I did manage to can up some mushrooms that I got for 69 cents a package. For $2.80 , it made ten nice half-pints. How much does a can of mushrooms cost now days? Probably more than 28 cents. That's why I can.
To can mushrooms, just clean and slice them. Then brown in a bit of oil in a large pot. Add water to cover by an inch and boil for 5 minutes. Spoon the mushrooms and broth into sterilized jars leaving a one-inch headspace, add 1/8 teaspoon of salt to each jar, run a spatula around the edge to remove air bubbles, wipe rims, and place on lids and caps. Process under 10 pounds of pressure (check for what amount of pressure your area requires) for 45 minutes.
Speaking of canning, people always tell me that they would like to can but are afraid to, and I guess when I started out, I probably was also. But as my mother always scolded me when I was afraid to try something, "There's no such word as can't". And "If you say you can't, you're probably right." . So just try it. If you fail, then you fail, but you'll never know until you try. I'm a firm believer that if you can read, you can learn how to do almost anything. And now days we have the advantage of the computer, where there are many how-to videos on line. So there's really no excuse to not do something, if you are motivated enough.
HOW TO STOCK A PANTRY
Each payday I try to find at least one deal and buy as many as I can afford of it. Sometimes it's mushrooms, other times I find dried beans, last month was a great one for meat. You'd be surprised at how quickly you can stock up on things. Even if you only buy one thing. If you are paid biweekly that's 26 times a year or 26 items. Twenty-six items may not seem like much, but when you are really strapped for money, that's twenty-six things that you won't have to buy. As I always say, a well-stocked pantry is better than insurance. Some of my favorite places to look for sales are the reduced-for-quick-sale bin at the grocery store, Big Lots (they always have something interesting), and Aldis. Look after the holidays for sales items. For instance, after St. Patrick's Day I always buy corned beef on sale and can it. During the Thanksgiving holiday you can buy turkeys for cheap. And afterward cranberries go on sale. After Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day, I pick up plain chocolates in holiday shapes that are usually reduced by 50% or more. Chopped up, they make dandy chocolate chunks for baking. The day after Easter is also a good time to find lamb and ham prices reduced.
A PRACTICAL PANTRY
I see a lot of articles and YouTube videos on stocking pantries, and they are so many variations. Personally, I like to gather things that can be used for lots of different purposes, instead of say, ramen noodles, cake mixes, hot cocoa mixes, etc.. that have only one use. I'd start with rice, dry beans and dry milk. Dry milk is great because you can not only make it into milk, but also yogurt (once you get the first batch made you can use it to make the next as so on) Once you have some yogurt made you can make your own cream cheese by simply putting the yogurt in a cheese cloth bundle and suspended it over a bowl for a day to get all the whey out. Use the whey in baking or feed it to the cat.
Next I'd store some cans of vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, peas and green beans. Id' buy some dry onion flakes in bulk, they add so much flavor to food. I'd get some flax for using as an egg substitute. I certainly would include some seasonings, especially salt. People forget that salt is an important mineral we all need. In the olden days, people would settle where there was a source of salt, it's that important. These things, along with the bare bones baking pantry I wrote about last week, would be the basis of my stockpile.
PANTRY STAPLE: POTATOES
I know that potatoes get a bad rap because they are carbs (sigh) and ever since Oprah (seriously, why is anyone looking to Oprah for diet advice?) declared carbs bad, people avoid them like the plague, but in truth they are one of the cheapest and best things you can buy when your funds are low. Whether they are fattening or not depends upon how you cook them. Did you know that an average potato will supply you with 45% of your daily vitamin C? And when you eat them with the skins on they are a great source of potassium which aids in lowering your blood pressure. And they are naturally gluten-free. Oh! and fat-free too. And guess what? In spite of what some people say, they are a vegetable! Plus they are cheap, cheap, cheap. Around here you can buy a fifty pound sack for $7, which equals 14 cents a pound. Not much you can buy for fourteen cents these days. A baked potato with the skin on is a great way to stave off hunger, especially when you are dieting. An average sized potato has only 110 calories. Put just a dab of butter (less than a teaspoon) and salt and pepper and you have a wonderful filling snack, that's a lot better for you than chips. I always have potatoes in my pantry and can't tell you how many times they saved the day for me when I was down to my last pennies and had one more day to go until payday. One of our family's favorite way to eat potatoes is to make latkes or potato pancakes.
Grate a few potatoes, add 1 tablespoon of flour and stir in 1 egg, salt and pepper to taste. Drop into
hot oil in a frying pan (about 1/4- 1/3 inch). Fry until golden brown, turn and fry the other side. Traditionally, these are served with applesauce and sour cream, but my boys always preferred to eat them with cheese melted on top and with ketchup. They never knew that I was making them because the cupboards were bare, they just thought they were a special treat. To this day, they still request them.
Potato soup is also an inexpensive way to use potatoes.
Dice some potatoes and put them in a pot of water to boil with enough water to cover the potatoes by and inch or two. Meanwhile, fry up a couple rashers of bacon. Remove the bacon from the frying pan and add an equal amount of flour to the bacon grease in the pan. Stir the flour over medium heat until it starts to brown and thickens (this is called making a roue) Add the roue to the boiling potatoes once the potatoes have cooked to fork tender. Stir the roue in the potatoes and water to remove any lumps. Cook until the soup thickens. Remove from heat, stir in the bacon (crumbled) and about 1/2 C. milk. Salt and pepper to taste. Celery salt is good sprinkled on this too, if you have some.
We grow our own potatoes and root cellar them. I also can all the small ones and those that have been sliced by the fork when digging them. We eat the canned ones in the spring after the stored ones have grown eyes. Those we keep for planting in the late spring, thus we don't have to buy seed potatoes. We grow an heirloom variety called German Butterball and it's a wonderful flavorful variety. You hardly need butter. We also grow a French fingerling variety. We grow a couple hundred pounds a year on our small 1/2 acre plot. Which just proves, you don't need acres and acres of land to produce a lot of food.
FOUND MONEY, LITERALLY
Yesterday we were coming back home from test driving our truck (it had been at the mechanics) when we noticed something glinting in the snowpile. Lo and behold it was a roll of scratch-off lottery tickets! We live about a block and a half from the gas station/convenience store and debris from there often blows into our yard. Someone there must have dropped the tickets and they blew into our yard. So we brought them inside and dried them off. We won $25!
Whenever you receive found money, apply it to paying off any debt you have. Found money includes tax refunds, birthday and holiday gift money, the dollar found on the street, rebates, etc. Once you have all your debts paid off, create a nest egg for future purchases that put you into debt in the first place, like car loans , for example. You'd be surprised at how those little amounts add up quickly. The point being, be thoughtful about how you use even those nominal amounts and soon you will discover that money is one less thing you have to stress about.
BARE BONES PANTRY RECIPE
This is the most basic of cake recipes. It takes little more time than it does to make one from a box mix. And it tastes so much better! Once you get the basics down, you can dress it up with different flavors of frosting, or add fruits or mini chocolate chips to the batter. Change the flavor by using a different extract than vanilla. I make this recipe every spring with with chopped up strawberries from the garden and I use crushed berries to make the frosting. Today I frosted it with a plain white buttercream and topped it with coconut.
Plain White Cake
1 3/4 C. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C. sugar
1 C. milk (I use buttermilk)
1/3 C. shortening
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
In a med. bowl, beat together the shortening and sugar until light. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
Alternately beat in the flour mixture and the milk until the batter is light and smooth.
Pour into a well-greased 8-inch baking pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
As I said, I always use buttermilk for baking. It makes a more tender crumb plus I just like the old-fashionedness of it. We don't drink milk anyway, so it's just as easy for us to pick up a carton of buttermilk as it is to buy plain milk. I know that you can substitute buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to each cup of milk, but to me, they lack that true flavor you get from the real thing. In our house, buttermilk is a pantry staple. We buy ours from a local dairy and it has beautiful flecks of butter in it. It's a joy to behold.
Well, I'm trying not to be so long-winded this week. Ha! It was a slow week for projects. Besides canning mushrooms we made some beer. My husband likes to do that about once a year. He likes to drink a bottle of it about once a month, just to honor his German heritage. I'm a teetotaler on the other hand. Can't see wasting my precious calories on something that tastes so bad!
Well, that's about it for this week. I hope that your February gets off to a rosy start!