Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Make a little go a long way

Oh my how irritated I would get when I heard those words from Grandma Mama or any other female who wanted to impart some of their cooking wisdom on me as I learned to cook. I was very young.  I kept thinking how dumb it sounded. My thinking was that you get the same amount of meat whether you extended it or not.  Why bother? Not only that but the phrase “meat extender” is the dreariest phase in cooking language.  It sounds both mean and unappetizing.  You know what?  It often comes to being just that.  

Actually, I was forgetting what makes a really homey satisfying meal.  When you really think about it the best comfort food recipes in the world are simply meat stretchers.  Pot pies, shepherd’s pie, chili, stews, and casseroles are tasty meat stretchers.  Every good cook book is filled with recipes that are stretchers and extenders of small amounts of meat.

Food and kitchen 2014 127

With the rising cost and growing scarcity of meat  these days we must all become familiar with those meat extender recipes whether we like it or not.   A word of warning though.  The cardinal rule for stretchers and extenders is….  don’t ruin what you’ve got.  Don’t put so many bread crumbs in your meat loaf that you can’t tell there’s any ground beef in there. Don’t try to make a meat loaf for six people with half a pound of ground meat.  But, you could make meat turnovers or biscuit dough pinwheels  with it.  As the cost of foods go higher and higher we all need to be more aware of meat extending recipes.

Take a hint from some of the fast food restaurants who serve a green leaf salad with a bit of meat in it.   If you were to serve a little cold cooked chicken in a salad along side a large dish of scalloped potatoes and biscuits with butter for dinner you are not likely to hear any complaints.  But if you try to put that same chicken in a watery hash — that’s an unhappy meal.

Look at this pork roast.  The  original price is $30 for a bit over 4 pounds.  That is a price of $6.99 a pound.  Several people looked at the $12.99 tag on such a small package and walked away.  I looked at the 30 dollar price first then put it  into my cart.  That price was less than half the original price even though twelve dollars is still expensive.  This will either become a holiday meal or else an xmas present.

Food and kitchen 2014 129

We (the consumer) have been manipulated for years.  The good ol’ budget extending items have disappeared from store shelves, gradually, a little at a time.  For example, when I was young the only way a chicken was purchased was whole from a meat market or whole from a farmer.  We didn’t have big box stores back then.  It was up to the buyer to either cut the chicken into portions or cook it whole.  Usually the whole bird was used in some way.  Ok, not the intestines but the liver and heart were used as well as the feet, neck, and head.  Girls were taught the proper way to cut up a chicken to make everything usable.  Boys were taught other skills.  Girls learned about all the animals we used for food.  Fish bones and heads were used.  Every part of the pig, except the oink, was used.   We ate wild animals too and learned to use everything.

For a long time there has been an absence of budget stretching items in the stores.   Back in the past, beef bones were for making stock or gelatin or used as the base of vegetable soup in a pinch.  Chicken bones and skin could be used for making stock or schmaltz.   Turkey necks and backs could be used for a wintertime stew.

The food industry realized, if something wasn’t available, we couldn’t buy it or use it.  The younger generation would soon be ignorant of how to use the “strange” parts.  We had no choice but to do without those items and then the knowledge of how they are used would die away.  The food industry could then bring those items back as “novel”  or “new” ways to stretch our food budgets.

So, guess what.  Those absent budget stretcher items are starting to show up in the stores again.  But…. they cost almost the same as the meats that are sold without them.  Here’s an example:

Food and kitchen 2014 131

Click the picture to make it larger but in case you can’t read the label, that is smoked turkey necks selling for $2.59 a pound.  A regular whole turkey (minus the neck and other parts) is selling for $2.49 a pound on the same day in the same store.  I didn’t get a picture of that.  So now the old time “make do” foods are nearly the same price as the “prime” parts.  Once again making big profits for the food industry at our expense.

I was actually in the store looking for beef and pork to make goetta sausage when I happened to see the bones.  I looked in the meat case and by golly there they were.  Beef bones.  In case you can’t read it, it sells for $2.09 a pound.  It was $5.20 for four very small bones.  Yeah, I thought this would happen a long time ago when I first noticed foods like this disappearing from shelves.  When I was younger the bones were a part of  our meat purchases.  We cut the meat from the bone and saved them to make stock.  Or you could get a big package of bones for a few pennies.

Food and kitchen 2014 130

If the food industry takes something away, wait a bit, until people start asking for it, then they can bring it back at a much higher price.  What I don’t understand is where are all the missing foods going?  For example, chicken bones.  If we are not getting them in our chicken purchase, who IS getting them?  Even KFC, famous for it’s chicken, is pushing for the boneless purchase.  Why?  What are the bones being used for?

Something is very wrong when a burglar breaks into a home but the only thing missing is food from the freezer.  During the rationing days food wasn’t available to purchase at any price.  During the depression food was available but people had no money to purchase it.  Yeah, I guess I’m weird because it FEELS like maybe being back in the days of food rationing or maybe how it felt during the depression.  Does anyone else feel this way?


5 comments on “Make a little go a long way

    September 13, 2015

    What I can’t find are those “7 bone-in blade chuck pot roasts”, cut about 1″ thick, & weighing about 4-6 lbs. Cut the tender oval section in 2 for steaks after marinating overnight. Cut the section with the grade stamp (the thick tough skin side), roll up, tie & cook in foil with gravy & pot roast veggies. Cut the rest up for stews, etc… Cooked meat was available for sliced beef sandwiches or covered with gravy & mashed potatoes…
    The meat counterpersons at several stores have told me that they no longer get the carcasses shipped to the retail stores. They only have boxed parts available, so naturally there are no bones, variety meats or other budget stretchers…
    In retirement, I am switching more & more to Asian stir frys or vegetarian recipes, due to budget constraints!!

    • Na Na
      September 14, 2015

      Yes, you can’t buy what isn’t available. The food suppliers know what us older folks remember as frugal and take advantage of it. These days the old stand by frugal things are called “gourmet” to be sold at much higher prices. Bones we used to have to make soups or stock are just as high priced as the meat.

  2. sarasinart
    September 19, 2014

    Such good thoughts you have on how to be frugal and still eat well! I use beef marrow bones to make the best soups in the winter. What a lot of extra flavor it gives the soup. Not long ago I asked a lady working in the meat section of a grocery store if she had any beef bones. She asked me if I meant bones for dogs. Well no, bones for me to make good soup! She looked at me like I was something from outer space, and then got me some bones and even cut them for me to the size I wanted. She had never heard of cooking bones in soup. How sad for her.

    • Na Na
      September 21, 2014

      Yes, sad. Did she charge you for them? I’m curious if other places are charging like here.

      • sarasinart
        September 21, 2014

        Oh yea. Just as you said, they have gone up in price and when I can find them, they cost almost as much as the beef itself. There aren’t many bargains out there any more.

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