Seek to Know Ways of Cooking

For the best results in catering, women should know more about serving meat than meringue, and the wise farm housekeeper will seek to know ways of cooking beans, cabbage, turnips, asparagus, the precious Irish potato and other vegetables and the fruits that grow on the farm in abundance. -1905

Learn to cook with the simplest, most basic ingredients, which are often the cheapest as well. These include staple ingredients, like potatoes, beans, and vegetables, as well as those foods that are the foundation of other meals, like breads and biscuits.

If you have a garden, it’s important to learn all the ways you can cook with the abundance you’re able to grow in your garden plot. For example, I grow several kinds of fruit on my property, like raspberries, grapes, apples, and peaches. As my fruit trees and bushes matured and started producing, we began eating more and more fruit. I eventually realized that I had to modify the way I cooked. It didn’t make sense for me to continue making desserts that used primarily store-bought ingredients like chocolate chips, cool whip, and instant pudding. I had fruit that needed to be used! Now I make primarily fruit-based desserts, like raspberry crisp, baked apples, and grape pie. (It’s such a sacrifice. But if Burpee ever develops a chocolate chip tree, let me know.) The fruit is free to me, so the dishes I make are fairly inexpensive, since fruit is the main ingredient. And of course, a dessert loaded with fruit is unquestionable a healthy one–just take away the butter, lard, and sugar and what do you have?  A salad.

It’s also important to train yourself to take advantage of terrific sales and the unexpected ways you find yourself with extra food.  Maybe you’ve discovered some abandoned berry bushes in a vacant lot, someone offers you some meat after a hunting trip, or you score some unlabeled cans at the salvage grocery store for a song. Don’t be quick to pass it up because you’re not sure what to do with it.  Use a variety of cookbooks, find some good resources online, and seek the advice of more experienced home cooks.

I recently bought a big box of dented cans for $3.95.  Included in the box was a large can of yams in syrup. This is not something I would ever, ever buy. I figured that one dud out of 30+ cans was still a bargain and I didn’t need to feel guilty for tossing it.  But, of course, I did feel a little guilty. I searched online and found a recipe for sweet potato bread. A little flour, sugar, and eggs turned my undesirable yams into two loaves of delicious quick bread. One I took to a potluck, and the other was our breakfast.

Thursday’s post will continue this thought, with an example of how I found a use for bargain peanuts.  I’m sure the suspense will be intolerable.

My DIY Kitchen Cabinet Curtain

I visited an elderly German lady last summer and was impressed by the simplicity of her little home. It reminded me of European kitchens that I’ve visited, very practical and not at all modern. I especially liked the beautiful linens that she clipped up across the kitchen windows and draped over some open kitchen cupboards.

I recently remembered this as I looked at the microwave cart in my kitchen. While I don’t use it for a microwave, it holds many of my small appliances.  At its worst it’s a jumbled, tacky mess and even at its best, it tends to look cluttered. I thought I would try to cover the shelf to give the kitchen a cleaner look. I could easily have found a piece of fabric and clipped it up somehow, but knowing me, it would have looked a little rakish. And since rakish is sort of a default look of mine, I decided that I would have to dress it up somehow in a more formal way.

 

Although I have a chest of drawers filled with fabric, my immediate reaction was to plan an excursion to the fabric store.  But in the spirit of frugality, I decided to challenge myself to use fabric I already had. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that I thought would work.

Then I remembered a stack of pillowcases a lady gave me several months ago.  She had cleaned out her linen closet of all the single pillowcases and offered them to me, knowing I appreciate vintage linens.  They were all white, some with crocheted lace edging and some with hand sewn embroidery.  I chose one and trimmed off the seams, stitched a hem on either side, and made a casing across the top.

 

Ta-da!  A new curtain for the price of some thread, a cheap tension rod, and very little time.

I was so pleased with it that I used another pillowcase to make a little valance to dress up my back door.

Not only did I get a few curtains that brightened up my house, but they were basically free, and I made use of a couple of items that weren’t being used otherwise.  It makes me feel like an efficient housewife! 

Since then, I’ve decided to retire the pillowcase motif before the house begins to look suspiciously like a tribute to bedroom linens.

An Early Breakfast

“If you want an early breakfast, you must have potatoes and cracked wheat or oatmeal boiled the day before; then coffee can be made, beefsteak cooked, potatoes stewed or fried in American style, the mush steamed or fried brown, and griddle cakes begun or eggs boiled, in fifteen minutes from the time you come down.  Time yourself by the clock, day after day, until you can do this.” -1884

I must admit, ever so humbly, that I have mastered the art of pulling boxes of cold cereal from the cupboard and cartons of yogurt from the refrigerator, and turning on the coffeemaker, all in less than 15 minutes.  I’m a blur of housewifery in action.

But a fast breakfast isn’t always the cheapest option so I’m always looking for ways to save time as well as money.  How am I working to speed up the breakfast process? The advice from 1884 holds true. Plan ahead!  Why is it that any job, however simple, seems to take less time in the evening than it does in the morning?  Here are a few examples that have helped me.

 

  • I cook 2-3 times the number of potatoes I’d normally cook for a meal, then store the rest in the refrigerator.  I’ll shred them up and fry into hash browns, with a fried egg on top or slice them up for a fried potatoes.  Precooked potatoes also give me a head start for breakfast burritos.
  • I always make multiple batches of muffins, waffles, and French toast.  They freeze and reheat just fine.
  • I soak oatmeal the night before.  I combine equal parts oatmeal and water with a spoonful of yogurt in a saucepan.  In the morning, I add the same amount of water again, with some sort of fruit and heat it up.  By the time it’s warmed, it’s cooked and ready to eat.
  • I schedule a breakfast routine.  Sunday is always cold cereal, Monday is oatmeal, Thursday is pancakes or waffles.  Having a regular routine reduces my need to think and not having to think always speeds my life up considerably.

These are a few of the strategies that I’ve intentionally begun to use.  It’s been an incredibly useful plan once it’s established.  Not only is breakfast served with less preparation time, but I get on with my day sooner because there is less clean-up involved.

Do you have any tips to make your breakfast routine smoother?  If you ask me, there’s no such thing as too much help in this area!

A Little Lesson in Laundry

Have you done your laundry this week? As I was doing mine, I thought that I’d collect some of the most valuable tips I have learned and share them with you. Sadly, most people don’t see laundry as a skill. In treating it as a simple chore, many housewives have missed the finer points, of which here are but a few.

 
1. Don’t keep reminding family members to clean out their pockets. Do it yourself! It provides the housewife with a Source of Income, including the highly valuable Garage Sale Quarters. Keep an inconspicuous jar or piggy bank in the laundry room to collect your earnings. I scored with $.97 in one pant’s pocket alone this week.

2. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we send a couple of loose pairs of pantyhose through the wash cycle. Add a bra or two and you have the makings for a family puzzle night.

The Meticulous Housewife hanging out laundry. Note the absence of undies on the line.
3. Speaking of undergarments, be strategic about hanging them on the line. Yes, you may have gotten fabulous clearance deals on underwear following the most recent holiday. But remember, your neighbor won’t be able to look at you in the eye when you see him around town. He’ll be wondering if you’re wearing the St. Patrick’s Day underwear with “Lucky” splashed across the backside or perhaps those Christmas wonders with candy canes that say “fa la la la la” all over. Or maybe the cheapie panties you love that sag in the backside or have lost any sense of elasticity. We all give our neighbors reasons to question our sanity, but let’s not encourage the rumor mill to run any faster.

4. And for yet another thought on this same topic… When tossing underwear into the washer, make sure one leg is not caught over the center agitator. Those panties will never fit you the same again. Unless of course, you have a disorder in which one thigh is 8 times the size of the other, in which case finding underwear is just one of your many problems.  Note: This sage advice is not simply a theory.

Now, housewives, armed with this newly-discovered wealth of knowledge–let’s get to that laundry with renewed vigor!!