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

Cooking Up History: ‘Kitchen Klatter’ and Other Resources of Home Economy

During the course of reading a fabulous book called The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyszewski (to learn more please read my post here), the author references and used as source material the databases available to us through the digitizing of many publications from the early 20th century. One such database is called HEARTH – Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, and History – maintained by Cornell University (see link here).

The HEARTH collection encompasses a stunning array of books, journals, and articles on the art of home economy, domestic science, and home making. A treasure trove…if you know how to value it.

Image: Amanda Stiver

Image: Amanda Stiver

Shooting from the hip: I’m a traditionalist and a sentimentalist, so I find the underappreciated quantity of research and practical information produced by the early 20th century home economists a tragedy. When did we stop valuing the efficient, sanitary, effective, imaginative, joyful making of the home? Have we stopped living in homes? Do we somehow not need to have economic savvy anymore? Is sanitation a thing of the past?

The modern feminist movement has achieved many of its purposes, but unfortunately in many cases it has done so at the expense of and through degrading the contribution and acumen of home makers, “home women” as Przybyszewski puts it, and home economists. This is short sighted, and rather sad. We have suffered for underappreciating the value of women who choose to focus their lives on making a home and raising children.

So what to do? Legislation? Protests? Long social media rants? Um, as if there is any shortage of those things these days.

How about simple appreciation?

Start with a little knowledge. Look into some of the published works of the generation that valued home economics. Find out what savvy they accrued and put it to work!

The HEARTH collection is one place to start, but another is the folksy magazine produced by Leanna Field Driftmier (1886-1976) an Iowa farm wife and educator. She produced a highly popular and long running early radio show on home making topics, and later translated that knowledge to a newsletter-style magazine, Kitchen Klatter.

The Iowa Heritage database preserves many issues of this publication. Take a moment to explore them. Try some of the recipes, and maybe you will find a practical tip or two to make your life a little more efficient and economic! Don’t undervalue these kind of resources in your quest to understand the past. They aren’t flashy, but they help us understand the daily lives of our predecessors in the past.

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver