More Dollars and Sense Savvy: Meal Planning from Limited Resources and One Cut of Meat

How do you take a single package or cut of meat and make it last for a whole week of meals? How many of us even think about these things anymore?

Photo credit: Amanda Stiver

The coronavirus crisis has made it cross minds again, and the best place to look is back to the 1930’s when salaries were low, if they existed at all, and homemakers (or women who worked from home before it was cool in this moment of history) used strategic planning to eke out the last bit of everything.

One account goes as follows:

“My husband graduated in the late 1930’s…He was finally able to land one [a job] and after we figured out our weekly budget, there wasn’t much left over for food shopping…To get the most for our money, I shopped at the two markets in our neighborhood to get the best price on staples, vegetables and meat. To stretch the meat…I came up with a strict schedule. I’d buy a round-bone pot roast and cut out the largest portion for our Saturday night dinner… I’d serve more of the same on Sunday. Monday’s supper would be hot beef sandwiches and gravy…”

On Tuesdays the author, Lucella Bowman, would make stew from a small portion of the original roast. Then Wednesday was meat pie made from leftover roast and stew with a biscuit crust. Friday was soup from the round bone she’s cut out earlier and leftover vegetables.

This short memory was from page 157 of a recipe book called, Dining During the Depression: The simple-yet-satisfying foods that saw families through those tough years. Edited by Karen Thibodeau, it was published in 1996 by Reminisce Books.

Just as in the above, one of the best places to search for old time common sense and home economics wisdom are in nostalgia magazines. Titles such as Reminisce and Good Old Days both also publish topical books on everything from the Great Depression and the Second World War, to kitchen traditions and entertainment.

If you come across one of these, nab it. They are oral histories in writing, full of practical lessons drawn from personal, historical experience.

Lucella’s account is a prime place to mine some practical tips:

1. Keep a weekly/monthly budget, and budget for food.

2. Shop around for the best deals, and use your consumer skills to make a limited budget last.

3. Buy mostly staples, milk, eggs, cheese, butter, flour, sugar, spices and seasonings, vegetables (fresh, canned and frozen), and meat. You can make an amazing number of variations with the basics. There is a learning curve, but it will be a savings and a newly acquired skill set.

Notice: I didn’t include fruit, which is now much more of a staple than it was then due to out- of-season availability and shipping. During WW2 in England, fruit was often rationed to go first to children and invalids who needed the readily available Vitamin-C the most. The rest of the population was admonished to get their vitamins and minerals from vegetables instead, and there were a surprising array of “substitutes” for fruit such as carrots for oranges, and so on.

4. Stretch your meat by planning a week’s worth of meals off of one large roast. The author does a great job of outlining how this is possible. Use up leftovers, don’t throw them out. Extend them into a new dish with added vegetables and crusts. Don’t throw bones away…the current fad of bone broth should teach us this. Cook them into a stock and make soup! You get not only protein, but collagen.

5. This is an unspoken lesson, but have a set of simple go-to recipes that allow you to make these variations in a flash. Save the more gourmet or finicky recipes for when there is more availability, or in our case, mobility and variety! Challenge yourself to make things last!

So there we go, one small oral history provides all of these useful lessons. You can do this from a variety of historical accounts and on various topics. Find the lessons and carry them with you into your daily life!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver

Dollars and Sense Savvy: Cut Up Your Own Meat

We live in an unprecedented time, a pandemic from a novel coronavirus and resulting disease, COVID-19, has nations advising their citizens to work from and stay at home until further notice. This is history in the making, and not far removed, just over a century from the last world-impacting pandemic, the Influenza epidemic of 1918 that followed close on the heels of WW1.

The author, apron on, read to get down to practicalities!

But I don’t really want to focus strictly on big history for the moment, but rather domestic history and frankly, the practical lessons thereof. What do you do when store shelves are running out from the depredations of panic shoppers, and you can’t get the pre-packaged foods you’re used to?

Home economics/Depression-era savvy to the rescue! The home economics movement taught, mostly women, how to take advantage of common sense when shopping to be a good consumer, and get the best deals and therefore most mileage from your income.

Likewise, the Great Depression taught people that wastefulness was a dirty word. When you can’t easily go out and buy a replacement the next day, you make do with what you have. In the same vein, wasted food thrown out is wasted money thrown away.

After visiting the local warehouse club store today for provisions, my mom noticed that though most of the frozen meat was sold-out (the Sunday rush, we presumed) there were plenty of larger-size packages of fresh beef and chicken, still there, looking for a hungry home.

As we reviewed the collective wisdom of both my grandmothers, we realized that the only thing standing between a fresh package of meat and a deep-freezer was a sharp knife, a little slicing know-how, and a freezer bag or two.

From one big package of beef round roast we got two good-sized steaks, one medium roast, and a package of stew meat. Then we sharpened the knife because there is nothing more creepy-crawly than trying to cut up fresh meat with a dull edged blade.

From a package of giant chicken breasts (4 to a pack) we got a gallon bag of chicken cutlets. Again, with the sharp knife.

Divvied up into freezer bags and marked with the date and store we originally bought them at, into the freezer they went. And the cost was substantially lower then buying the pre-frozen variety.

My grandparents and many of their generation who dealt with a pandemic (1918-1921), a massive economic depression (1929-1940), and a second World War (1941-1945) had a “can-do” outlook, rather than a “do-for-me” attitude. We’ve been used to a culture of “do-for-me”, but it’s actually extremely empowering to take back some of that being done-for and turn it into, “I can do this!”

Even something as simple as cutting up some of your own meat or getting back into the swing of pantry cooking. These are little steps, training wheel into a different mentality, but they can make a dollars and cents difference!

[If you care to comment: What kind of dollars and sense savvy and practical considerations have you drawn on to make the best of difficult circumstances?]

Even during this crisis the past is full of practical lessons that can teach us how to react to emergencies in the present.

Keep thinking history!

-Amanda Stiver

Invigorate Your History (And Your Family’s) Life!

Following on the heels of my historical consideration of Thanksgiving I’m back tracking to the topic of how to make history a part of daily family life (“I Beg of You… Don’t Hate History”– continued).

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

For those with a pre-existing love of history, this isn’t a problem, people like us discuss history all the time; family history, world history, military history, ancient history, etc.,… we have endless arguments about fairly trivial points of history. We (animatedly) discuss the number of soldiers under the command of a centurion in Ancient Rome – 100 or 60? (60 to 80 actually, opposed to the commonly assumed 100.) We argue about the way people dressed or the historically inaccurate firearms used in movies… and on… and on.

But what about the way people lived a mere two or three generations ago, how do you make that live?

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

I’ll cut to the chase… If you want to learn domestic history for the past 70 to 80 years you can read a few good books on various subjects, or a few dry textbooks that cover all of it… or… you can get a subscription to Reminisce magazine, Looking Back, Good Old Days or one of the other nostalgia periodicals and read compelling, quaint, realistic, snippets of life from the turn of the century to the present day.

I’m not shilling any of these publications I simply like them. They remind me of the stories my parents and grandparents told me about life in past decades. Reading about these people is far from the skewed social messages of neo-socialist-Marxist education materials, you get a sense of how real, ordinary people lived… and they have pictures!

The fundamental commonality of the stories in these publications is usually expressed in this way, “We were so poor, but we really didn’t know it, we had food from the farm, a home, and a loving family.” People worked hard and enjoyed the little they had. They had a sense of hard work, and hope for the future. They were individuals, but they had compassion for their fellow man and a duty to their community that can’t be legislated by a government.

(Image: Amanda Stiver)

I can’t recommend these resources enough. Some of the above publishers also produce compilations of articles based on various subjects, for example the Great Depression. They include photographs and short article stories that are a great read to share with young ones (did I mention the pictures?). Getting them interested in these very human stories is an effective gateway to a lifelong love of history. True history.

– Amanda Stiver