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Friday, May 21, 2010

How A Garden Saves You Money: Not the Way You Think, I Don't Think

Last night we had a bi-partite dinner: Mr. FS ate the remains of black bean and pumpkin soup, while I had roasted vegetables and feta with bread. Mr. FS's dinner consisted of the leftovers of a soup by Rachael Ray and others that I had long been wanting to try. It is so healthy and sounded so good. Readers, we hated it. So if you want to try it, you can search for it on the internet yourself.

The soup was an example of how pantry cooking can save you money: its main ingredients were a can of pumpkin (25 cents!) and a can of black beans (40 cents!). Both came from my overstuffed pantry.

My dinner came from the overstuffed freezer. Mr. FS has mixed success with gardening and we usually have an oversupply of two vegetables and the tragic deaths of many others. For the last two years, our summer oversupply has been of eggplant and peppers midway between mild and hot. Mr. FS--braving the heat of the oven in our oven-like climate--bakes the eggplant and peppers with some onions and--sometimes--canned tomatoes (our tomatoes are long gone by late summer). He freezes this concoction in ziplock bags and we eat it through the winter.

That's what I ate last night. My entire meal took no time to put together and it was delicious, especially since I sprinkled the bread with olive oil.

That meal was an example of how a garden can save you money. What did I mean when I added "Not the Way You Think"? Well, most efforts to deal with the gardening and frugality issue eventually come down to ascertaining the value of the vegetables you produce. Some bloggers painstakingly weigh their produce and assign it a value, based on market prices. Then they have to sadly admit that gardening does not save much money, because all that work, not to mention money for seeds and other stuff, doesn't really pay a decent "hourly wage."

I measure the value in another way. In addition to the frozen concoction, we have lots of greens in the winter. Right now, we have chard and kale. I seldom buy vegetables in the grocery store. I plan my meals around what I have.

The concoction lends itself to many cuisines. Plain, it is a ratatouille; with feta, it becomes Greek; with coconut milk and curry paste it becomes Thai; with soy sauce, sesame oil, etc, it becomes Asian. For the Thai and Asian versions, you can add shrimp or chicken or whatever. You can add sausage and make a pasta sauce. You can make it Indian and serve with dal (NOT cooked in your rice cooker).

As for the greens: eat braised with whatever; eat braised at room temp with lemon (from our tree!); add to soups of all nations; put in stir-fry, and so forth.

Need I say that we don't get tired of our vegetables: how could we?

As for saving money, I have long spent only around $50.00 a week on food. Now that my children are elsewhere, I have to admit the amount is too high. My cupboards are overstuffed, as is my freezer. A while back I decided to limit myself to around $25.00/week for food to force me to use up my oversupply. I'm at around 10 weeks and I still have a lot left.

People marvel at my grocery budget. The "secret" is three-fold: stock up on staples when prices are low; eat what you have; and learn how to cook.

I think, then, that my garden saves money, not because we end up with $XX.XX worth of kale, but because we use the kale and don't buy other produce. The proof is in what we spend, not in what we save.

And, of course, not driving to the store very much saves on gas. More green(s)!

Leaving you, dear Readers, with some famous lines from a famous poem about "that happy garden state":

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

For the rest of the poem, check out the wonderful Luminarium.


hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Kale is so good sauteed in garlic! I am impressed with your discipline and dedication to the pantry...I do not have a chest freezer but we have planted a veggie garden and hope to be eating some home grown produce in the summer...I do drive to my organic farmstand...spend about $25 each time that I go.
You have made the stocking of the pantry an artform!

Shelley said...

I love your ideas about different additions changing the culture of the food. The Tightwad Gazette did a similar article about minced beef and tomato sauce being Spanish, Italian or Mexican and probably some others I don't remember. Only I rarely buy minced beef anymore. I'm far more likely to have a garden full of greens - through out winter - though we've got a late start this year and the spinach is just starting to come up. Blame the weather and the bricklayers... I've decided that olive oil and garlic make virtually anything delicious!

Funny about Money said...

How could such sweet and wholesome hours
Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!

I like to julienne a handful of chard leaves and toss them in with pasta as it's cooking. When you drain the pasta, you have pasta with blanched veggie all in one. Add the rest of your trimmings--a little shrimp or scallops, maybe, and some fresh tomato--and voila! A one-dish meal.

Entirely true, I think, that people don't reckon the value of their garden produce in terms of the length of time between grocery-store purchases. Backyard lettuce and greens, in particular, tend to keep me out of the supermarket.

Duchesse said...

I've noticed, Frugal, that your meals do not usually include big hunks of meat, such as pork chops or roast leg of lamb. Are you vegetarian? If not (our household eats meat), one can get enamoured of high end butchering, meats like Berkshire pork. And fish! Whew, gets pricey though we (not our sons) have cut way back on meat portion size.

I like a simple dinner too and would be delighted at your table, living happily among vegetarians and semi-vegetarians.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff said...

I've never had my own vegetable garden, but this blog and a couple of others I've started reading have talked me into starting one. I'll start small with something that grows well in Houston, Texas and take it from there...maybe cucumbers...thanks!

Frugal Scholar said...

@hostess==I don't have a freezer other than the one in my fridge. It's not an art--more a compulsion.

@Shelley--I'll have to check out The TG for that. Amy D is not much of a cook, as she herself acknowledges. BTW, I've left comments on your blog that have not shown up.

@funny--Great use of chard. I wrote my undergrad thesis in part on Marvell.

@Duchesse--No, we're not vegetarian. I guess we don't eat much meat. In the freezer we have: several steaks, ground beef, chicken, and shrimp. I usually cook Asian-type dishes, so a lb of shrimp, say, might serve for 3 or 4 meals.

@Budgeting--I wonder what does grow in Houston. Probably the same things that grow here--so peppers should do well.

metscan said...

The females in our household are lacto-vegetarians. We eat dairy products and eggs. I don´t spend much time preparing meals. Vegetables are easy to serve, especially in the form of salads.

Frugal Scholar said...

@metscan--Strangely, I'm not a salad lover. I am a soup lover. They seem to be opposites.