Reflections on life, marriage, and a young woman who is constantly learning how much there will always be to learn!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Culinary Arts on a Budget #1

This is the dichotomy I am forced to work with: I'm rather a foodie at heart. I love all the elements of an exquisite meal: fresh and flavorful produce, fine cheeses, tender meats rubbed with fragrant herbs, artisan-quality breads and pastas...I could no doubt spend many hundreds of dollars a month on groceries if I let myself! However, I cannot let myself. I must be creative in finding ways to satisfy my taste for quality on a small budget.

Hence, my current frenzied study of this topic ("frenzied" is what comes from trying to read and digest 10 books from the library before my time runs out;o):

Rule #1 appears to be: Learn to shop and cook seasonally. Not only are the in-season foods tastier, they are usually cheaper than the imported or hot-house selections.

There were no strawberries at the first Thanksgiving. Wild New England cranberries, perhaps. Strawberries, no. The Pilgrims naturally worked with local produce and what was in season. So did our grandparents and more remote ancestors. Tomatoes in December? Try South America. Canning and mass global distribution of produce have conditioned us to expect all foods all year round. I myself have been beguiled by the engineered good looks of off-season produce, but one taste of carboard is enough to send me reaching for my napkin to expel the offending counterfeit. Nothing is more flavorless than a supermarket tomato in winter, but a true vine-ripened specimen in summer is nothing short of divine.

~French Women Don't Get Fat

(By the way, French Women Don't Get Fat is an excellent resource to motivate you to search for culinary quality, and give up the boring and fattening substitutes. Warning: Reading this book will make you extremely hungry. And you may be tempted (as I am) to head to the nearest specialty food shops and gourmet markets to pile your cart high with those delectable, quality foodstuffs the authoress dangles in front of our imaginations. But this is where creativity must come in, for those of us on a budget!)

I did an internet search to locate information on when various fruits and vegetables are in season in my area. has some very helpful information on produce seasons and farms (area by area), canning and preserving, recipes, etc.

The fresher the produce, the better. One of my favorite things to do is go to a nearby orchard in March and pick my own fresh strawberries. There's absolutely nothing like just-picked strawberries, sweet juice dripping as you take a bite. I haven't been in a few years, and never paid attention to the prices before. But it's probably not the cheapest source. After all, you're paying for an experience (and some of the best strawberries you will ever taste in your life!) Likewise with other types of farms and farmers markets. Nevertheless, I'm going to be checking into these regional sources and comparing costs vs. quality. It may be worth it to spend a little bit more on some types of produce for excellent quality, especially since I'm trying to make fresh produce a bigger portion of our diet! Also, consider the fact that a couple or a family can get a fun "date" out of the deal, better and more satisfying than most of the things we spend money on to be entertained!

Last but not least, preparation is important. I found a WONDERFULLY helpful book at the library called The Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook by Andrea Chesman (Also look for it on Amazon). I haven't had to time read it in it's entirety, but have looked through it to find a five-hundred page book stuffed with information on gardening, preparing and seasoning produce, and peppered with little personal anecdotes and helpful tips. I plan to buy this book, because I want to be able to reference it over and over again!


Blogger Mrs.B. said...

I love these types of posts....please keep them coming. They're very helpful!

3:17 PM, March 02, 2006  
Blogger deleted said...

Hi Erin,
I really enjoyed this post--I agree that even though it may cost more to buy organic, locally grown veggies, there are lots of benefits that outweigh the added costs. Here is a cookbook I use a lot that you may also enjoy, because it's written by a central Texas organic farmer about eating seasonally for our region:

So, the ingredients are really specific to our area. The recipes are economical because they use few ingredients and are vegetarian, and it's a delightful read apart from the recipes about life on the farm. I think you might enjoy it!

9:55 PM, March 16, 2006  
Blogger deleted said...

There is also a children's book about farm life on that link; the cookbook is:

"Eating in Season: Recipes from Boggy Creek Farm" by Carol Ann Sayle

9:56 PM, March 16, 2006  

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