"we never knew how much we loved broccoli until we couldn't afford it." delicious.
Yesterday was to be our family birthday party for our older son, but COVID meant that half the family were not there. Another story and not relevant. The menu - at son's request - was meatballs - oh dear and no surprises there. Meatballs only need an accompaniment of pasta and salad, and when we were shopping in the morning we 'lashed out' and bought an iceberg lettuce - $6.90. Well it was his birthday and we can afford it. But I have to say that it hurt, because, both David and I, being war babies and growing up poor are naturally frugal. Buying iceberg lettuce felt wrong, wrong, wrong. And really there was no cheap substitute - cheaper yes, but cheap no.
Also the other day, as I mentioned I had bought a copy of delicious. Its front cover trumpets that it'a all about zero waste, which I suppose is not the same as frugality, but almost and it definitely has some frugal aspects to it. But not all of the contents measured up to this worthy aim I have to say, so these two things gave me today's post idea.
How does Delia come into it? Well way back in 1976 Delia wrote a book called Frugal Food. In 2008 I bought the barely updated edition. Barely updated because:
"Apart from the lovely new artwork, Frugal Food is being presented just as it was, with a minimum of tweaking, as we felt it had a certain nostalgic appeal" Delia Smith
And also because:
"What goes around comes around. Re-reading this book thirty two years after it was originally published, I find it has an eerily familiar ring to it. After periods of such affluence that we were being urged not to throw so much away, we are now once again facing cutbacks and shortages." Delia Smith 2008
It's eery isn't it? You could say exactly the same today fourteen years later. And Kerrie McCallum the Editorial Director of delicious. says more or less the same in August 2022.
"We spent two years in and out of lockdowns, struggling with supplier shortages and financial challenges, yet cooking up a storm and burying our woes in faceless sourdough frenzies. ... Fast forward to today and the challenges have graduated to a new phase. With the cost of vegetables rising rapidly ... how do we shop smart and make good food stretch further? It's an interesting challenge, but entirely possible."
I guess I should also mention the latest Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine - and probably the upcoming Coles one too. After all these are the magazines aimed at the ordinary cook and they are obviously conscious of price - every issue always has at least one section on budget cooking. delicious. aims at a more monied clientele - I mean the magazine itself costs $9.50 and it's packed with the latest and greatest in expensive eateries, destinations and foodie events, not to mention the latest gourmet food.
Even so all three magazines are a bit strange in what they pick to feature for the budget conscious.
That budget cake on the cover of the Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine features strawberries and blueberries, There is a whole section on strawberries which are 'the pick of the season'. Well it's not really the season is it, and also they are horrendously expensive. In Coles they currently cost $6.00 or $9.90 for high quality ones. Woolworths is a bit cheaper at $5.50 but this is also hardly not cheap. Certainly not cheap enough for jam for which they have a recipe. delicious. also goes the strawberry route in their In season feature, which also includes baby corn, beetroot and cauliflower - a selection made by chef Brent Savage, who then presents a series of recipes that feature items like tamarillos, red witlof, macadamias, kombu black rice, medjool dates and sherry - some of which are not easily available anywhere and some of which are very expensive. Did I mention that baby corn costs $40 a kilo - OK $5.00 for a 125g pack, cauliflower is currently a whopping $9.50 and beetroot is $5.00 a kilo.
Throughout this zero waste edition there are large numbers of unobtainable ingredients - warrigal greens - yes they might be wonderful but you will have to grow your own at the moment because I can find nowhere to buy them - online anyway; carom seeds (what are they?); saffron - the most expensive spice in the world; pancetta - why not bacon? - and that 'poor man's' soup of greens and beans on the cover uses cavolo nero - well kale will do - but that's currently $4.50 a bunch as well. Interestingly the only featured chefs in this copy that are in any way consciously keeping the costs down are Yotam Ottolenghi with a bean dish and Skye Gyngell, who amongst other things has a recipe for the stalks of broccoli. Even their feature on Oz Harvest - a wonderful organisation - zeroes in on their upmarket new Refettorio café in Sydney. It's actually a wonderful thing - gourmet meals for the homeless which are free and using waste food, but it's tiny - only 50 seats.
I will admit that Woolworths - although it featured those strawberries in their 'in season' section did also mention sweet potatoes and pears which are indeed in season and also cheap. Ginger, chillies - not so much perhaps but always in season and still around the same price.
So what can we buy which is currently reasonable in price? Well Asian greens if you are looking for greens. In fact they seem to be the only reasonably priced greens around at the moment. Onions, carrots, potatoes just make the grade but don't even think about anything else, even the humble cabbage ($6.50) which graces the cover of Delia's 2008 book.
So what does Delia do? Well Delia is much more aware of the real price of things it seems to me. Some of those prices have changed of course - spare ribs for example which back then were almost thrown out are now horrendously expensive. Indeed all meat - except perhaps chicken and pork is. And yes some of the recipes are pretty plain - spotted dick, potato soup with bacon, toad-in-the-hole with sausages, sage and onions, but almost all of them (not the offal) are very doable and very, very eatable. I could make almost everything in the book and feel delighted by it - even spotted dick. There are no glossy pictures of the dishes either, to lead you astray. You just have to use your imagination.
Now in spite of my diatribe against our current magazines, I am in the lucky position of being able to afford all of those ingredients, although not able to actually source some of them, but I just can't do it. I cannot bring myself to pay prices in the teens for capsicum or tomatoes. I certainly cannot bring myself to pay almost $10.00 for a cauliflower or $6.50 for a cabbage - or $6.00 - yes $6.00 for the humble silver beet. It's more expensive than spinach! It was a real struggle to make myself buy that iceberg lettuce. I put it all down to my poor childhood, and rationing - as does Delia, who can certainly afford the best that money can buy of anything at all.
"I remember rationing and how just having a couple of ounces of sweets a week was a far more pleasurable experience than having wall-to-wall confectionery everywhere you look." Delia Smith
I remember that too. Because sweets were rationed, we bought some and each night we might get one sweet. Such a treat. I sometimes wonder if we would actually have had any sweets if there hadn't been rationing. By sweets I mean lollies of course.
Many do not have the luxury of being able to afford much at all at the moment of course. You can grow your own - or you can if you are a better gardener than I. I remember one of the ladies in the play group that my children attended had her entire back garden dedicated to growing food. Then you might be able to afford meat. And if you did that, then you would also be able to access all those rare things like warrigal greens. I have weeded one tiny patch I have set aside for vegetables. Maybe I should go to Bunnings and see if I can get any of them. Or maybe I should just keep the farmers going and buy the small amount that they can get to the market.
"Anyone who wants to, or is forced to, live really frugally (that is to say, at subsistence level) has no need of a cookbook." Delia Smith
So don't waste your money on expensive 'gourmet' magazines. And if you do buy cookbooks because it's a weakness - choose carefully.
Stone soup is not real, although you can make soup out of almost anything - nettles for example. I did that once and it was quite delicious. Dandelions too I'm guessing.