Creative Recipes: Food and Baking Substitutions for Lean Times

Creative recipes using food and baking substitutions during lean times, including recipes for muffins, soup, granola and natural fruitcake.

Creative homemade granola

Early spring can be a lean time on the homestead, what with last year's supplies being nearly used up and next season's garden not even in the ground yet.


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Early spring can be a lean time on the homestead, what with last year's supplies being nearly used up and next season's garden not even in the ground yet. Or — to look on the positive side — it's a good season to dig out the odds and ends of grain, dried fruit, stored vegetables, or what have you and get creative with them . . . with the help of some highly adjustable recipes like the following.

After two and a half years of marriage I've started to compile my own creative recipes . . . and, since I dislike the narrow confinements of most cooking directions, I've loosened a few formulas somewhat to allow for choice. I find this method refreshing and much more educational than just following orders.

Here are some samples of my "play-it-by-ear" food and baking substitution cookery.

Creative Muffin Recipe

[1] 2 cups whole-wheat flour. Use your imagination and substitute 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the following for part of the measurement:

Rye, barley, triticale, soy, or buckwheat flour. (Since the last two are very heavy, add an extra teaspoon or more baking powder or half teaspoon or more baking soda to the recipe for each half cup or more used.)

Uncooked hot breakfast cereals

Bran or wheat germ

Dry cooked grains such as rice or wheat

Any other flours or grain available. Oats or cornmeal can be substituted up to 1 cup. Experiment!

[2] 1 cup milk. This can be dried, goat, soy, butter, or sour. (If the liquid is acid use baking soda for leavening in Step 8.) To sour sweet milk, mix 1 cup with 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar and let the combination stand in a warm oven or similar place.

[3] 1 egg (Or make egg replacer: Combine 1 heaping tablespoon soy flour with 1/2 cup water, boil the two ingredients slowly and stir them constantly until they're thick. Strain the mixture and add a little butter or oil.)

[4] 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (omit or reduce if you need or want to . . . or substitute sea salt or tamari).

[5] 3 to 4 tablespoons melted butter or oil. I don't know a substitute. Do you? ( Try lard — MOTHER.)  

[6] 1/2 to 1 cup raisins, or any of the following:

Dates, currants, figs, or other dried fruit

2 small or 1 medium tart, green summer apples, cored, pared, and finely chopped or grated.

1 to 1 /2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Cranberries, peaches, bananas, or other fresh fruit


Nuts or roasted soybeans

A combination of the above.

[7] 1 teaspoon or more vanilla (Optional . . . or use orange, lemon, or almond extract, etc.).

[8] 3 to 4 teaspoons baking powder. If you make the muffins with buttermilk, sour milk, or sweet milk soured with all lemon juice or vinegar, substitute 1/2 to I teaspoon baking soda . . . or 1/2 to one teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon soda.

[9] 1 tablespoon honey. You can use up to 1/4 of a cup . . . or substitute maple syrup, malt flavoring, or molasses … or omit all such ingredients and sweeten the batter with fruit juice. Please don't add sugar! It's very bad for you.

Mix all your choices thoroughly and bake the batter in a well-greased muffin pan at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the cakes are raised and golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the dough comes out clean. The muffins are best served hot. Yield: about one dozen muffins.  

Creative Soup Recipe

Small amount of butter (if desired)
1 tablespoon flour
Carrots (clean well and cut in strips, chunks, or rounds)
Celery (with tops)
Corn (hulled)
Cabbage (tear into pieces)
Turnips Beets (use the greens too)
Leftover vegetables, or others such as seaweed
Barley, rice, wheat, or other grains
Bones and chopped meat (if you eat it)

In a large soup pot, melt the butter — if you're using any — and thicken it with 1 tablespoon flour or an equivalent. Prepare about 6 cups of the other ingredients (singly or in combination), place them in the kettle, and cover them with stock (if you have some). Otherwise, use water and add any of the following:

Leftover gravy or bouillon
1 tablespoon or more miso (for winter soup)
Tamari, Kelp, etc.

Cook the mixture as slowly as possible, with the lid on tight (this brings out the flavor). When the vegetables are almost tender, season the soup as you wish (garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, a bay leaf, oregano, lemon juice, butter, sprouts, etc, if you like, crack a raw egg into the pot.) Continue the cocking until the ingredients are just done. Serve the brew with homemade whole-wheat toast or crackers.

For bean or pea soup, use the following singly or in any combination:

Soy, lima, black, pinto, or navy beans
Green peas

Add — if you wish — grains, meat, and chopped onion, and proceed as above. Chili is a good seasoning.

Creative Granola Recipe

2 to 1 cups rolled eats
2 to 5 cups rolled wheat flakes
1 to 2 cups wheat germ
1/2 cup bran
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 to 1 cup sesame seeds
1/2 to 2 cups coconut, shredded
1 to 2 cups chapped nuts (peanuts, almonds, or others)
1 to 2 cups dark raisins
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup chopped prunes
1 cup chopped dried apples
1 cup chopped dried apricots (or other dried fruit)
1/4 cup powdered milk (optional)
1/8 cup brewer's yeast (optional)
1/2 cup oil or melted butter
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup (or use 1 full cup of this sweetening and omit the fat immediately above)
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon vanilla or almond flavoring

The above are possibilities, to be used according to your creativeness. Take 10 to 13 drops of the dry ingredients . . . being sure to include oat flakes, wheat flakes, and/or wheat germ, and at least a couple of others: nut and/or seeds, fruit, and/or coconut. Mix these well with the shortening-and-sweetener combination and flavoring

Spread the granola out thin on a cookie sheet and bake it in a 350 degree oven from 20 to 30 minutes. Watch the mixture carefully and stir it now and again until it's golden brown. Then cool the cereal completely for storage in airtight containers. This is good as a breakfast food, or on baked apples and other wholesome desserts.

Creative Natural Fruitcake Recipe

1/2 to 1 cup honey (for light fruitcakes) . . . molasses (far dark)
1 cup oil or melted butter
8 eggs, separated
2 cups whole-wheat flour (or other, or a combination )
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice, and
1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves, mace, and ginger
1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla (optional, or use lemon, orange, or almond extract or some other flavoring)
1/4 cup fruit wine, rum, grape juice, or apple mead
1-1/2 pounds raisins, currants, and/or dates in any combination
Rind of 3 oranges and 3 lemons, grated (optional)

2 pounds mixed dried fruit (apricots, apples, pears, figs, prunes, etc.) — please, not sugared — or 1 pound mixed dried fruit and 1 pound coarsely chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, roasted soybeans, etc.) . . . or 2 pounds chopped nuts or roasted soybeans.

Blend the honey or molasses, shortening, and egg yolks. Sift together the flours and spices. (Reserve a small amount to sprinkle on the dried fruits — if you use there — and add the remaining flour and the coated fruit to the egg mixture). Stir in whatever rinds and nuts you may be using. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them in gently.

Turn the batter into oiled loaf pans (without quite filling them). Oil some waxed paper, lay it over the tops of the the tops of the containers, and secure it with string. Put a large pan of hot water an the lower rack of the oven, set the cakes above it and bake them at 300 degrees about three hours. (The tops should be golden brown and cracked, and a toothpick inserted into the centers should come out clean.) Cool the loaves thoroughly. Then turn them out, wrap them well, and store them in a container along with some cut apples to keep them moist. If the cakes dry out anyhow, you can pour over them a little more of whatever liquid you used in their making.

(Fruitcakes keep a long time, either frozen or packed as Teresa describes. If you have dried fruit and nuts left from last harvest, you can make the above recipe now — before the outdoor work gets really overwhelming — and enjoy the loaves near fall. Incidentally, wedding cakes are traditionally supposed to be of this type . . . and if you or any of your friends are getting married shortly, you might like to revive the custom. — MOTHER.)