Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Buy pumpkins at the source and save

October is the month for pumpkins! The cheapest way to get a lot of yummy pumpkin is NOT to buy it canned on sale. If you haven't grown your own or can get a free one somewhere (neighbors gardens?), here's how to get the best pumpkin for the lowest price. Best sources are first.

From your garden. Or the garden of friends or family. This is the freshest and definitely the right price, even if you trade a neighbor for something else.

Pumpkin patches. If you live anywhere near a farming area, you should be able to find a pumpkin patch. Plan on spending some time there, take the kids and make a real outing of it. Many pumpkin patches have squash and gourds, too, and some have activities for the kids as well as adults. The prices are great. I have bought them for as low as three for a dollar.

Farmer's markets. Fresh pumpkin straight from the fields are found in farmer's markets, but be sure you're buying from a grower/producer. Some markets allow anyone to sell, so people buy food from wholesale grocer markets and present them as farm grown. The prices at farmer's markets vary a lot, so know yours and know if the pumpkin is worth it to you.

Grocery store. As a last resort, buy a fresh pumpkin from a grocery or other store. They may look expensive compared to a pumpkin patch, but it's cheaper than canned pumpkin.

Once you get the pumpkin and are through using it as a decoration, cut it open and scoop out the seeds. Clean the stringy part from them and soak them in salt water overnight, then toast in a slow oven of about 250 degrees.

Bake the rest of the pumpkin and puree or chunk it to cook or bake with or freeze it for Thanksgiving pumpkin pies. You will never taste canned pumpkin as good or as cheap!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Wasted Food From Field to Refrigerator

It's certainly not the first time I've talked about this, but maybe it's time to review it. Food prices keep going up and incomes don't necessarily keep up with them. Some people have found themselves with limited funds to buy food, at least temporarily, while not able to take advantage of government food programs for various reasons.

If that's you, or you know someone who is in that position, there is hope. In the USA, food is hardly scarce and much of it is wasted, from the grower to the consumer and at all  points in between.

If you live in or near a rural area, it's possible to glean after the harvest. Today's huge machines are inefficient harvesters and leave as much as one third of the produce in the field. Simply ask the farmer. Some will allow it while some won't.

Transportation from field to processing plants often means onions, potatoes and other hardy crops scattered along the road. All you have to do is stop and pick it up.

Sorting and processing leads to more waste. There used to be a brand name pickle place near here that set out barrels where they dumped cucumbers that were too large or misshapen for their operation. There was nothing wrong with the cucumbers and the barrels were conveniently located. A potato processing plant would fill the back of any truck with rejects (too big, too small, too misshapen).

At the grocery store, produce is sorted daily and blemished or less than fresh items are boxed up and thrown away. There is often nothing wrong with the food at all. Smaller grocery stores will sometimes give you these boxes "for your rabbits (or chickens, etc.)"

And at home: Do you waste food? Do leftovers go in the garbage? Does food stay in the refrigerator until it's past safe to use? Do you stick it in the freezer then forget about it until you clean out the freezer, then throw it out?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Grandma's Pinto Beans

Grandma (my Mom) cooked on a wood stove for most of her life. A very common meal was pinto beans, fried potatoes, corn bread, home made cottage cheese and wild greens, all washed down with sweet iced tea. It makes my mouth water even now.

When soaked in water or cooked, pinto beans swell to two to three times their size, so keep that in mind when deciding how many to prepare. It takes several hours to cook them, but how long depends on your altitude and the age of the beans. High altitudes can mean cooking them all day, while if you're close to sea level, they will be done in a couple of hours.

If you buy pinto beans from a local regular grocery store, the chances are that they are at least a year old and often older than that. They will be fine once cooked, but they will take longer to cook than fresh beans. If you can buy pinto beans from a farmer, do it! Also, most of the time, organic pinto beans are fresh, at least within a year of being picked, and of better quality than grocery store beans. The price isn't that much higher, so they're well worth a few cents more. If you have a choice, look for bright, clear colors and beans that are pleasantly firm but not rock hard. Those are the freshest.

Here's what you'll need:

Ham, ham hocks, bacon or turkey equivalent with smoked seasoning

Look through the beans and remove any stray rocks or seeds and any shriveled beans or any that have black spots or are deep brown. Broken beans are fine. Rinse them thoroughly, then put them into a large pot. Cover them with cold water, making sure there are at least three inches of water above the beans, then bring them to a boil. Turn off the heat, check the water level and let them set overnight. You won't have to refrigerate them; just leave them in the water in the pot.

In the morning, drain off the soak water (use it in the garden or to water house plants) and replace it with cold, fresh water. Put the pinto beans back on the stove, bring to a good, rolling boil, then turn down the heat until they are at a brisk simmer. Put a lid on the pot and let them cook, but keep an eye on them and replace water as it's needed.

When the pinto beans are about half way done, add seasoning meat. Bacon, ham hocks or pieces of ham have some salt in them so don't add them too early in the cooking process or the beans will be tough no matter how long you cook them. Don't add salt at all until the beans are done.

When everything seems cooked and tender, let it cook another half hour or so. At this point, add salt to taste and Mom's secret ingredient: A tablespoon of sugar. If you let the beans set another 15 to 20 mminutes before serving, so much the better. You can put the cornbread in the oven and when it's done, the beans will be ready.

Serve with cornbread, fried potatoes or hashbrowns and cooked greens of your choice. Radishes and green onions go well with pinto beans cooked this way.

How to eat leftover pinto beans

Pinto beans are even better the second day, but second helpings can be dressed up. too.

First, add cornbread to the beans, with plenty of the soup. Add chopped raw onions if you like. You can also add ketchup with or without the cornbread and onions.

If your family doesn't want to eat beans again, they freeze very well. Just make sure to have enough liquid to cover them.

You can also make refried beans with them. Sautee onion and garlic in a skillet (cast iron if you have it), then add drained beans, mash lightly and heat through.


Pinto beans are low on the glycemic scale and are a good source of fiber. They provide a variety of minerals, including manganese, magnesium and potassium, are also a good source of several vitamins, including folate and Vitamin K. If you eat cornbread or another type of corn with pinto beans, you are providing your body with a complete protein.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Breaded tomatoes your way

Tomatoes are in abundance this time of year, whether you grow them yourself or buy them from the grocery store. If you find yourself with tomatoes that you can't use up, breaded tomatoes is the perfect answer. Breaded tomatoes are so good, they're worth buying a few extra for.

Making them is simple enough and you can easily adjust the "recipe" to suit yourself. Here are the basics

Peel two or three tomatoes, either by plunging them in boiling water for a minute then in cold water and slipping the skins or by peeling them with a knife. Using the boiling water method will save more of the tomato.

Put the tomatoes into a large saucepan and add about a quarter inch of water; just enough to keep them from burning when they first start to cook.

Add whatever spices and seasonings you prefer: Onions, garlic and oregano, or cilantro, chili powder and onions or try sage and minced celery. Whatever your preferences are, add a little salt, smash the tomatoes with a potato masher or a fork and mix everything together.

Simmer for a quarter to a half hour, then add stale bread, torn in small pieces. Add enough bread to soak up the liquid without making it dry.

That's all there is to it. You can make it so many ways that you can have it often if you have a glut of tomatoes from the garden.

Monday, August 1, 2016

What Sour Cream Is and How to Make (Fake) It

Sour cream from the grocery store is not naturally sour; it's a mass produced version of it and like so many other foods that are mass produced, it's prone to spoilage. Since it is prone to spoilage, government (FDA) guidelines must be followed and it must be 1) made from pasteurized milk only and 2) have specific bacteria introduced rather than allowing what is there naturally to reproduce.

To put it another one, it's been cooked which kills enzymes as well as naturally occurring bacteria, then it's inoculated with the "right" bacteria to sour it.

The real question that never seems to be asked is, "Does it work?" Maybe because the answer is "No." It does not work. Sour cream, no matter how it's made will eventually go bad and it will start to turn pinkish.

Never use it when it turns pink. That's the result of the life and death of a dangerous bacteria that was not killed when the cream was pasteurized. Sometimes there will appear a greenish gray mold in sour cream; don't use it when that occurs, either. This mold is the result of introduced bacteria or mold spores and was not (or was not supposed to be) there when you bought the sour cream.

If you want to make sour cream last past its expiration date, don't dip into it with a spoon that's been used for anything else and keep your fingers away from it, even if they're clean. Keep the edge of the container clean and keep the sour cream in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

If you need sour cream for a recipe and don't have it or just want to save money by not buying any, here's an easy and cheap fix:

Add a quarter cup of powdered milk and a tablespoon of melted butter to a cup of whole milk, or butter to whole milk, or a half cup of powdered milk and a tablespoon of melted butter to a cup of 2% milk. Add a tablespoon of vinegar, mix well and let it set for a few minutes.

It may curdle; if it does, mix the curds back into it.

You can use this in any recipe that calls for sour cream.

Monday, July 18, 2016

5 Ways You Can Love Zucchini Season!

You know what I mean. You planted two zucchinis, just in case one of them didn't make it. Of course, they both did and now, in the middle of the season, you can't give it away fast enough. Or your neighbor did that and keeps leaving sacks of them on your doorstep when you're not home.

It's a shame to waste good food, of course, but there are only so many ways to use zucchini, right? Instead of getting frustrated and just tossing them in the freezer, try out these five ways to learn to love the season of zucchini.

1. Make pickles from them, just like you would with cucumbers. Use the same spices and the same method, but don't try to ferment them like old fashioned pickles. Use the very young ones, around 4 to 5 inches long. You can make refrigerator pickles or can them, just like cucumber pickles.

2. Zucchini chips are a great snack any time. Slice them thinly, sprinkle a little salt on them and dehydrate until they're crispy. That's all you have to do, but be careful to not overdo the salt! (Make a few without salt and save them to use in soup and stew when the weather gets cold.)

3. Make a pie that tastes and looks like apple pie, but is made with zucchini. Even the larger ones work fine if you take out the more mature seeds. Peel and cut them in half, then slice into 1/4 inch slices and just follow your favorite apple pie recipe. You can freeze these before they're cooked, so make a few for winter eating.

4. Chunk zucchini and add chopped onions, cooked, crumbled sausage, diced or grated cheese and toss. Make up a bowl of cornbread batter and pour it over this. Bake at 400 for about a half hour.

5. Enjoy. Zucchini season only comes once a year. ;)
Got some big ones? Split them in half and remove the seeds, then stuff with a cooked meatball mixture or chicken and rice mix. You can also use rice, mushrooms, onions and tomato sauce for a meatless dish. Bake at 350 until the squash is tender. Let your imagination roam with this one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hot Summer? Make the Coolest Treats Ever

Summer heat means that anything cool sounds good! Frozen treats can be expensive from the store, but you can make the best and coolest treats at home.


Start with a chocolate pudding mix and be sure to use whole milk. You can even substitute a little cream or evaporated milk to make them creamier. Here's how to do it:

To a four ounce package of instant pudding mix, add two cups of milk and beat until it starts to set, then add a half cup of sugar and a cup of evaporated milk or cream (or even coffee cream, made liquid). Mix it well and pour into popsicle molds, small paper cups or other containers to freeze.


Have you ever tried to make popsicles with plain juice or flavored drink? It froze hard and solid, didn't it? Here's the secret ingredient: Jello.

Dissolve whatever flavor of Jello you like with half as much hot water as it calls for, then add a cup and a half of cold water. Freeze in molds or other container.

Plain Ice Cream Without a Freezer

Mix two cups of milk with a quarter cup of sugar (or more; taste it to see if it's sweet enough for you). Add flavorings like chocolate drink mix or dry fruit drink mix. Put this in a can with a very tight fitting lid, then put that in another, larger can. Fill the open space with a layer of ice, then salt, then another layer of ice, etc., until the space is filled. Put the lid on (tape it closed if necessary) and shake or roll it for at least 15 minutes. Check to see if it's frozen yet, if not, continue to shake or roll the can.

Strawberry Yogurt Pie

You'll need a graham cracker crust, a cup of sweetened, mashed strawberries and a couple of cups of plain yogurt. Mix the strawberries and yogurt well, pour into the pie crust and freeze. Simple enough?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How To Bake an Almost Healthy, Frugal Chocolate Cake

We all like to indulge now and then, but guilt may stop you from enjoying common, traditional treats like chocolate cake. Besides that, buying a chocolate cake is not the most frugal of actions.

Baking a healthy cake might seem like an oxymoron, but it really isn't. You simply add or maximize the healthy ingredients and minimize the unhealthy ones.

Okay... cake recipes don't always take well to experimentation! So here's how to bake a chocolate cake that's as close to healthy as you can get. It started as a recipe that I copied from some long forgotten source years ago and adjusted it slowly over time to create a cake that I will and do eat with gusto!

First, dark chocolate is healthy, they tell us, and eggs are, too. Coconut oil? Yes. Oats? Definitely. Here's the complete recipe:

  1. 1 1/4 cup boiling water
  2. 1 cup quick cooking oats
  3. Scant cup of unsifted flour (whole wheat or spelt flour can be substituted for white wheat flour)
  4. 1 1/4 cup or slightly less of sugar
  5. 1/2 cup of baking cocoa
  6. 1 tsp baking soda
  7. 1/2 tsp salt
  8. 1/2 cup coconut oil
  9. 1 egg, beaten
  10. 1 tsp vanilla

Pour the boiling water over the oats and set aside while you mix the dry ingredients very thoroughly. Add the egg, vanilla and coconut oil and mix well, then add the oats and mix again.

Bake in a 14 X 9 inch cake pan at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until a toothpick stuck in the center of the cake comes out clean.

You can frost this with whatever frosting you prefer, but I enjoy it plain or with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Where to Find Free and Healthy Food

I'm not kidding when I say that wild food can make a dent in your food budget. Foraging is sometimes seen as one of those things that strange people do. It's not mainstream.

Foraging for wild food is a smart thing to do, though, not only for your budget, but for your health. As a rule, wild food is healthier than domesticated crops, delivering up to 10 times as much nutrition in the same amount of food.

There are two things you need to be careful of. One, make sure you know what you're gathering.  There are not many plants that are deadly poison, but be sure you don't gather the few that are.

The second thing is to never forage in areas that have been sprayed with any kind of chemical. Many city lawns have been treated with herbicides to keep down weeds and pesticides to kill insects. Don't pick anything from them.

Where to find free fruit

Not only can you forage for vegetable plants, there are plenty of fruits that can be foraged, in the wild or not. How many apples does a mature apple tree have? More than an average family can use! It doesn't hurt to ask when you see a tree loaded with fruit.

There are fruit trees, brambles and bushes planted as ornamentals on college campuses, business lots and city greens. Check into them; why not? The birds won't eat them all. Some of them may have been treated, but they are not always.

Foraging for vegetable plants is even easier

If you have a back yard, don't put anything dangerous on it. Leave a small part to grow "weeds" or deliberately plant them in a contained area. If you're in a hurry, you can buy seeds from many plants, including dandelion, purslane and lambsquarter.

Don't gather anything from a public park, as it is nearly always treated for weeds as well as insects. You can, though, gather seeds from there if you're careful to be there at the right time and plant them the next year. 

You probably shouldn't gather plants from roadsides, either, unless they're dirt country roads that see little traffic.

Get a good book for your area, since different plants grow in different areas. Here, I harvest lambsquarter from mid spring to fall, dandelions in the spring and again in the fall, purslane from late spring through at least the first frost, but your area may be different. Find out and go gather some free food!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mashed Potato Salad? Yes!

Years ago, when my father was using our home as a stopping place between his home and the hospital where he was taking treatments, the patients had a picnic and he asked me to make potato salad for it. I made mashed potato salad 'just like mom makes' without thinking much about it, but the next Monday, he returned with a request for a written recipe for it!

That kind of threw me into a quandary because I'd never even seen a recipe written for it. I sat down and tried to remember how, what and when to put it together, and this is what came of it.

It needs to be made ahead of time, so it's perfect for tomorrow's cookout or to make for planned leftovers.

    * Make a batch of mashed potatoes just as if you were serving them for dinner. (It's more frugal to plan leftover mashed potatoes, because it won't take extra fuel to cook them.) Make sure they're cool before starting the salad.
    * For each couple of cups of potatoes, chop a quarter of a cup or so, depending on your tastes, of each the following:

    1. Dill or sweet pickles
    2. Onions
    3. boiled egg
    4. sharp cheddar or other sharp flavored cheese

    * Add enough mayonnaise or salad dressing to make the salad creamy and smooth.
    * Refrigerate overnight, or several hours, covered.
Serve cold, with a big spoon!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bean Burgers

Summer time isn't all about eating, but it can seem like it sometimes! Don't let it break your grocery budget, stay cool with real treats - made frugally by you.

This summer treat your family to bean burgers instead of hamburgers. (If you're not a bean person, these are better than they sound!) Serve them with southern style sweet tea for an inexpensive meal that's good enough for company. (Music from the radio or tape or cd player can turn any meal into a festive celebration.)

Here's the basic recipe for bean burgers. After you've made them once, you can adjust them to suit yourself. Different types of beans make different flavors, so don't be afraid to experiment. Add steak sauce, liquid smoke or Worchestershire sauce for different flavors. For this recipe, I used leftover boiled pinto beans from the freezer. Even if you buy canned beans, it's a cheap meal, and healthy, too.

2 cups beans
1 cup of bread crumbs (amount may vary)
1/2 finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, mashed or minced
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 heaping tablespoon flour

Drain beans and reserve the liquid. Mash or puree beans in a blender, then add onion, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Add about half the bread crumbs and mix with a spoon, then add the rest slowly until the mixture is stiff enough to form patties. If it becomes too dry, add a little of the liquid from the beans back in.

Dip the patties into the flour to coat and leave them to set for a half hour or so. This will help them keep their shape when they're cooked.

You can panfry them, but they're great on the grill, too. Either way, 5 to 10 minutes is all it takes. Serve on a bun with traditional hamburger toppings or barbecue sauce.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Frugal Winter Vegetables

Right now, in the middle of winter when it's cold and snowy for most of us, favorite fresh vegetables are at a premium. Lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and the like can only be grown in fields for a few months; the rest of the time they are brought in from other countries or grown in hothouses. Either way, the price is far higher than it is in the summer when such produce is abundant.

But you like fresh vegetables? So do I and I admit to buying lettuce and an occasional tomato or pepper, but I don't eat nearly as many in the winter as in the summer.

To fill in the gaps, winter time provides vegetables that keep well, like carrots and cabbage. Take advantage of that and serve them often. Carrot sticks and cole slaw are great substitutes for pricey salads.

Other vegetables that are cheap in the winter:

  • Potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Parsnips
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Kale
  • Brussels Sprouts

Some of these are cheap because they can be grown in cool conditions in southern winter areas but the root crops are usually not "fresh" but keep well in good conditions.

People used to use cellars of various kinds (aka "root" cellars) to keep roots and tubers that matured in late summer or autumn. It's still done now, except that the root cellar tends to be quite a bit larger and is above ground. Temperatures and humidity are controlled with modern technology to provide the best environment for keeping them.

Don't forget about the fruits! Citrus fruit and apples are cheapest now and are of great quality. As the year progresses, quality declines and prices rise, so pay attention and quit eating them when that happens.

Eating seasonally can make a real difference in your food bill.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Least Expensive, Most Nutritious and You Can Grow it- Now!

You might have heard of "superfoods," meaning everything from kale to seaweed, but in the dead of winter, you can grow your own superfood for not very much money at all.

I'm talking about sprouts. You can sprout seeds from beans and peas, brassicas like broccoli and radishes, almost any grain or seed that we eat, like wheat, barley or sunflower seeds (which are usually grown in moist soil instead of water).

The method is simple and absolutely nothing to be afraid of. The idea is to give the seeds enough water to wake them up and start them growing without drowning them or creating an environment where mold or mildew will grow. That's not too hard to do on your kitchen counter top.

There are systems and methods all over the place, but you don't need any of it. You only need to know for sure that the seed you want to sprout won't poison you! Avoid anything from the nightshade family, like tomato, potato and eggplant, huckleberries and so forth. When in doubt, look it up. There's plenty of information on the internet.

The basic method is to clean your seeds and put them in a jar with a lid with holes in it, or simply put a piece of fine netting or coarsely woven material over it and secure with a rubber band. Anyway, put the clean seeds in the jar and cover with water. Let it set overnight or a few hours, then drain (leaving the lid on so you won't lose any seed), pour fresh water over the seeds and drain again. Let the damp seeds set 12 to 24 hours and do it again.

Some seeds will be sprouted to edible size in 24 hours, but most take two to three days. As soon as the sprouts are big enough, rinse one last time and put them in the refrigerator to keep them from growing more. They will keep a few days to a week.

Now... where to get the seed? Do NOT use seed sold for planting, as much of it has been treated with fungicide or pesticide. You can use seed from last year's garden or bought from the grocery store or health store.

A caution: A few seeds expand to a lot of sprouts. A quarter cup of sunflower seeds, for instance, can make a couple of cups of sprouts. Don't sprout more than you can eat in a day or two, because you can always make more.

Look up the way to sprout the seeds you want to try and go for it. You don't need a garden or even a sunny windowsill to grow some of the most nutritious and tasty vegetables ever.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch

MMmmm... cold weather, hot chocolate. The two just go to together, but even if we don't have cold weather, a cup of creamy hot chocolate is satisfying to the point of making us feel guilty!

On the side of Hershey's powdered baking cocoa used to be a recipe that we used long before there was any such thing as hot chocolate mix or "instant" hot chocolate. It's simple and not hard at all, and, like most from scratch foods and drinks, it tastes better than the premade variety.

It goes like this:

  • 1/4 cup baking cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar (start with a little less and add more to suit yourself when it's done)
  • Pinch of salt.
  • Quart of milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon of vanilla

Mix these ingredients in a large saucepan and add about a quarter to a third cup of hot water to dissolve the sugar and mix the chocolate in. Bring this to a boil and boil a couple of minutes, then add the milk all at once and heat thoroughly. Add the vanilla just before serving. Yield: 4 cups.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Frugal Living and Food

I've been writing about frugal living on the internet for around 20 years, and since the cost of food is one of the few expenses that are under our control, I have written about that often.

Some of those articles are still floating around the internet, so I'd like to share some of them with you:

Tomatoes: Keeping Beyond Canning

Self Sufficient, Food Wise

Brand Name Mania 

Dehydrating Food (Extremely Frugal)

Stock Up On Free Food

Save on Groceries by Using Less Meat

Saturday, January 2, 2016

How to Keep From Wasting Fresh Vegetables

Those fresh vegetables look so good in the store! Probably because of well thought out marketing, like lighting and display, and it works even on those of us who think we're hardened against marketing ploys.

It's easy enough to buy more than we can eat before it goes bad, so it makes sense to find a way to keep them. Some vegetables are easier than others to preserve. For instance, lettuce doesn't freeze, dehydrate or can well.

However, keeping carrots for  long time in the refrigerator is easy. Rinse them and let them drain. They should be moist but not wet. Put them in a plastic bag with a good closure and put them in the vegetable drawer. I have kept carrots for months like this. They can also be frozen or canned if you have enough to make it worthwhile.

Celery keeps fairly well, but don't close it up in a bag. A little moisture to the root end of a bunch seems to help. Some people say wrapping it in aluminum foil will make it last longer, but I haven't had much luck with that method.

What else? If you buy things like green beans, peas. Brussels sprouts and so on, it's best to freeze them within a few days. They go bad quickly. Blanching them will keep their flavor and texture better. There are lists and tables of blanching times for most vegetables and fruits, but I have found that two minutes for small things like peas and three minutes for larger pieces like Brussels sprouts do the trick. It's not an exact science.

There are far too many vegetables to address all in one post, but it's not hard to look up whatever you have to see what is the best way to preserve it. Not wasting the food you have is one of the best basic food saving ideas there is!