Foodie by Nature, Frugal by Nurture

"Waste not, want not." I heard that constantly when I was a kid. I never understood it, mind you. I thought, if I didn't want it why couldn't I waste it? Seriously, I was an adult before I got it. But I must have soaked it up, along with: "Who left the light on in the den? The place is lit up like a jeezly Christmas tree!" and should my skinny sister not finish the entire pot of tea she greedily brewed with two - count 'em, TWO! - tea bags, then Mother would accuse her of having "...eyes bigger than her belly!", and they would fight, and sister would cry, but that's a whole other story; probably best told on the couch.

I know it's hard to see in this ancient, little photo, but that's me in the blue coat, eating an apple. In my other hand, a salt shaker, because from a very early age, I was a flavour junkie. I salted my apples, bite by bite. Still do. It's freakin' delicious! Try it!

In our kitchen, mould was not a sign of food gone bad, it was merely a slight inconvenience, an impediment that simply needed to be scraped off. A vague green tinge on meat? Have no fear. Just cook the hell out of it!

Father would routinely reheat yesterday’s coffee dregs in a saucepan. I have to admit, I will reheat my tea over and over. I hate waste, too. Wasting or not wasting is a learned behaviour. It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt. I think it’s true, especially where abundant food is concerned. We’ve lost respect for food – en masse - and routinely throw it away (and consume it) without thought or respect.

In my childhood home, nothing went to waste. If something couldn’t safely be eaten – you know, such as actual garbage or a dearly departed pet – it went on the compost heap, then onto Father’s garden for his veggies and back onto our plates – eventually!

Mother shelling peas from Father's garden. That's me lurking behind her chair.

Even bathwater was reused. First, it was shared – an idea that might sound gross by today’s standards – by Mother to me. “I’m out of the tub!” she’d call, and it would be my turn in the now lukewarm, grayish water, a slick of Avon’s Skin So Soft floating on the surface and clinging to the sides of the tub. My sister and I, who had to slither around in it not by choice, called it "skin so slimy". Then, after my greasy soak, Father insisted that the water was directed down onto the lawn, via a green garden hose dangling down from the bathroom window. Once primed, it slurped all that nutritious water down to the greenest patch of grass we had (other than the lush stuff over the septic tank).

My parents lived through the Great Depression and World War ll. They understood going without. I was a child of the 1960s and ‘70s, and while it was a time of plenty, they instilled these healthy and wise attitudes in me, and I remain eternally grateful. I too scrape off the mould, and if it passes the sniff test, eat it anyway. And I don’t get sick. I expect my immune system has been beefed up by, well, my share of questionable beef.

Mother’s cooking was informed by all she lived through and all that she had gone without. Her repertoire was limited and simple – unless company was coming, then she went all out! When she cooked for us, we ate simply, boiled things: mince, potatoes, turnip, chicken, stewed tomatoes and stuff from cans. When Father cooked, food was still simple, but more often than not, fried in butter. And it was sometimes foraged, fished or home-grown: mushrooms, lambsquarters, fiddleheads, perch, a fresh tomato, spaghetti squash roasted in the oven with butter and our own maple syrup.

Desserts were a regular thing, but also quite simple and seasonal: stewed rhubarb and strawberries, Mother's creamy rice pudding baked in a big sunny yellow Pyrex bowl - it graces my kitchen now, its white inside etched with a golden ring from batch after sweet batch; or a flat single-layer chocolate cake, that she’d slice in half and fill with her homemade jam, then ice with the most basic chocolate frosting, not even buttercream, just icing sugar, cocoa, and milk.

Mother cooked from a ragged and stained Five Roses Cookbook that I'm thrilled to own and cook from myself every now and then. Like now!

Dutch Chocolate Cake from Mother's Five Roses Cookbook with My Homemade Blueberry Jam and a Tweak or Two

I've been replacing milk in a few recipes - baking, pancakes - with full fat grass-fed yogurt or kefir, and it works beautifully! Fluffiest pancakes ever! For this cake, I start with the Five Roses recipe for Dutch Black Cake but change it up a fair bit. In the middle, I slather my homemade blueberry jam - recipe below.

Ingredients:

1/2 (125 mL) cup butter

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp (75 mL) cocoa powder

1 cup (250 mL) sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder

1/4 tsp (1 mL) fine sea salt

1/2 cup (125 mL) whole grass-fed yogurt, kefir, whole milk, soy or nut milk

2 free-run eggs

1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Butter the sides and bottom of an 8 x 8-inch (20 x 20 cm) pan; line the bottom with parchment; set aside. I like to drop a tablespoon of sugar into the pan and sift around to coat the sides. It makes the edges extra crunchy-good.

Into a heat-proof bowl set onto of a pot of simmering water (a bain Marie - see the nifty little sketch by Sophia Saunders below...) or double boiler, add the butter and cocoa. Stir continually, until melted, combined and smooth. Set aside to cool somewhat.

Into a large bowl, stir together the sugar, four, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In another the bowl of a stand mixer (or with a whisk or hand electric beaters...as you wish!) beat together the yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. With the beaters still going, add the chocolate butter; keep beating to combine well.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients and beat briskly until well combined; about 1 minute.

Transfer batter to prepared pan, spread to the edges and bake for 30 - 45 minutes or until a pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Time depends on liquid used and actual oven heat.

When done, allow to cool for about 5 minutes before turning it out of the pan onto a cooling rack. You may want to run a butter knife all around the edges first.

Allow to cool completely on a cake rack, before the next steps. This should take an hour or two. If you try to cut it too soon, it will crumble and may even break!

Once completely cool, use a long, sharp, serrated bread knife, slice the cake as evenly as possible through the middle.

Using an offset spatula, spread your favourite jam all over the bottom layer; go as thick as you like, and go right to the edges - the dribbles are sexy! Return the top layer and enjoy as is with a dollop of whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or ice with your favourite frosting. It's also pretty dusted with a bit of icing sugar just before serving; that's how I like it, though I wouldn't say no to a scoop of vanilla ice cream too.

Here's the recipe for my jam. It was published in the LCBO's Food & Drink Magazine, Spring 2016. (Photo: Food & Drink)

Blueberry & Sparkling Red Moscato Jelly

Making jam is easy, but you do need a few pieces of essential equipment: heatproof jars, a wide-mouth funnel, a large pot and patience. For the novice, an all-in-one kit is a great starting point; however, with or without a canning kit, you can make delicious preserves like this one at home. If you skip the sterilizing (hot water bath) step, it just means the jam won’t be shelf-stable, and you’ll need to store the sealed jars in the fridge or freezer.

Ingredients:

4 cups (1 L) blueberries, fresh or frozen (see TIP)

1 cup (250 mL) sparkling red Moscato wine

6 cups (1.5 L) sugar

Juice of 1 large lemon, about ⅓ cup (80 mL)

1 pouch (85 mL) liquid pectin

Method:

Before you start cooking, pop a plate into the freezer; you’ll use that in a little bit to test the readiness of the jam.

Into a large, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat, add the blueberries, wine, sugar and lemon juice. Bring up to a good boil, stirring constantly and watching closely, in case it starts to foam and boil over.

When it comes to a boil, add the whole pouch of liquid pectin—try to squeeze out every drop; you need it!—stir in and bring back up to the boil. Boil for about 1 minute stirring constantly.

Spoon a drop of hot jam onto that chilled plate and pop it back into the freezer; if it begins to gel or set within 30 seconds or so, it’s time to bottle. If not, boil for another minute, then retest.

To bottle, transfer the still-hot jam into warm, sterilized jars. Don’t overfill; about ¼ inch (5 mm) from the top is perfect.

Pop on the lids, tighten, and finish canning by submerging the filled, tightly sealed jars into a very large pot of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Remove from the water bath and allow to cool on the counter. You should hear a chorus of metallic clinks and clunks coming from the kitchen, as the seals set tight! Makes about 6½ cups (1.625 L)

TIP : I tested this recipe with both fresh and frozen blueberries, and while both work well, it’s easier to find wild blueberries frozen. Wild berries are smaller and, I think, tastier!

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© 2016 by Signe Langford