Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Frugal Cooking : Five Days of Suppers with Father Capon
Traversing the blogosphere these days is like attending the greatest potluck dinner party. Without the actual food, unfortunately. There are the usual suspects, displaying creations plain and fancy. And then there is the frugality subset. We all have to eat, after all, and food is a pleasure. Cooking at home is a pleasure too and one that can be part of a creative and enjoyable frugality campaign.
My cooking—frugal style—has evolved over the years and I hardly think about it. Yes, I have long stockpiled the various bargains that came my way. Yes, I love searching out new ways to cook beans. But I never realized how inexpensively we ate until the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when I learned that emergency food stamps (available to me—as to everyone in the area—though I did not avail myself) provided a family of 4 with $500.00/month. I had long spent only about $200.00/month!
So I will try to bring some of my methods to consciousness and record what I do now and again. I am determined to clear out my stockpile. We have been eating well, especially since we have garden greens, and have only spent about $40.00 total over the last three weeks. Still, I have not made much of a dent. Luckily, Frugal Son arrived home from the Mardi Gras parades last night (it was his birthday) and brings us his large appetite.
My first example of easy and frugal eating will be our week of country-style pork spareribs. We had to stop at the store for milk and I couldn’t resist the pork ribs on special for $0.99/pound. So I bought 5 pounds.
Day 1: Pork ribs in slow cooker with dribs and drabs of condiments, a little barbeque sauce, a little ketchup, a little sugar, a little Asian stuff. I don’t use as much as most recipes recommend, since I like to have a gravy that I can use in soup.
Ate with mashed potatoes and greens.
Cost: $5.00 for meat plus a 5 pound bag of potatoes for $2.00. Condiments, butter, etc maybe $1.00. Greens=free! Total: $8.00.
Day 2: We don’t mind repetition, so we ate the same thing.
Cost: 0, since all covered by Day 1.
Day 3: I love mashed potatoes, so I was going to eat the same thing again. Then we had a bite of Mexican-style beef soup made by a colleague and this set off my Mexican food desires.
Mexican-style pork soup: I sautéed an onion, added a big can of Rotel tomatoes, added about 3 cans of black beans (rinse the beans!), 1 can of refried beans. Took some meat off the bones and threw that in too, along with some of the broth. Added some frozen corn. Added some water.
Cost: onion about $0.50, beans from Big Lots $1.70, corn about $1.00, Rotels from Big Lots $1.30. Total: $4.50.
Day 4: Left-over soup. It is so delightful to have a yummy meal all set when you get home from work tired and crabby. Cost: 0.
Day 5: Made an equally yummy pork and potato hash from Jacques Pepin’s Cuisine Economique.
Cost: maybe $1.00 for onions and condiments.
Note: We made enough for leftovers (I was planning a frittata), but Frugal Daughter came home and we all LOVE potatoes, so we ate the whole thing.
Day 6: We still had some soup that we had stashed in the freezer, so we had that for lunch.
Total: $13.50 for 5 dinners, plus lunch. And, even a cursory read should indicate that not a lot of work is involved. “I don’t like so much repetition,” you say? Then stagger the food by freezing the pork and broth and stringing the meals out over a few weeks. And where are our veggies? We had greens, because of an overabundance in the garden.
This is just an example. If you want to go beyond the pragmatic and the prosaic, you can read a whole book on this kind of cooking: The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon (yes, that is his real name), who is an Episcopalian priest. This is a classic of great food writing, recently reissued in the Modern Library Food Series.
Capon’s purpose ostensibly is to tell us how to make “Lamb for Eight Persons Four Times.” He says this is “not simply a recipe. It is a way of life. It does indeed produce thirty-two servings from a single leg of lamb, but at the same time, it opens the door to a school of cooking that has produced some of the greatest dishes in the world. The fundamental approach of this school involves the wholesale and deliberate manufacture of leftovers. . . .”
As one might expect given the author’s vocation and the title of the book, Supper also has a spiritual, indeed an explicitly Christian, dimension. Just a beautiful book, and you don’t need to share the author’s beliefs to love it.
Long-time frugal people like me have probably developed similar cooking styles. Since I have my emergency fund in place and have paid off my house,I don’t really need to be frugal anymore, in the sense of watching all the little things every day. Nevertheless, I continue because this kind of cooking and eating is healthy and honors valuable resources (time and money). People new to frugality and frugal by necessity have to put some thought into this style; it has to be conscious before it is unconscious. But it’s so worth it.
I own a copy of Capon’s book thanks to a book swap site. You could get a library copy. Or you could buy the book and lend it to some of your friends, reducing the cost per read and helping authors and booksellers. And, since this week of meals is easy on time and labor as well as on your wallet, you can savor Capon’s beautiful thoughts and prose, while waiting for your supper.
A few readers have asked to see Mr. DFS's haircut. Well, when one has such a tiny bit of hair, it's not that difficult to cut. Plus, he's very shy. but I persuaded him to pose with Capon's book.