Thursday, September 24, 2009

To Have or Have Not?

Cutting down the amount we eat is another way to spend less. We really do eat more than we need, for if we were able to still end up healthy when living on wartime rations, then we could still do so now. Yet having to exist on these, how many of us could cope? Or even be prepared to try.

On the other hand, wartime rations could appear to be a feast for some families. "Round About a Pound a Week" and "Working Class Wives" are two books that I have that give details of how many families lived in London in the early part of the 20th Century. Everything that was bought each week was written down, and despite practically starving, money was still spent on insurances to cover funeral expenses (for many children died due to malnutrion), and cleaning products, for however hungry they were, every woman had great pride in keeping her house looking immaculate (certainly from the outside).

Fresh milk was almost unobtainable in London in those days (during the summer it went sour before it got delivered to each door) so often the only milk was the canned condensed. A lot of bread was eaten, lard or a bit of marg bought to spread on the bread; few vegetables, and any meat was given to the man of the house.

Yet one woman managed to feed her children on a pittance. Having only the same income as the other mothers, she served up excellent food and the children were all bright eyed and bushy tailed. This was due to the fact that before marriage she had worked in the kitchen of a big house and learned how to make meals using cheap but good ingredients. So what this boils down to is the more knowledge we can gain when it comes to cooking and nutrition, the less money we need to spend to keep the family well fed.

Whatever budget we start with (and it is easier the more money we have), even with a small budget we should be able to save a few pennies (and over time pennies mount up) each week by deliberately aiming to spend less. My 'rule of four' (to be found in the earliest postings) really does work well. Briefly this suggests dividing the budget into four, then spending each quarter on each of the four 'food divisions' - meat/fish; fruit/vegetables; dairy; and finally the groceries. It is amazing how we then begin to concentrate our mind when we find we have (say) £6 to spend on meat/fish for a week. Slap me down if you must, but this is where - on a very low starting budget - a cheap chicken comes into its own.

But there are other cheap meats. Chicken livers are really inexpensive and very quick to cook. Lambs liver is another good choice. Minced meat (pref minced steak ), is another options, and buy a little of the best for mince is meat that will stretch to infinity when we know how. If a fish counter is prepared to sell fish scraps "for the cat please", then myself admit to using these to make fish pies for adult to munch through. One tip is to buy those cheapo cans of sardines (around 35p each) to use as a 'fish course' during the week. Ideally spend just a little less on each of the first three sections, then put the money saved in a pot.

With the fruit/veg 'allowance', this too can go further than we expect. Go for second grade (usually imperfectly shaped, nothing wrong with them), or any on offer. If vegetables such as lettuces, cucumbers, celery, cauliflower... are sold by unit price, not by weight, then if possible weigh them before you buy, often holding one in one hand and one in another is as good a way to find out which is heavier. Don't go by size, go by weight. A large lettuce may be full of air trapped between its leaves, so why pay for air? A firm lettuce will look smaller but weigh more.

More money can be saved if we are prepared to bring more self-sufficiency into the kitchen, as buying Channel Island milk (the only milk with visible cream) means the cream can be syphoned off to be used as single cream, or collected over a few days, chilled and 'churned' (via a blender) into butter. This leaves 'buttermilk', another 'freebie', and the milk left in the bottle, being so rich, can be watered back down to over a pint, making a version of the semi or skimmed milk (depending upon how much water is added) that we buy today. All this for only a few pence more than we would pay for a pint of skimmed milk. We can also make our own yogurt.

Groceries probably take all the allowance, and maybe some of the money saved from the previous purchases may be needed to buy what is wanted. But always keep those few pennies back. Each week.

There is much we can make when we begin home-cooking, and normally we do only enough to control the budget. There is no point in slaving away if we don't need to. On the other hand, knowing that we could make just about everything that will keep our family happy will give ourselves a life-belt to cling to, knowing that when things get hard (as is happening so often during this credit crunch) we will still be able to cope.

The one thing about home-cooking is that it is still fairly thin on the ground. So many people prefer to eat the ready-meals, or buy the more expensive 'quick-to-cook' foods. As a reader commented, youngsters love to visit her house so they can eat home-cooked food.