Frugal Living: Stretching Your Homesteading Grocery Dollar

Homesteader Cathy Johnson shares her dollar stretching tips to make the most out of your food budget.
By Cathy Johnson
November/December 1971
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Food is obviously a natural for this kind of mileage cause it's so easy to recycle. First dinner — you know — then leftover bones and vegetable scraps and cooking water, then soup, then garbage, then compost, then new soil ... then more vegetables.
ILLUSTRATION: CATHY JOHNSON


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Currently homesteading in Missouri with her husband (Sleepy), some goats, cats, chickens and rabbits—is past and present master of the art of a makin' do style of frugal living...as Cathy Johnson's art work and following lively description of three days with a hambone will indicate. 

I've found I can beat the circle of frantic consumerism, ecological rape and mountains of trash and garbage — and really feel good at the same time — with mileage.

No, not automobile mileage. I'm talking about stretching a dollar and every possible bit of distance out of whatever Sleepy and I consume. Sometimes I even feel we've become really creative and expanded our imaginations to fantastic lengths in thinking of just one more way to use something before putting it in its final (if there ever really is a "final") resting place.

Food is obviously a natural for this kind of mileage cause it's so easy to recycle in order to maintain a frugal living style. First dinner — you know — then leftover bones and vegetable scraps and cooking water, then soup, then garbage, then compost, then new soil ... then more vegetables.

Take a ham bone for starters. I often ask the corner grocer for a small chunk of ham to cook with beans and he usually gives me a piece about 4" by 5" — with a bone — for eleven cents. We slice off a little the first night, cut up a chunk leftover cheese, dice some green onions (as much of the top as is crisp, saving the rest in a keepin' bowl) or a regular onion (putting the soggy outside-the skin is even useful as a plant-based dye — with the green onion tops) and a little celery (save the trimmings). Add this to four or five beaten eggs, a little milk, salt, pepper and some fresh chives, garlic or sage . . . and you've got an omelet, a little "garbage" and a chunk of left-over ham.

By the way, we use flake salt from a feed store. It doesn't have any aluminum in it to make it pour (as "regular" salt does) and 25 pounds cost about as much as ONE pound of grocery salt.

Anyway, back to the omelet, "garbage" and leftover pork.

You can serve a wilted lettuce salad with that omelet by frying a little bacon and pouring the excess grease into a can for — you guessed it! — soap. Save out only about three tablespoons for the salad of leaf lettuce (outside leaves go into the keepin' bowl), chopped green onions, crumbled bacon, a little celery and any of the celery trimmings that aren't too far gone. Those trimmings that are beyond use, of course, join the rest of the "garbage". Mix a little (maybe one tablespoon) of vinegar, half a teaspoon of sugar or honey and some salt into your salad and pour on the hot bacon grease. You'll soon find that you've eaten an omelet and a wilted salad and ended up with a bowl of "garbage" . . . which is really the beginning of a delicious soup!

Next night — if you're lucky enough to have soup stock already made — cook some beans in it. If you don't have the stock, boil the beans in plain water and add some more of that ham (save a little bit, though, along with the bone).

If you soak your beans beforehand (it isn't necessary), keep the water to cook the beans in . . . and anytime you boil or steam vegetables, save the water for soup. This liquid keeps best in the freezer (it gets slimy if you leave it too long in the fridge and then you have to skip a step and put it directly on the compost heap or — even more directly — water a plant with it. Not in the house though . . . it smells.

OK. Now you have a whole batch of bones (you've been saving 'em for a while), a quart or so of vegetable cooking water and a big bowlful of "garbage". You're all set to make soup stock.

If you don't have enough bones, though, don't despair. Check with your supermarket. Ours often sells a large bag of perfectly good "dog bones" on special for only 10¢.

Your supermarket may also let you take bruised tomatoes, wilted celery and the outside leaves of vegetables for stock . . . usually for free. We have a deal with our little grocery which nets us all the weekend-wilted vegetable trimmings on Monday morning before the arrival of the housewife brigade (apparently the girls don't like to see wilted celery . . . I LOVE it.)

But back to the soup.

Put all the bones—any kind, just don't mix fish and meat bones together—in the vegetable cooking water and add about 1/4 cup vinegar to leach out the calcium. Salt now, too. You don't usually salt something until it's almost done, but in this case you want to add the salt early to help draw the juices out of the meat left on the bones. It makes the stock more savory.

Simmer over low heat for three or four hours. In the last fifteen minutes or so add all that "garbage" you've been saving . . . only call it "leftover", if you like. Call it quietly, though, because you'd never get by with serving it if anybody SAW it. Strain the pot and let it cool. Skim off any fat that hardens on top (put it in the soap can) . . . and you've got real, calcium-rich soup stock.

Everything you strained out of the stock will now be useable again in one form or another. The animals will love the bones or you can carve them, make jewelry or fill a low spot in the drive with them . . . or take a sledge hammer to the bones and crush 'em into meal for your compost heap or garden.

The strained-out "leftovers", now that they've added their sometimes—superior vitamin content to the soup stock (yep, peelings and skins and like that often have more vitamins than the vegetables and fruits they surround), can be added to the compost heap or fed to the chickens . . . who make manure and eggs.

But I digress. What was I really talking about? Oh yes, the stock. It's great for any kind of soup or stew . . . potato, bean, beef or whatever.

In our case, we added that last piece of ham—cut up fine—potatoes with the skin on and carrots . . . and, at the last minute, some finely-chopped celery (almost like water chestnuts when still crispy). Wow! There won't be much of that soup left to recycle . . . it's the best I ever tasted. And that makes three meals for two people from one 4" by 5" chunk of ham!


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