Saved by My Grandpa-- The Original Recessionista

My grandfather was born and raised during the Great Depression. Consequently, he was one of those incredibly frugal men who lived well below his income because he "didn't need much." He drove a POS car until it became a classic, then an antique, then he sold it for ten times what he'd bought it for. He even had his own garden until he was too old to tend it properly, but his neighbors all had gardens and felt sorry for the lonely old widower and brought him extras from their gardens for free! When he died, he left my Mom a small fortune.

One thing grandpa did very well was save money on food. He rarely threw anything out. He composted his organic garbage right back into his garden, washed out his cans and took them to a steel mill that happily bought all his cans long before "recycling" was even a word. Even his soups were recycled.

Grandpa kept several containers stacked neatly in his freezer. Three were for cooked meats he shaved off the bones and saved: Chicken, Beef, and Pork. Those meats went into meat pies he'd make for himself, like Shepherd's Pies, Pot Pies, and even the occasional (gasp!) soup or stew. Since it took no more effort to do so, he'd cook up extra meats and save all the leftovers just for these "free" meals.

Three more were for the meat "juices" and broths for each type of meat, and every couple of months he'd pull out his old crock pot and "cook him a mess" of broths using the cheapest cuts of meat he could get from the grocery stores-- soup bones, chicken backs and wings, and the odd pork cuts he'd wheedle from the butcher. He even saved the bones and threw them into his broth-making! Now I know he was adding collagen from the bones to his broths for serious nutrition.

Then there was the final container-- a huge storage container for vegetables. Remember, the man had a garden and his neighbors had gardens. No one did without in that neighborhood! When grandpa had a leftover vegetable, or "pot liquor" (vegetable juices and water) left from the cooking process, it all went into that container. Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, corn, peas, green beans, and even leafy greens like spinach and turnip greens went into that container. No wonder he'd invested in the largest freezer container he could find.

Upon the rare occasions when grandpa just didn't feel like driving to the grocery store, he had his choice of four different kinds of soups, stews, and meat pies. With the frozen and preserved vegetables from the neighborhood gardens, he could eat for quite some time without a trip to the store needed.

I can remember seeing his painfully tiny kitchen, with a tidy little dish drainer holding one plate, one fork, one knife, one spoon, one drinking glass, and one coffee mug. On the stove bubbled a huge pot of greens, flavored with a slab of bacon. As an arrogant teen, I wondered why he made such an incredibly large amount to feed himself. Grandpa grinned at my surprise. "Girl, I'm fixing to eat good this winter!" He did, too, though I was contemptuous at the time that he didn't take advantage of modern conveniences. His only nod to the latter half of the 20th Century had been a new refrigerator when the old one finally gave up the ghost from sheer old age.

Now I'm the one getting the contemptuous looks and the polite nods and smiles from younger folks who are positive modern conveniences free them from drudgery. Yep, if it costs more money you have to go out and earn then I guess you're free as a bird.

Me, I'll take the other kind of free. The kind that costs me no money and only a little extra effort. I'll take the leftovers  and shave them off the bones. I'll save the meat in one container, the bones in another, and my vegetables and pot liquor in another. I'll cook up meat pies, stir fries, soups, stews, and casseroles that are virtually free.

Now I know the value of his saving ways. My garden has free fertilizer from the compost. My freezer is packed with leftover meats, bones, broths, and vegetables. My menu has free meals on a regular basis. I'm leaving on a trip, knowing my husband can feed himself on the leftovers alone until I get back.

So, I'm raising my coffee mug today to my grandpa, may he rest in peace. Here's to the Original Recessionista, Owen W. Rhoden.


Darlin1 said…
I too was raised like this--it's a good thing!
Next week I'm making your stew after we're finished with all the other left overs.

Lena Austin said…
Hey, Darlin'1! Enjoy that stew. We just had a casserole made with leftover pork, leftover rice, a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, a bag of frozen bell peppers and onions, and cheese! Spices like a cajun mix added, of course. A free meal, for all intents and purposes. No leftovers this time! LOL!
LDswims said…
What a wonderful blog! Sounds a lot like what I do yet gives me inspiration to push on and do more! Roast chicken on Monday night becomes casserole on Tuesday for leftovers on Wednesday. But you are right, I should take those bones and make my own stock - and better, too!

What a wonderful blog!
Lena Austin said…
Thank you, LD. I don't know about you, but once a leftover hits the refrigerator, it rarely gets eaten. This is especially true of leftover chicken, even the family favorites! I had to start doing what Grandpa did out of self-preservation. I was the one finding the dessicated or moldy remains in the back of the fridge, and it ticked me off.

I've always divided my own meat. Instead of buying "stew meat" I cut up cheap chuck roasts or round steaks, depending on which is cheaper. Same goes for buying a whole chicken. Grandpa made deals with a friend who raised chickens and he bought their old hens after they stopped laying. While I wouldn't go that far, I'm willing to buy a whole bird and cut it myself. Usually, I can find those much cheaper per pound than even the "family packs."

My dog happily eats the skin, first and foremost. Then I set up the cutting board with the white mat I use for vegetables and chop those up. Onions, carrots, and celery are standard, as well as salt, pepper, and a teaspoon of poultry seasoning. I throw those into the crock pot. Then I change out the cutting mat for the yellow one I use for poultry. Now I start cutting up the chicken. (Alton Brown has shown how to do this many times on his show, Good Eats.) The back, wings, and drumsticks hit the crock pot immediately. This family really only likes the breast and thighs as meal meat. Soon I have broth, cooked meat, and some uncooked chicken waiting for meals. All out of one chicken. It's worth the effort, really.

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