifted away, to be frozen for sautéing onions.
And all that stuff from the boiling bag (except for bones) goes into the compost pile. Ultimately it winds up in garden beds and greenhouse tubs, making yet another year’s worth of food. #greatcycleoflife
Some people would say that the food hacks noted above are weird or even distasteful. Some have said it.
But let me run a few numbers by you. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
- Nearly $1,500 worth of food goes uneaten each year in a typical four-person family
- Nearly one-third (31 percent) of the overall food supply in this country is lost or wasted
- That lost/wasted food is the single largest component of solid waste in U.S. towns and cities
I feel less nutty all the time. Not only does being careful with food shore up our budget, it means that the resources that went into that food – its growth, harvest, processing (e.g., bagging, freezing) and transport – won’t go to waste in at least one U.S. household.
Obviously not everyone has the time or inclination to be as hyper-focused on food prep as we are. Yet writing about it because it gives people ideas they can implement in the ways that feel most manageable. Readers have commented that they would try things like boiling bags or garbage soup in order to stretch their budgets.
For me it’s about getting maximum use of food as well as food dollars. For example, recently I simmered some of last year’s frozen raspberries and rhubarb as a yogurt mix-in. The finished compote was far too juicy; I like my Greek-style yogurt to stay thick. So I strained out most of the liquid, which was too tart to drink.
Into the “vegetable cooking water” freezer container it went. The liquid added a certain je ne sais quoi – French for “hey, don’t throw that out!” – to the next batch of soup stock. That’s the fun thing about homemade broth: It never tastes the same way twice, which means that the soup never does, either.
Frugal food follies
Although I’m not a food blogger I sure do write regularly about cooking and eating. That’s because, as I’ve often said, food is the budget category with a huge number of potential tweaks.
When it comes to reduce-reuse-recycle in the kitchen, I pin the medal on DF. One year he made rhubarb soda and hated to throw away the cooked rheum rhubarbum once he’d pressed out most of its juice. So he added sugar and turned it into fruit leather in the dehydrator. It was actually pretty tasty.
Before I moved in with him, some carrots went wrong in my housemate’s fridge. They were so de-crisped you could bend them; heck, you could practically tie them in knots. DF retrieved the veggies and took them home to puree and add to an absolutely delicious curry. When life hands you origami carrots make supper, not compost.
Readers: Has the rising cost of food made you more careful about how you buy, store and cook? What’s your favorite frugal food hack?