Poverty recipes…it sounds dreadful, but they aren’t. They are often delicious, as well as often are comfort foods. What they are is the foods we can make when our budgets have gone from merely sobbing after a trip to the grocery store to even preventing our feet from entering the door. With the way the economy has been, more and more of us are going beyond merely tightening the belt to choking that budget down as far as we can.
Certain foods are long standards in the poverty recipe department. Rice, pasta, potatoes and breads are certainly among them. Equally featured, and often much more nutritionally diverse, are the “wild” gathered foods. Spring greens, fruits and nuts are often those foods that don’t have a dollar amount put on their collection. For other families, it may be meat resulting from hunting, or eggs from their flock of free ranging chickens managing to get the bulk of their food from scraps, insects, and the naturally growing grains and seeds from nature.
Depression recipes are recipes dating from the 1930s that were used by women all across the country as they coped with shortages of money and often food. Like today, almost no one had anything extra, resulting in everyone making the most from what they had. That doesn’t mean that they sat down to bowls of gray, lumpy gruel every night though.
Often, the parts that we are throwing away in good times are enough to make something delicious during the bad times. We can utilize foods that we ignore when we have plenty in new ways. One of those ways features the poverty standby of bread being accompanied by jellies and jams, made from things that we usually ignore or throw away. I read an excellent blog post today with some recipes, and it’s made me more determined to be a little bit more creative myself. The blog is called Modern Homesteaders, and the article is “Poverty Jelly“. I definitely recommend reading it.
In the comment section, it also mentions watermelon pickles. My daughter LOVES the things, and while they are somewhat a pain to make, I think I should plan on making a whole case of them up for her, doling them out as special little gifts through the year. I think she is still hoarding a lone pint jar from the last time I made them, now about three years ago. I don’t think she realizes that watermelon pickles, unlike wine, are not going to improve with age. Once again, the pickles feature a part of the watermelon that most of us don’t bother eating–the rind. Those rinds can also be made into a delicious preserve, using much the same recipe and chopping them up finely. It’s also delicious.
Then there is the pepper jellies I make, featuring a variety of peppers to provide a little zip without leaving the diner feeling as though their taste buds and tonsils are being seared out. On the other hand, my son-in-law loves scorching hot things, so maybe I should make him a batch of really hot jelly. In case you wonder what a spicy jelly is used for, it’s appropriate in a number of places. It makes an excellent glaze for pork or chicken. It’s great on toast or biscuits alongside an omelet or scrambled eggs. Some people love it dabbed on top of cream cheese on crackers or bagels too. Best of all, it doesn’t require an entire case of peppers to make it–it’s a few peppers, with sugar, pectin, lemon juice, and vinegar.
Then, for those of us who don’t have cases of apples to work with, there is the lowly green tomato. It can be chopped and turned into delicious spiced preserves that will fool almost everyone who tastes them into believing that it is apples in the preserves, but even better–the tomatoes won’t break apart like apples will during the cooking and processing. Ripe tomatoes also make a delicious preserve and jam.
Is jelly or jam important? Probably not. What it does is make that plain biscuit, pancake, waffle, or bread into a sweet treat. It can dress up a variety of plain foods, whether its used on a cheap cut of pork, brushed onto a chicken hindquarter, or stirred into a bowl of oatmeal. It’s a little luxury that doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to have on hand, and it makes a welcome gift too.
So why not just buy cheap jelly in the grocery store?
Have you read the labels on the cheap jellies and jams in the store? Tasted them? Best of all, have you compared them to homemade jelly? Not only is there little variety, there is little taste beyond the sweet. It’s cheaper to just buy sugar than to use the bland, tasteless and preservative-filled commercial varieties. Even name brands, which aren’t so cheap either, are filled with the chemicals and high fructose corn syrup. On the other hand, small batch gourmet jams and jellies are often sold for $10 for a half pint (or more!) Who can afford that price with a tight budget? Even pickles, beyond the dill slices and other common varieties, are not cheap. They are also filled with unpronounceable ingredients that many of us would rather not say, let alone eat. With an relatively small investment in equipment, we can make these things ourselves, and they taste better and often cost less.
For small batches of jams and jellies, we can usually avoid the expensive items such as pressure canners and even water bath canners. A large pot, with a rack in the bottom, even homemade (I’ve done it with butter knives and canning rings.) will work to water bath your prepared jars. Any stockpot or dutch oven will work to cook your jam or jelly, if the volume is large enough. To stir, a spoon is necessary, and a ladle is used to fill the jars. A clean, damp cloth is used to wipe the rims of the jars before putting on the lids. The big investment will be the purchase of jars, and a case of half pint jars is still less than $10 for a dozen jars. Replacing the lids is done with each use, but the jars and rings should last for years with reasonable care.
At the grocery store, you’ll typically need to buy sugar, lemon juice and pectin. Pectin comes in either a powdered or liquid form, and includes many recipes with the pectin itself. If you are using a recipe from elsewhere, make sure you buy all of the necessary ingredients and in the correct form–recipes differ depending on the type of pectin used. Don’t omit the lemon juice or vinegar either–they are used to acidify the recipe, ensuring that the pectin gels properly, as well as preventing the growth of bacteria in your prized recipe. Follow the recipes exactly and use a watch with a second hand as well as a minute hand (or a good timer) to ensure that the amount of time for boiling or simmering is correct. The reality is that jams, jellies, and preserves are more of a science project than an art project–it’s all about chemistry and using acids, alkalis, heat, and cold to cause the correct reaction at the correct time.
Even if you have a “failure”, don’t give up. I have a case of what was dubbed “mulberry oops” that makes great sundae toppings, pancake syrup, and best of all….mulberry soda pop when added to club soda. Yum! In reality, it was a batch of mulberry jelly that I messed up on (I don’t remember what it was that I didn’t do right, but I knew at the time what error I’d made. Probably something in the order of not boiling long enough or adding sugar at the wrong time.) My mistake was so delicious that I made more on purpose by leaving out the pectin entirely–it’s a delicious mulberry syrup!
Creativity and an open mind about ingredients that are available go a long ways towards making poverty recipes ones that you’ll continue to make simply because you like them. Some things mentioned in the Poverty Jelly post on Modern Homesteading’s blog are things I can remember being made when I was a kid, and it wasn’t because there wasn’t anything else, but rather because they were tasty, like corncob jelly and crabapple jelly. Other times, a meal or dish that was featured often during hard times becomes a dish that you hope to never eat again, only to suddenly have a craving for it decades later. My despised poverty dish was plain potato soup, but today…I’ll occasionally make it just to have some, and I still pair it with the cornbread it was always served with when I was a child. Other things, such as boxed macaroni & cheese with a hot dog sliced into it, have never appeared on my table, and there are no secret plans to do so anytime soon either. Other poverty foods are not even associated with bad times in the past for me–they are simply inexpensive and familiar foods, such as bean soup and cornbread, cowboy pie, bean-and-cheese pie, and so forth.
I’ll have to sit down and see what kinds of “poverty” foods I can come up with, while I’m also plotting on how to get enough red clover to make a batch of clover blossom jelly next spring…