Making Meals—Out of Little at All

I never went hungry. A blessing that many Americans take for granted, but others cannot. I grew up on a farm and we had some lean years with my mother making a few desperation dinners, but mostly we had beef or pork and/or lamb from the farm in the freezer as well as frozen green beans, tomatoes, green peppers, Swiss chard, squash and corn from our garden as well as applesauce from our apple tree. We also had what we called winter pear trees—the pears were not good to eat, but she made pearsauce out of them. I suspect they might have been tasty canned—I have canned similar pears, but she was not much into canning.

My father contracted with a commercial bakery to pick up their old bread. He took our converted Dodge moving van which could carry four horses, or several cattle or hogs to market, and filled it with day-old bread. We first went through the packages choosing sweet rolls, variety breads and whatever else appealed for the home freezer. The rest we emptied into an old chicken plucking tank which warmed the water to brew pig slop. The pigs loved it and the barn smelled like chicken soup.

For several years we had a milk cow and my mother, although growing up as a city girl, learned to make soft cheese and butter. We had chickens for fresh eggs. A neighbor grew corn, oats, wheat and barley on our farm on the shares. My mother would take some of the wheat and cook it as a hot cereal.

My father loved creamed corn, right out of the can. So, one desperation dinner I remember was creamed corn mixed into scrambled eggs—not bad at all.

One very cold winter night, we found a heifer which had been shot by a hunter. For reasons now unclear to me, in order to use the meat, we had to have the entire carcass made into smoked beef sausage. My father had the opportunity to go back to the city and work for my uncle. During the week, we stayed in an old sorority house he owned with gas stoves. My mother was afraid to light the ovens and we didn’t really move much to that house in the way of cooking equipment. I can remember eating the smoked sausage along with toast she made by holding bread over the gas flame. Not my favorite.

I no longer live on a farm and have only a small garden. None the less, we still have a few off the land meals—we use a small raised bed down the street from us. We grew tomatoes, green onions, peppers, zucchini, lettuce, basil and Swiss chard. At our house we have blueberry bushes, rosemary, thyme and oregano along with cherry tomatoes. My favorite is to sauté fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers and zucchini and serve over pasta with fresh cut basil and parmesan cheese. Swiss chard makes a great quiche, along with green onions.

This year, the news mentioned the higher cost of Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks to Food Lion we purchased an almost fifteen -pound turkey for less than five dollars. Throughout the year I freeze stale bread, heels and leftover cornbread to use for stuffing.  I had to buy peas, cranberries, and potatoes along with onions and celery. I now have turkey and dressing in the freezer along with a carcass and broth for soup making—an investment of ten dollars made us many meals. And I suspect as inflation increases, our “creative cooking” will continue.