This is a cookbook for times when your wallet is thin and times are hard but your spirit needs solace. It is about thriftiness, careful planning, and wise cooking practices, but it is also about enjoyment. In the hard times when we gather, out of need, in our kitchens to cook a holiday meal together, we learn more about the meaning of family and love. Good cooks with sharp eyes for bargains and a love of family helped us write this book. They taught us about how to cook and they also taught us about how to be happy, to find the good times in the hard times.
Most of these recipes have no exact measurements and lots of optional ingredients. You can use what you have and, within limits, as much as you have. In a recipe that calls for 'chicken pieces' use a whole cut up chicken or a package of wings, whichever you want. If you want to use mushrooms but only a few, go ahead. If you hate oregano or garlic, leave it out.
Hard times cooks think about who they are cooking for. They are cooking for family, for themselves, and for friends, not for the people who write cookbooks. They cook out of necessity, but also for fun, for the pleasure of creating something they and theirs like. This kind of cooking within a budget is challenging, entertaining, and social. While you can cook alone, it is better with a spouse, a child, or a good friend.
We were both born at the end of the 1930's depression. We were raised by parents and grandparents who remembered soup kitchens, apple sellers and CCC camps. We were raised by people who also enjoyed themselves, their friends and their families. Our grandmothers gave new meaning to the word 'thrifty' and our grandfathers never cooked with a book, just memories. We need to bring you much of what we have in our memories from their old times and to add some of what we learned and invented as we cooked together and with our children. We want to share with others like you who like good food, good friends and good credit.
There are some principles of Hard times, Good times and Old times cooking that we start from. A freezer, for instance, is not a luxury but rather it saves money and time, both of which we need in the days of two worker families. When we lived in Georgia, with three teenagers at home, we never knew how many people we would find around the house at dinnertime. We solved that problem by cooking in fairly large quantities and freezing leftovers. We got a side of beef, and cut up our own chili meat and stew meat. We made bread and pizza rounds and froze them. We bought large quantities of chicken parts on sale, for soup or chicken pie or chicken for salad and enchiladas. So get a freezer, even a small one. You will find that it pays for itself very quickly.
Because we 'remember' the Depression, we practice small economies. We cut up our own chickens and never buy one already cut, let alone stuffed. We keep a small paper bag in the pantry to dry bread ends to use in meatballs or to make breadcrumbs. We bought good knives some time ago and keep them sharp. We grow our own herbs and we look for places to buy fresh country eggs and bulk spices and grains.
A word about shopping.
Some people now say that shopping, not baseball, is America's national sport. If you take grocery shopping seriously,
- You can have all of the fun of shopping, save money on your food bills, and save all of the money that you would have spent if you did you shopping of the optional stuff. But be careful. Groery stores are also full of wonderfull temptations.
- First, shop with a list and don't wander too far away from it unless there is a particularly marvelous sale. In the tight times when we fed a house full of adolescents, we only bought meat on sale. No sale, no meat. We ate a lot of spaghetti with a no meat sauce. Now, out of habit, we still wander over to the Ňprices slashedÓ section of the meat department. We often find just what we are looking for.
- But we also know that not all bargains keep money in your pockets. Why buy an eight pound roast on sale, even at half price, when you can only use a pound or two of the meat? We have a friend who will spend $5.50 on sugar and nuts to save $.37 worth of ripe bananas to make banana bread. Keep your priorities straight.
- Check the fine print on the tickets in front of the item. Most big stores these day indicate the unit price on these stubs so you don't have to carry a calculator to figure out what 3.7 ounces of canned tuna costs per pound. When a small package of already boiled chicken pieces costs $.99, look at the rest of the ticket, where it says that this means the chicken costs $4.99 per pound. $4.99 a pound for some things might be OK, but when whole chickens are selling for sixty nine cents a pound, $4.99 a pound is close to fraud. Do you really want to spend that, or can you buy a chicken on sale, cut it up, bone the breasts for Faux Veal Cutlets ( yes, indeed, the recipe for Faux veal cutlets is in this book ) and put the rest in a pan with some onion and celery and have your own freshly simmered chicken for salad for pennies?
- Think about it. You have better things to do with your money than give it to the Prepared Chicken People, or the Breaded Fish People, or the Frozen Dinner People. Those same folks put a quarter of a can of beans, about a dimes worth, with a single cut up wiener, another ten cents, on an aluminum plate, maybe worth two or three cents, and charge you $2.98. You can do that yourself, and pocket the change.
- Find a good butcher, a kindly person in a soiled apron who will save you bones for soup,
buy fresh chickens and tell you when the meat is about to go on sale so wait until tomorrow.
These people really do exist, even in those big super markets, but they hide behind glass and
wrap everything in plastic.
Perhaps somewhere in your town there is a small shop with a kindly butcher in a soiled apron who actually cuts meat in front of customers and hangs it up to age in a refrigerator, and knows how to cut the chine bone of a pork loin. Bring this man business and tell him you appreciate him. He is a vanishing breed.
- Don't throw so much stuff out. Dig left over vegetable ends, coffee grounds, and egg shells in the herb garden soil where it will come back to you as lush green basil or tasty parsley.
- Keep a sense of perspective and a sense of humor. These are as valuable as gold during depressions as well as good times.
- Stay in charge of your kitchen. Don't let someone else, the butcher, your father-in-law or the lady who wrote the mammoth cook book or home economics manual, tell you what to do.
- If you bring home a spoiled chicken, take it back. If you don't like the produce, say something.
- If grandma's recipe calls for turnips and you can't stand turnips, leave them out. If you only have a half a chicken instead of a whole chicken, use that.
- Plan meals and use your head and cook intelligently. You are not the prisoner of the Fast Food People, the super market or anyone else. A quick sauteed chicken breast with a few mushrooms and some pasta and peas is as quick as anything They have, it's better for you and itŐs a whole lot cheaper.
This book is meant to be a starting place. Read it and enjoy it, and use it. Our cooking is limited to traditional New Mexican, some Southern Italian, some basic non-regional American, and Imaginative World Cookery. Think about what else you like, that we didn't include. Add your own ideas, your own grandparent's recipes for holidays or comfort food, your own ideas on those three by five cards that are well used.
You won't find a recipe for piccalilli in this book, or one for pie crust or Blanc Mange. You will find a section of Main Dishes that includes poultry, red meats, vegetarian, and low meat entrees. You will find some fast/slow cooking, that either needs a lot of attention for a short time or a lot of cooking and little attention. You will find some tips for The Good Times and The Hard Times, which are not mutually exclusive. You will find some of The Old Times, larded through the book like a good marbled rib roast. You will also find some menus, which have worked well for us.