Poor House Gravy Train

I hope none of us end up in the poor house. Do poor houses even exist anymore? I don’t think so. I think we replaced those with our welfare system. No more working on the poor farm. No more working on the prison farm. Just the free handouts. It’s a system that I don’t believe can be sustained. We need to learn how to do things in a sustainable way. Whether it’s building from sustainable, renewable products, growing our own food or governing our country, we need to focus on whether we can sustain the ideas that we propose. We need to approach the world as though it were a marathon. Can we sustain this pace? Do we need to make adjustments now so we can make it to the end of the race, or will we drop out before the end?

Shelter, water, and food are essential to life. Shelter is generally provided and often an afterthought in today’s society. People are beginning to think more about it in these last few months. People are beginning to feel threatened. The thought is finally beginning to intrude, “Where will I go if I lose my house?” The old ideas of thrift are beginning to return. So where can we be more thrifty? Where can we cut back and save money?

So back to the poor house food or how we can pinch pennies to stay in our house and out of the poor house. This isn’t going to be about clipping coupons and buying in bulk. There are other people who write about those areas. This is more about a trip down memory lane to the rocky hills of a farm. I’ve written about the brown beans, the lamb’s quarter and poke salad. There are other areas that seem like a luxury now. There were steaks, hamburger, heart and liver. Now days I don’t cook steak often, nor use much red meat. Not because I’m a vegetarian or opposed to red meat, it’s the price of meat plain and simple. It would almost be sacrilege in my family to be a vegetarian, I come from a family that raises beef cattle. It’s not a big operation. There are no feedlots. There are no veal shacks. The pastures aren’t overgrazed (unless it’s a dry year and things get really tight then the grass gets skimpy). There was a steer that was fed up every year for eating. He was sent to the local slaughterhouse (There’s another small town business that’s disappearing) to be packaged and then stored in the huge freezer. Since we weren’t buying the meat in the grocery store it was cheap for us. I doubt I’ll be able to feed my children the way my mother fed me. There will be less meat loaf, little or no steak, and fewer hamburgers.

I read on various blogs and forums about people buying bags of rice. White rice is good. I like white rice but I think it could get old really quick by itself. One of my memories of childhood is tuna gravy over rice. People don't seem to make gravy anymore. With all the weight loss concerns, we've been taught to leave off the gravy. It's fattening and unnecessary. Tuna gravy is just a white sauce/gravy with a can of tuna dumped in for flavor, texture and nutrition. Place a bed of rice on the plate and ladle on the gravy. Right now it's probably not the best thing for your waist. If times get harder, we may all be eating a lot less and have lost a bit of weight, in which case, we'll be looking for a few extra calories.

So let's look at gravy a bit more. There are infinite varieties of gravy. I could do the whole Forest Gump name all the forms of gravy but I'll refrain. I'm fond of white gravy myself. Just look around the pantry and you'll find all sorts of things to either toss in the gravy or to toss the gravy over. If you have a large freezer for food storage, look around for a restaurant supply store. Here on the West Coast of America we have a chain called Cash and Carry. They are open to the public. You'll find there are big bags of crumbled sausage, Canadian bacon, link sausage, all in large packages that cost less per ounce than the small individual packaging you find at the local grocery store. Just look around and imagine things swimming in a creamy white sauce. As long as the electricity holds out to power the freezer, you can have a ready supply of tasty protein to toss into your gravies.

So you've got a tasty gravy, now what? Put something under it and chow down. Got bread? Got bread that doesn't taste quite as fresh as you'd like? Toast it and top it with your gravy. Getting sick of that white rice? Add the tuna or sausage gravy with some salt and pepper. If you're lucky enough to have some hamburger, steak or chicken, bread it and fry it in chicken fried steak fashion and top with plain white gravy. A bit of corn or green beans on the side and you've got a meal.

For those of you who have only made gravy by opening a jar, or mixing water with the ingredients of a package, here are a few tips. I have to admit. I most often end up with lumpy gravy or scorched gravy and various other incarnations of gravy. It comes from doing too many things at once. It doesn't bother me. I like my gravy, lumpy, scorched or otherwise.

Basic Gravy Recipe

4 tablespoons margarine or butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups water, white wine, chicken stock or milk

Melt the butter over low heat, then add the liquid and the flour, stir for 3-4 minutes with a fork or wire whisk. Now that you have a basic sauce or gravy, you can start flavoring it. A pinch of salt, a can of tuna, a handful of sausage or a heavy grinding of black pepper are good starting points. Keep stirring until the gravy reaches the desired thickness.

Next up on the menu....cornbread!

Food of My Youth

It’s been an interesting few weeks. We’ve seen unpresidented swings in the stock market. We’ve seen a bailout/rescue bill fail in the House of Representatives. We’ve seen the Senate take up the same bill and add favorite tax cuts and incentives to the bill. The Senate passed the bill…so did the House. So we’ve been bailed out. The stock market didn’t come bounding back after the bill was passed.

How does this affect me? How does this affect you? Does it affect us at all? I believe that it will impact our world. Whether your world is in rural America, suburbia or the inner city. There will be a ripple happen. Whether that ripple is a result of the original cause (the need for a bail out) or whether it is the result of the bail out itself, we may never know. I believe that we are in for a rough ride ahead. This bail out plan may not have the desired results. I’ve been reading about the Great Depression in America. It is believed that the bailout plans instituted then may have actually prolonged the depression. By trying to do good, the natural recovery of the economy was prolonged. I am not an economist. I have not studied these things in depth. I openly admit when I do not have all the answers.

What I do know, however, is that we must begin to change the way that we are living. We cannot continue to live in the credit bubble that has been providing the livestyle for many of us. I am not happy with my current credit state. I would like to have less credit and more money in the bank. My plan for the future is to pay off as many bills as possible and get back to saving. I plan to change the way I eat, the way I shop, and the way I cook.

Lately, I’ve been reading lots of food books. They are interesting and tend to involve travel and eating the local foods. Then I realized that many of these books were written by wealthy people; people who every year spend a month in Maine. I began to wonder why poor people didn’t write food books. Is it that we are boring? Surely the food of poor folks is just as interesting as that of the more affluent. I began to think back on the food of my youth. I grew up poor; one of six kids on a rocky flint and limestone farm in hillbilly country. What did we eat? So I sat one afternoon and started listed the foods that I grew up eating. There were always the brown beans. There were pots of brown beans with an oxtail. Not a ham hock, as mother attended a church with psuedo-Jewish traditions, so there was no pork eaten. The beans were always served with a vinegary relish called chow chow. We made chow chow every fall. It consisted of all the garden leftovers that would die with the first frost. Cabbage, green peppers, green tomatoes, sweet red peppers, cucumbers and onions all ground in the hand grinder then cooked with vinegar, sugar, and spices. It smelled heavenly when cooking and going into the jars. It tasted heavenly during the winter over plates of brown beans with thick homemade bread spread with butter. If the milk cow was giving milk, there would be homemade butter. Hard and tough to spread but which melted into the hot slices of freshly baked bread.

The beans might have been my first thought but as I wrote I realized that our diet was quite varied. There were the greens picked wild from the field and cooked down. These were lamb’s quarter or poke salad. From the garden there was swiss chard and mustard greens. Tossed into the big pot with water and salt and cooked down. They were often served beside the brown beans. There was a glass cruet filled with vinegar to pour over the greens once they were on your plate.

I find the regional differences in eating styles amusing. My husband seems to have little reference to vinegary foods. I’m not even sure that he eats relish on his hot dogs. Perhaps it’s my Southern upbringing or my German genes. I have a love of sauerkraut, pickled herring, beans with chow chow, a freezer coleslaw that has a vinegar base and greens with vinegar. In my more adult years, I gravitated to vinegar and salt potato chips. Vinegar seems to be a staple of life for me. I feel that it is a good thing. Vinegar is a good preservative.

One of my recent joys is fermentation. It’s not exactly recent to me. It’s more like a rediscovery of something that I haven’t done in many years. I used to help my mother prepare cabbage for sauerkraut. Many delicious things come from things that most people throw out. We’ve become so out of touch with how food is manufactured that we’re afraid of anything that doesn’t look surgically sterile. It never ceases to amuse me when people want to discard sour cream that has been sitting out for a few hours. I am certain that they are unaware of how to sour cream, cheese, and yogurt are made. It is that very process of letting the milk sit and sour that creates these wonderful concoctions. I often laugh about my kids making ricotta cheese in their lost sippy cups. But the truth is that it’s a pretty good start on a pretty good cheese.

I think we need to start getting back in touch with our food. It can save us in the future. Save us from wasting perfectly good food. Save our life from starvation because we fear eating perfectly good food. We need to get over these food phobias.

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