Monday, February 10, 2014

Do we Store too much Food?

The recent programme on Food Hoarders (Food Network) and some readers comments have given me much food for thought.  Too much food for thought it has turned out as it could be some of us really do buy a lot more than we really need, even allowing for surplus to keep us going in lean times.

We - as a nation - have always stored food to keep us going through the winter.  At one time, living only on what this country could produce, and with no fridges or freezers, farmers wives would smoke meat (usually sides of pigs for bacon), butter would be heavily salted and backed in barrels,  eggs would be over-wintered in buckets of isinglass, nuts and some fruits would be dried, other fruits and veggies bottled, preserved and pickled.
Even a 'townie' cook would at least bottle as much produce as she could.  We still do this today when making jam, marmalade, pickles and chutneys.  With the advent of freezers, there is little we really need to store other than freeze gluts of home-grown veg.  The time when we could buy half a cow or a whole lamb to freeze (both kindly carved into small joints by our local butcher) are now gone, as once these were really the cheapest way to buy, now it works out far too expensive.  But still there are offers to be had with meat/fish, and this is when I buy from Donald Russell, and stock up with enough to last me several months. 

We don't also have to worry about eating only seasonal fresh produce as practically everything we grow here (as well as a lot we cannot grow) is imported and sadly, often cheaper anyway.  So we could ask: why the need to store any food at all?

Myself find it gives me a feeling of security to have plenty of 'back-up' food, this I think was a habit that began during war-time when it was my mother who hoarded, admittedly a small amount, of canned food very shortly before war was declared.  She was born in 1902, so remembers the food shortages in World War 1, and was determined to be prepared as best she could be.  ( remember it being mainly canned foods she stored (we had no fridges and freezers then) as these were kept in a cardboard box under my bed.

In later years, when married, B was often unemployed for weeks (months) at a time. So again used to stock up with food when we did have spare money, as by then we had three children (a fourth came later), and it was necessary to be able to keep them well nourished (although do remember when B was in work, at the end of the month beans-on-toast was served more often than they should be).

There are several good reasons why we should always have some extra food in the house.  It could be - especially if we live alone - weather conditions can prevent us shopping.  Not everyone lives where groceries can be delivered. 
Even a decade or two after the war it was common for people who lived in outlying areas to be snowed up for several weeks, and even today we are now hearing of people who are not able to leave their homes as the surrounding countryside is flooded.  Having food in store has then turned out to be essential.
Margie in Canada, bless her, is finding herself unable to shop due to heavy snow, but happily finding her stored food very handy.  The fact that this began as a challenge to use up what we have, is working to her advantage in more ways than one.

Alison (Essex) who lives on top of a hill tells us her village is flooding, and with more problems expected in the south-east over this weekend, it could get worse, not better, so she too will be glad of any foods she has stored (plus her produce from her allotment that she has been able to freeze).

Then there is the other side of the coin.  What about people whose homes have been flooded and have to leave? Possibly they cannot take much with them, just clothes and important papers.  Any food stored will have to be left rot in fridges and freezers, and possibly there could be so much bacteria and contamination from dirty water that everything edible has to end up being thrown away, even when stored above water level.   Doubt very much that insurance would cover loss of food.

Another reason to keep a reasonable supply of food in our cupboards and larders is the possible loss of employment.   Unless a job is really secure, we can never be certain that we will have enough money coming in to pay for everything.  As I said above, this was the reason why I always kept a small (and it was small) hoard of food to keep the family going, and the main reason why I was forced to teach myself to cook just about everything from scratch (and that led me to where I am now).

On the '...Hoarders' programme, one woman proudly said she had every ingredient on her shelves so could make anything she wanted.  This didn't seem to stop her buying manufactured things such as packs of biscuits, sweets...., and have to admit there was a time where I could say the same thing (but not have every ingredient to make EVERYTHING), because - as a cookery writer (or like to believe I am), feel that I don't always want to have to dash out to the shops to buy a missing ingredient when trying out a new recipe.  So I have too many spices, too many different flours, a wide assortment of sugars (they keep forever anyway), and time now for me to pull in my horns and use them or lose them.

What would I consider necessary foods to 'hoard'.  We might all choose different things, and as to amounts of each it would be one in use, one spare in the larder and one more as back-up.  Replacing each when the first has been used up.  With some foods I do stock more, foods used regularly such as canned tomatoes, baked beans, canned tuna/sardines, but always buying these when on offer. 
Some foods such as coffee, when on offer I buy several large jars at a time, but with many items, always keeping an eye on what is in the news such as the possibility of a rise in price due to bad weather causing crop failure (coffee, sweetcorn, wheat/flour...). 
Stock already on supermarket shelves cannot be priced higher, it has to be sold at the shown price, but new supplies of many foods we find suddenly have risen in price, and never quite know the reason why.  Myself am not happy about the slow rise in the price of a brand of sardines I buy (usually six cans at a time).  These have the date-stamp of packing and b/b use printed on each can, and am not too concerned if the new supply has a longer shelf-life date, but if the same dates are on the cans that I've paid more for as were or the previously bought cheaper cans, then surely they have all been bought by the store at the same price, who then slowly increase the price when they think we are not looking.  I really must send the customer services an email if this happens again to query this.

A welcome to Pat who is asking whether we could make vanilla extract using gin instead of vodka.  Have no reason to think it wouldn't work,  but there would always be a background flavour of gin (juniper berries) - vodka has no taste and why this has been used.   Best thing is to try making a very small amount and see what you think.   You can always drink it!

A good way to gain the flavour of vanilla is to buy a pod or two (often sold in pairs),split cut in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds when using to flavour (say) custard.  Cut each across the middle and then stick in a big container of caster sugar.  Leave for a few days, and the sugar will absorb the flavour of the vanilla.  Just add more sugar as it gets used up and the same vanilla pods will continue to flavour the sugar for many months (years in fact).

Good to hear Saffron,  that you are able to watch Midsomer Murders with a friend.  Myself loved the series, but when John Nettles left and his place taken by his 'character cousin' (also a Barnaby) played, I think, by Neil Dudgeon, it never seemed quite as good so I stopped watching for a while. Sometimes I watch the repeats, but much prefer the older ones with John Nettles in the lead role. 

Other series that have 'English character' (buildings and scenery etc) are Morse, and Lewis (set in Oxford, so plenty of old university buildings appear).  The more rural series such as 'Heartbeat', 'All Creatures Great and Small', and 'Last of the Summer Wine' are typical of Yorkshire life and scenery.

Have to say, after watching 'Call the Midwife' yesterday, this gives me such a feeling of nostalgia, due mainly to the fashions worn and prams pushed.  This is set in the same decade that I was a young bride, pushing my pram with a toddler sitting at one end, and shortly after a new baby in the pram, the baby then old enough to sit at the end, and the toddler then walking by the side.
Somehow then life seemed to have more rules in that we were taught good manners,  how to behave both when at home and outdoors,, give respect to our elders.  At one time when the National Anthem was played on the radio, everyone who was sitting at home (or elsewhere) got up and stood to attention.  The same thing at the end of the night when the Anthem was played in the cinema.  Is the Anthem played in the cinema at all these days?   Even if it was, people would probably ignore it.

The one thing about what may seem to be a slightly more restrictive life (as above) than we have now, is that this too gave a feeling of security.  We felt safe if we walked home alone in the dark (after returning from a local club or dance), there was no muggings, very little burglary, no paedophiles (or none that we heard of, but then with no TV we didn't even know what was happening in war-time, let alone any friction between other countries after that).   There seems to be such a lot more to worry about now.

Yesterday B made himself a stir-fry using a pork chop that I'd sliced and soaked in teri-yaki sauce. He said it was one of the best he'd made (that sauce really is lovely).  Myself had bowls of home-made veggie soup, using some of the organic parsnips and carrots, with an onion, celery, and potatoes.  Cooked in a light (home-made) chicken stock, then added some pearl barley (previously cooked for the Burns Night Cock-a-Leekie Soup, but had cooked too much of this, so strained half of the pearl barley out of the soup and froze it for my own use).  Even though the veggie soup was nice as it was, it was MUCH improved by adding a good squirt of Fiery Chilli Ketchup, giving the soup a warmer glow to my innards, with the 'kick' of chilli that I seem to have become addicted to.

Before I forget, there is a programme tonight on BBC 1 9.00pm (Britain's Great War) about how we coped during the war when the enemy tried to starve us out by preventing the merchant navy delivering food to our shores.  It could give a good insight to how people coped and prove that we really don't need to eat so much, even store so much food that is happening today.  If anyone reads this too late to watch, then catch up with it on iPlayer.

Watching the weather news yesterday it was alarming to hear so many flood warnings.  Several 'red alerts' (where there is a danger to life), a lot more numbers for areas at lesser risk, but still more flooding, and literally hundreds of warnings for more flooding.   Up here in Morecambe life goes on as normal, we get a bit of rain, quite a lot of rain, but a considerable amount of sun and so we are not experiencing what much of the country is suffering.  We are so fortunate in that respect.  For those who live in other countries and do not see pictures of what is happening here, they might have seen news of other countries (India, China etc) who have severe floods in monsoon periods where people have to be rescued with boats.  Well it is turning out to be much the same here, with no respite as more rain is forecast.  Already it is said it will take months to drain the land, and with more rain it could be summer before the land is fit for growing crops - and by then too late to sow most of them.

All this will almost certainly put up the price of food - shortage of animal feed will up the price of meat, with few seasonal crops for sale, again the price will rise - and even though much can be imported, when it comes to selling anything, it all boils down to 'supply and demand', the more we need something, the more we have to pay.   So let's stop wanting everything and work out what IS worth keeping in store and buy while the price is right, and then just sit back and USE it.  Which is what I suppose most of us are doing now, but canny cooks still have to plan for the future.

As it is Valentine's Day this coming Friday, no doubt many readers will be planning a special meal.  If we can be a bit more inventive, we need not go out to buy 'something special'.  Just serving a dish that has a shape of heart shows we love and care.  We could bake a heart-shaped cake, and if we don't have the right shaped tin, there is an easy way to form a heart.  Take one square cake tin, and one round tin (diameter the same size as the side of the square tin), bake a same depth cake in each, then cut the round cake in half (to make two semi-circles), then place each on adjacent sides of the square cake and presto! You've formed a heart.

If we cut slices across the 'bumpy' part of bell peppers, these are usually give heart-shaped slices that look attractive as a garnish to a dish.  Or we can made heart-shaped pancakes or drop scones.  Or why even bother?  At our age serving my B anything heart-shaped and he wouldn't even notice.

Not sure when, but pretty certain that this month we could have Pancake Day.  No need for me to make pancakes that day even though that is something B insists on having, as I've already got a stack of pancakes (interleaved) in the freezer.  All they need is to be wrapped in foil then heated for a very few minutes in the oven, to serve with caster sugar and lemon juice.
So - to save time on the day - worth making pancakes now, freezing them, and just plan a main course that can be oven-cooked, so you have 'free' oven heat to warm up the 'crepes'.

Another lovely programme with Hugh F.W's 'Scandimania' last night. This time Denmark (said to be one of the happiest countries).  Even though the residents pay over 50% in taxes, they are quite content with that as they say they have free child care, free schooling, free universities, free health care and pensions on retiring, so it is only fair that once they start work they help to pay for all this.
It is true, all we have for free (much of what the Danes have we also have, even if not all of it), we should be thankful, not moaning about what we don't have, as seems to happen more and more these days. 

As ever, I've rambled on far too long, and time for me to go into the kitchen and start planning the supper (not yet sure what), also intend making quite a few cakes this week (fruit cakes that keep well, and others that don't will be frozen).  Intend to keep on using what I have, and other than milk and eggs, don't really NEED anything, and even these not for several days.
Last week I think much of my depression came about because I couldn't gain pleasure from 'retail therapy', and normally this would have been the time when I would happily sit in front of the comp and order online from Tesco, then enjoy the delivery, the unpacking and the putting away into store.  So perhaps I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. 
Now I've got over that, the pleasure of emptying my shelves is taking over.  Let's hope it lasts. 

Will be back tomorrow, usual time, so hope you can meet up with me then.  TTFN.