Avoid Wasting Food: Make Soup!

I know I just wrote about soup.

Actually, I wrote about a specific soup, and gave a recipe.

Now, I am just writing about soup in general, because in one of the comments about the Broccoli-Cheese and Kale Soup, a reader told me about something a cookbook author said that just got me all riled up and gave me the twitches.I could feel the indignant Depression-era farm wife who was my Grandma rising up from the grave and urging me to write a harangue worthy of Gram, my city-dwelling other grandmother, whose razor-edged tongue was known to often wither any damned fool ignoramus who dared utter a silly idea in her presence.

In other words, my grandmothers, if they were alive to hear such a thing would be set off on a tizzy of combined laughter and scorn such that I feel moved to speak for them, and stand up for the ideals which I was taught in childhood, ideals which could serve many people well in this desperate economy. Ideals that have made me loathe to throw any morsel of edible food away, because I was raised by people who lived through the Great Depression, and who worked with their hands to grow and produce the food they ate. Such folk do not look too kindly upon the waste of food. Rather, these folk tend to see it as sacrilege, and I most heartily agree.

So, what got me all het up?

Laura said, “I am glad to hear you say all that about older veggies and aromatics. One of my cookbooks, which I like otherwise, makes this big deal about how it is passe or some such nonsense to make soup out of anything less than perfect onions, etc, and every time I throw an older onion into a soup (there’s one in the chicken stock simmering away for the soup I am cooking right now with the older sweet potato) I think well good lord if I listened to that book I’d be throwing away a perfectly edible onion. After all before mass transit those onions would be looking pretty sad by now in the north but people still used them!”

I hear you, sister! Preach on, can I get an amen?

Amen.

Passe?

Since when is frugality passe? I mean, really. That is just such utter nonsense, I am half-tempted to just guffaw and walk away, but no, I think that opinions like this need to be confronted and answered because they are so wrong it isn’t even funny.

I mean, I once had a commenter on one of my recipes where I had used dried thyme leaves say, and I am not making this up, “No one uses dried herbs anymore–it is just so passe.”

Well pardon me, Mr. Passepants. That is what I wanted to say, but I refrained, since it was a cheap shot, and I didn’t feel like being a twitchy twit that day. But now, I will say it, not just to that guy, but to the unknown cookbook author and to the one chef in culinary school who saw me use a rubbery carrot to flavor and color a court bouillon for poaching salmon and said, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

(What is it about American’s quest for “the perfect—-fill in the blank with the name of a fruit or vegetable?” This quest for perfect produce is what has led us to beautiful but tasteless Red Delicious apples, huge, perfectly smooth skinned pumpkins with watery, tasteless flesh and giant, sweet-smelling strawberries that taste like styrofoam. It is all a passel of aberrant behavior on the part of food marketers and people who eat with their eyes, not their mouths–in other words, they want food that is pretty rather than food that tastes good.)

So, here I am, saying it, loud and proud–Pardon me, all you passepants-wearing elitist food snobs in the world, but when you go on about how using less than perfectly fresh vegetables and herbs in food is passe, you are making asses of yourselves and are just showing the rest of us how out of touch you are with the fact that food is not just art–it is meant to satisfy and sustain the souls and bodies of human beings.

And lots of those human beings whose souls and bodies need sustenance just as much as the passeposse cannot afford to just use the freshest and best of every little thing in every little dish they cook.

But that doesn’t mean that their food is less able to incite gustatory delight as the food made by the “food is art” nose-in-the-air crowd.

Oh, no, no, no.

In fact, I will tell you that I -know- for a fact that food made with less than perfect vegetables and dried herbs can knock the socks off of any diner, and contains just as much soul-stirring goodness as the rarefied tidbits eaten by the trend-setting wealthy folks. In fact, I might have to say that the food of the proletariat, made from humble ingredients, prepared in a frugal manner might just have a bit more soul in them than the finest dishes from the most fancified restaurants in the world.

And frankly, having dined on both, I have to admit that I prefer the foods of the peasantry to the foods of kings.

So, now you know where I stand on the issue.

Now that we have the rant out of the way, I can take a breath and talk about what this post is really about–avoiding food waste, and making something amazingly delicious out of truly humble ingredients–meaning lesser cuts of meat, dried beans and herbs and vegetables that are a bit past their prime.

And this is a great time of year to talk about it, because we are at the end of winter and the beginning of spring, which is prime soup making season, not just because we have warm days with still cool to cold nights, but because all of the vegetables that have been in storage all winter are starting to show their age a bit. Even the ones from the grocery stores, which have been in climate-controlled facilities for months, where ethylene gas is vented away, and the humidity and temperature are controlled perfectly, are starting to succumb to the hand of time and are losing their crisp nature.

The cabbages are starting to wilt.

The carrots, parsnips and turnips are turning a bit rubbery.

And the potatoes, once crisp and snappy, all know ’tis the season to sprout, so they are getting soft as they start sending forth long-tentacle-like shoots which make me think of B-movie science fiction monsters from the outer darkness of the space-time continuum.

(The onions and the garlic are in the same boat with the potatoes. They know it is time they got planted, so they are going soft and sending out green shoots in an attempt to propagate themselves right there in your pantry.)

What is a poor, frugal householder to do when faced with a bin full of guishy potatoes, pathetic onions, flubbery carrots, rubbery rutabagas, wizened beets and flaccid cabbages?

You all know what I am going to say, so why not join in?

Make soup!

Make soup with a glad heart, because the truth is this–once you have simmered your vegetables for hours, perhaps with some dried herbs–which by the way, have a more concentrated flavor because the water, which dilutes flavor, is removed–(this is only true if your dried herbs have not been handed down from the time of Moses–if they are that old, please compost them) and some old, tough cuts of meat or maybe some bones left over from a roast–you will neither know or care what condition they were in before they were cooked. Their texture will not suffer, nor will their flavor. You may have lost some nutritive value, but not that much, really.

What you have done, however, by using these unfortunate foundlings of your pantry, however, is saved yourself some money by not throwing them out and buying new stuff all over again. You have saved money, you have helped out the environment by not wasting all of the resources that were used to grow them in the first place, and you made something delicious and nutritious to eat.

How can that be a bad thing?

Now, here are a few pointers on how to determine which vegetables are safe to use because they are just a little bedraggled and which ones are just plain old nasty and need to go very far away from your kitchen.

One: Follow your nose–it always knows.

If it smells bad, throw it out. If it makes you gag after one tentative sniff, then it has gone well beyond past its prime and travelled into the realm of “Oh, dear God, no!” Once it stinks, it is a candidate only for a toss into the compost pile.

Two: Let your fingers do the walking.

Your less than optimal, yet still usable vegetables will be softer than perfect vegetables, but, they should not give way under a nice, firm squeeze. If this happens, and your fingers sink into vegetative flesh that has deliquesced into primordial ooze, then bury the slimy remnants of a once proud foodstuff into the compost heap at the back of your garden. Say a few nice words over it and move along to washing your hands. The texture of a properly useful yet less than fresh vegetable is lightly soft, perhaps somewhat spongy, but the integrity of the skin should hold. You may find some bruised spots, and those can be cut away and composted, while the rest of the vegetable is then a candidate for the soup-pot, but overall, the flesh should be firmish, yet yielding. Trust me–your fingers will know that texture when they feel it.

Three: Seeing is believing.

Your eyes can finish telling you what your nose and fingers cannot. They will tell you if the onion is spotted with powdery black mildew, or if the wizened skin of a moldy potato has cracked and let the rotting agent inside the flesh. Surface mold and mildew can be cut away–in the case of the powdery black stuff on onions, it is usually only skin deep, and can be removed with the papery skin and perhaps one layer of flesh which has started to go slimy. Those bits, just like a moldy bit of potato, go into the compost, while the rest can be saved, rinsed and used. Your eyes will also warn you of potatoes what have been exposed to the light and have gone green–those can be used, but the green parts need to be completely removed and discarded, because they contain a mild alkaloid which will make you sick if you eat it. (The green part also tastes bitter–which is your tongues way of telling you not to eat something.)

Which brings us to–

Four: Taste the difference.

Yes, give your subjects a cautious taste. You will find that sometimes rubbery carrots have gone a bit bitter, or mushy apples taste a little alcoholic. (That would be because they are fermenting in their skins a bit. That won’t hurt you if you cook the apples, the alcohol will be boiled off, but still it is nice to know.) Sometimes the taste is too radically icky to be useful and away the comestible in question goes, but sometimes, you may find that there is just a slight to no discernible flavor difference between the perfectly fresh specimens and the ones you are trying to save from the landfill. Often, the only difference is in texture, not flavor.

So you see that your senses, paired with a bit of common sense from your brain, can combine to tell you which vegetables are safe to eat but less than pretty, and which ones are possibly hazardous to your health and should be discarded. The only sense left out is your sense of hearing, which is because it is pretty worthless in this exercise. So as to keep your ears from feeling left out, how about putting on some nice music while you engage in your pantry-gleaning, vegetable-saving and soup-making?

For more tips on keeping food waste down in your kitchen, take a look at these posts from Jonathan Bloom’s excellent blog, Wasted Food.

And please, whatever you do, don’t tell him, or me, for that matter, that worrying about wasting food is passe.

Because it bloody well isn’t.

And I suspect that the folks who thought it was passe a few years ago to use less than splendid carrots in a soup may just be changing their tunes in the coming months, and perhaps people will return to an appreciation for the frugal ways of the plebeian kitchen.

30 Comments

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  1. AMEN!!!!!

    You said what I have always thought!

    I think that the test of a great cook is to take ingredients that are much less than perfect, and make something extraordinary with them. I think it can be done.

    Love your blog and your stories about your daughter.

    Comment by Christine — March 19, 2009 #

  2. Oh, man, I totally agree. I remember when I was in culinary school and our teachers made a big point of how we should always use perfectly fresh, crisp vegetables in stock, that it wouldn’t be good if we used older, softer vegetables. This never sat right with me–just because the texture of something isn’t good anymore doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have lots of great flavor!

    I totally disregarded that advice and have made so many wonderful stocks with old, kinda mangy vegetables. Including a stock with a squash that had been sitting in my kitchen for almost a YEAR! It turned out great.

    Comment by Natasha — March 19, 2009 #

  3. Hello everyone,

    I saw the comments about being green and more environmentally friendly, and not throwing out so much waste. I think we can all do that little bit extra to try and help save the planet. Whether that be the little things, such as making sure all water taps are properly turned off when you leave the kitchen or bathroom, switching all your electrical appliances off instead of standby. I do all these, but I have also changed the way I send greetings cards. The amount of paper birthday cards, and Christmas cards we send every I was shocked to think at how much money I was spending, and the amount of resources I was using. To change my ways, I have now become a bit of a fan of e-Cards. I think they are such a good way to help the environment, no paper required, so less trees to be cut down! This has to be a good thing! I have done my research and I have finally come across a really good Environmentally Friendly e-Card site. One of the things I like about this site is it is so easy to use, I am not that confident with using computers so this site was really good for me, everything was easy to use and the instructions were easy to follow. Another great thing about this site is that it is totally free, this makes me very happy, saves pennies!! I know e-Cards are not going to be for everyone, but I think they are worth a try! Hope you all find this useful, Kind regards, Nicole.

    Comment by Nicole — March 19, 2009 #

  4. About that GIGO chef: can you imagine him owning a restaurant? An important function of having a successful restaurant, as Barbara has blogged more than once, is to keep prices under control. How are you going to do that if you throw out so much food, eh?

    Furthermore, some foods are better for soup when they’re old. Old potatoes melt into soup much better than young ones. Old carrots have a different flavor, and the special delicateness of very young carrots get lost in a soup. An old stewing hen yields more flavor than a pullet or a fryer.

    Comment by Harry — March 19, 2009 #

  5. Needless to say I found this excellent–although I giggled for a while at the thought of my comment arousing such ire. I think of that irritating passage in that cookbook a lot–good to know I am not the only only PO’d by it.

    I’m going to add a tip–one I am sure you know, Barbara– because I know a lot of cookbooks, etc say not to use garlic when it has sprouted. You can remove the green inside if you find it bitter–it is the only part which has gone bitter, the surrounding garlic is still perfectly happy garlic.

    Comment by Laura — March 19, 2009 #

  6. I think in this case, pase is simply a euphemism for poor. And heaven forbid we look poor, cause that’s just icky and stuff.

    Anyway this post reminds me of a roommate I had who used to regularly go through the refrigerator and throw stuff out. Now some things needed to go as we were notorious for making diners and then not eating the leftovers. But sometimes my other roommate and I would dive to save an older looking veggie or bacon. Seriously, bacon doesn’t really go bad quickly and yet she’d throw it out if it had been in there for longer then a week.

    Comment by Melani — March 19, 2009 #

  7. Interesting post! I think some of this is that soup probably once functioned primarily as a way to use up scraps and leftover bits, stretch meat and other ingredients, and have a small amount of food feed a large amount of people. And in our plush times it has now evolved to a dish in its own right. So the thinking around how to construct it has changed as well.

    However, that doesn’t change the fact of its basic construction, and that it can be perfectly well constructed of blemished, leftover ingredients looking for a home. In fact it’s probably a good reminder that soup is the perfect vehicle to practice frugality, use up things, and create taste out of waste.

    Comment by Diane — March 19, 2009 #

  8. As for the GIGO, guy – never mind running a restaurant, let him try to run a household kitchen on a budget! Or plant his own vegetable garden – he’s apparently never suffered from a surplus of tomatoes, peppers and cabbages from his own back yard.

    Most of my less than perfect vegetables go into stocks, primarily chicken and vegetable stocks. And darn – soup sounds good tonight!

    Comment by Jan — March 19, 2009 #

  9. This was a great post, It also speaks to the lack of formal education on food inherent in our school system. I believe the loss of basic instruction like Home Economics really has made a difference to the general consumers habits and ability to manage a kitchen and much more a pantry. Home Economics isn’t going to make someone a chef or a great cook, but it did help people understand the basics of buying and spending to keep up a household. So much more important to set a good example for you kids in how we run our own kitchens.

    Comment by Eugenio — March 19, 2009 #

  10. ” the food of the proletariat”

    YAY!!

    One of my sons ate a Thanksgiving dinner elsewhere and when they threw out the turkey carcass in the cleaning-up process he was shocked. Of course, they ate Minute Rice and he had to ask them what it was.

    Soup is GOOD!

    Comment by wwjudith — March 19, 2009 #

  11. Hate waste. Great post. I’m hoping that people will stop throwing away so much food in this new money-conscious society we have.

    Some dried herbs are really wonderful if used in stuff like soup like thyme, rosemary, sage and bay.

    Comment by jennywenny — March 19, 2009 #

  12. The “don’t bother with dried herbs” notes in cookbooks drive me batty. It’s completely uneconomical to constantly buy fresh herbs and while I can get a good batch going in the summer, they don’t survive the winter inside. I guess I just shouldn’t cook if I can’t do it “right”. :)

    Comment by Kate Nolan — March 19, 2009 #

  13. Ooh, I love soup, and throwing away something old but still perfectly usable is absurd. Hrmph.

    “just because the texture of something isn’t good anymore doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have lots of great flavor!”

    That’s true, but I happen to be completely turned off by certain textures or mouthfeels, despite how amazing their flavors. However, that rarely comes up in soup. Things are supposed to be deliciously soft and mushy in soup.
    Good comment, whoever mentioned that soup was originally an economical way of using up old food and we’ve turned it into haute cuisine. I have no problem with haute cuisine at all, rather like it and find it fascinating. But we should never lose sight of our roots and origins, even in something as simple a soup.

    Comment by Christy — March 19, 2009 #

  14. Nicole — I think it’s definitely passe to use spam in soup. :D

    As for these folks, I don’t know what they’d do to me if they saw the question I asked about instant mashed potatoes in the last soup post, but it couldn’t be worse than what someone deserves for bashing frugality in this economy. Not to mention complicity in the current state of supermarket tomatoes.

    “Frugal” and “green” don’t always coincide, but they should — and this is one instance where they do, though it’s best if you have a compost heap.

    Comment by Elizabeth — March 19, 2009 #

  15. Too bad you used what could have been a really great post about frugality to engage in class warfare. I mean, did you really have to set it up like this? The original comment by the CIA chef had to do with making soups and stews from LEAVINGS, trimmings, carrot peelings and the like, not from somewhat tired veg.( And if you don’t think the CIA and its ilk pound on their students about cost, go attend classes and see.)

    I’ll get down with anyone about using the last drop of goodness rather than throwing stuff out, but I don’t believe it represents a moral (or any other type of) superiority, other than possibly financial intelligence along with a good bit of creativity.

    And Christy, the original French Haute Cuisine was ALL about using every bit of what you had, a poverty cuisine made excellent. What made it Haute was the chef’s (yes, exactly chef’s) cleverness and ability. Why we now use the phrase Haute Cuisine as a substitute for “over the top wasteful” is a mystery to me, but it’s not remotely accurate. Wasteful is a distinctly American trait, brought on by restaurant realizations that, since they can’t compete on price, they had better compete on portion size.

    Comment by The Bad Yogi — March 19, 2009 #

  16. wwjudith – at one Thanksgiving dinner I was invited to the host encouraged his guests to take leftover anything. Anything, that was, except the turkey carcass. That was his!

    Elizabeth – I wonder if the Hawaiians use spam in soup. They are the originators of spam sushi. As for your instant potatoes question, you wouldn’t get attitude from me for that. I don’t thicken soups with it but I do keep a large box of Potato Buds, which I think make decent mashed taters.

    Bad Yogi – what’s wrong with using the appropriate trimming & leavings in soup? I’m thinking of onion skins and carrot peels in stock; anything pared from a veggie to make it even and cuttable (some of it can be used whole in soup, some is better for purees); meat stripped from a carcass? Honest question, not a snipe.

    In my observation some Haute Cuisine is wasteful, that part of the social point is conspicuous consumption and waste. What else can explain turned potatoes having to have seven sides? One hopes that the chef would then use the peelings for something else but sometimes I wonder.

    Comment by Harry — March 19, 2009 #

  17. PS Jan – don’t forget the zucchinis!

    Why do countryfolk lock their car doors during the summer? So the neighbors won’t dump zucchini in them.

    Comment by Harry — March 19, 2009 #

  18. Years ago, I worked for a gourmet food distributor that sold food, at very high prices, to some of the fanciest hotels and restaurants in one of the biggest cities. Believe you me, those restaurants were buying plenty of mediocre quality produce in many cases. And quite often, they were using them and ordering them repeatedly. The rich people aren’t eating such different food from everyone else either.

    Comment by Sasha — March 19, 2009 #

  19. Okay, Yogi, I will bite.

    I made it about class warfare because that is what it is–saying something is passe is a classist statement in the first place. It is saying, “Oh no one of consequence does that anymore.”

    As for the chef at my culinary school giving me crap about using a slightly rubbery carrot in stock–she was the only one to ever give me crap about that. All the others were frugal to the point of being obsessive about it. Trust me–I know. I was one of the few students they didn’t get on about throwing out perfectly usable bits of vegetables, because I never did it. But everyone else got crabbed at about it.

    My stocks and sauces chef was the one who told us to use onion skins in chicken stock to help give it a golden color. And he said that stock was the perfect place to use stuff like carrots and celery that have gone a bit rubbery and soft, and that soup was where leftover rice and potatoes that had gone wrinkly and soft should go, because their starches helped thicken the soups without the use of so much roux. That way you save money in several directions!

    I do think it is morally imperative to not throw food that is still usable away, and I’m sorry if it torques people off, but that is how I feel.

    I agree with you on the meaning of Haute Cuisine, but the whole practice of turning potatoes, as pointed out by Harry, is that it made them pretty, and waste be damned. In culinary school we were told that we should use the parings in soup, but if we were not making soup in the kitchen at the time, into the trash the parings went.

    I never made this a classist discussion–it just is classist by its nature. The food of the masses has always been contrasted with the foods of the elites–and I am saying this as someone who has eaten in some pretty expensive places. And yeah, the food is amazing, but I still prefer the food of the poor. I am not the only one who thinks this way–listen to Anthony Bourdain talk about it and you will see that I am not the only populist chef in the world.

    Harry–I love the zucchini joke. And it is so true….

    Comment by Barbara — March 19, 2009 #

  20. Sasha–but I bet the rich folks are paying more for it, aren’t they?

    And they probably think that they are getting better quality food, too.

    It is the idea that appearance equates with reality–that if you pay more for something it is automatically higher quality–that I find so odd.

    I am convinced that most Americans will eat most anything you put in front of them and if you charge a lot for it, they will assume it is great, without really being able to taste the difference.

    I mean, look at how much people love Starbucks. I think their coffee and espresso drinks are at best mediocre, but people love them and will shell out the bucks for them.

    Comment by Barbara — March 19, 2009 #

  21. Ahh, soup! What I tend to do, as there are only 2 of us, and so I don’t accumulate stuff for stock quite as quickly, is to take trimmings, parings, bits and ends, and toss them in a freezer bag. When I’ve got a goodly amount, then I make stock with everything. As long as freezer burn hasn’t set in, it turns out just fine.

    And I will do soup to use up leftovers, as well.

    Comment by Kymster — March 19, 2009 #

  22. OK, Sasha, since you bit, I’ll tug on the line.

    One, your examples are exactly 2: one reported cookbook, and one teacher. No researcher would go with that.
    Two, passe is a classist remark, given. (Really, it’s elitest: what I do is au courant, what you do is passe) Will you lower yourself to join in? Why?

    The point, that haute cuisine IS the food of the poor, done better (not necessarily done more expensively), you seem to disagree on? Why?

    My overall point is that classism doesn’t help anything but help us feel superior to others. Is that what you really want? I don’t get the feeling from your blog that this is so. Therefore, why couch the argument in a way that prevents others from engaging?

    Had you fleshed out the point even more (that frugality in the kitchen is actually the source of much of the world’s best cooking), I would have no argument. If you had concentrated on the point that we (as a culture) too often equate fresh with perfect looking, and miss that taste has little to do with looks (and christy has a great caution about texture, one that frugal boosters sometimes miss), I would have been cheering you ahead.

    We are undoubtedly on the same “side” of this issue: people would be better off seeking to use up than throw away: financially, esthetically, taste-wise.

    BTW, Kymster, you can use those frozen scaps for gravy, which my family of 3 loves. You can also refreeze stock/broth, even if it came from previously frozen scraps. The new little vacuum bags at the grocery work very well (Cook’s Illustrated did a test, and I use them a lot), and I reuse the bags several times, as long as I don’t microwave them for defrosting.

    Harry, I don’t have a problem with washed trimmings, the chef did. Quite frankly, how anyone who eats brains and kidneys could have a problem with trimmings is beyond me… I use everything: to the point of fanaticism sometimes. But my brother uses almost none (more for me!!). I don’t get it, but that’s how he rolls. I have tried to show him the difference, but no luck. But somehow it always ends up that when we get the family together, I’m cooking…

    OK, thanks to Sasha for the space!

    Comment by The Bad Yogi — March 19, 2009 #

  23. OOPS, For Sasha in my post, please substitute Barbara! Forgive the brain fade, please.

    Boy am I embarassed.

    Comment by The Bad Yogi — March 19, 2009 #

  24. Bad Yogi–you can call me Sasha if you want to! I thought it was pretty funny.

    Yeah, see, here is the deal–I got all classist back because, well, it torqued my gizzard. And no, I don’t need a huge sample of all of these examples, because I am not writing a case study–I am writing a rant. A populist one at that.

    Basically, I am talking about my own opinion here–on the idea that classist comments like “using dried herbs or less than perfect fresh carrots is passe” is acceptable coming from foodies, because they aren’t. Sure, I could have taken the high road, which is what I usually do, and say, “well, you can be classist, and I will say it is tacky, but I won’t turn my sarcastic wit upon you,” but I didn’t feel like it.

    Maybe it is Bernie Badoff, I mean, Madoff’s fault I was a tad bit unsympathetic with elitist snobs telling people how to cook. Maybe it is AIG. Maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed and I felt the need to give a little ranty rant for today.

    But you are right–I didn’t write a balanced essay which is what I usually do–I wrote a down and dirty, snidely whiplash, in-your-face, insult-filled rant.

    And while it may turn some folks off–it did feel good.

    How about this–I will take on the topic of the penchant for “perfect” produce–meaning pretty food–being at the root of many of the ills in the American food scene.

    Comment by Barbara — March 19, 2009 #

  25. Barbara I love when you get on your tomato box and wave the ladle. Good post. Wasting food is wrong. Using up food for soups, stock, sauces gives character, complexity and soul. Those are the dishes that feed the body and the core of our being. They bring comfort. Banana bread is made from overipe, mushy bananas. Our applesauce was made from the apples that had fallen from the tree, bad bits (and occasional worm) cut away, potato soup from those potatoes that were turning. Grandma made the best, lightest pancakes with milk that had just turned. Go on – wave that ladle – it reminds us of what is important.

    Comment by Maureen — March 19, 2009 #

  26. Hey, Frugality is very cool again. I grew up using every scrap and bit because we had very little. I know quite a few that won’t use something with a blemish. People are learning to stretch resources again. I think that’s a wonderful thing.

    Comment by Diana — March 19, 2009 #

  27. Amen!

    I find that when I’m making soup, I actually prefer slightly old vegetables and slightly “lesser” cuts of meat simply because they taste better. And that makes sense to my little science mind. Soups need flavor more than anything else, and in the process of “just starting to go bad,” vegetables lose water, concentrating their flavor, and some of their components start to break down, creating a wider diversity of possible flavor molecules (to a point, of course). And lesser cuts of meat are deemed such for texture, not flavor, and often contain more flavorful bits. So, naturally, any soup you make with them will taste that much richer……. Since there’s only two of us and we don’t generate much kitchen waste (and can’t make soup that often), we keep a few large bags in the freezer and into those go all the bones, remains of veggies, etc, that we think would be good for stock. When there’s enough, stock gets made and subsequently frozen. Seems to work very well. (But then, I suppose that could start a whole conversation on the “passe-ness” of using things form the freezer ;) ).

    Comment by Alexis E — March 20, 2009 #

  28. Barbara and Bad Yogi are doing what in my household we called arguing from the same side. And having a very interesting conversation while they’re at it.

    I should like a discussion of Haute Cuisine as the food of the poor made excellent as opposed to quite (or even over the top) wasteful. I’m not seeing that; let’s discuss.

    HC is one of the many things that the rich elite use to distinguish themselves from the hoi polloi. Think fish forks, coffee spoon vs ice cream spoon vs teaspoon, and fancy spices. The common person could not afford these and many a aspiring merchant went broke trying to.

    Many foods involve the use of lots of time or experience to make “right” – the aforementioned turned potatoes for example. If the goal was potatoes that cook evenly, there are more efficient ways to trim them. Well washed carrots are just as tasty as peeled ones. Anything with beaten egg whites. Elaborately carved garnishes.

    Other foods are wasteful, such as the architectural confections that were served in the Middle Ages between food courses. Ditto for “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie/when the pie was opened the birds began to sing”: a total waste, from a food point of view, of flour, fuel and time. Molecular gastronomy, Michele Rocard’s food puns[1]

    Still more food is rare, imported or forced out of season. Truffles. Chocolate.[2] Raspberries in December from Chile. At one point, chicken in November and beef in March, ice cream and icing.

    At one time in history, in the Russian Orthodox Church had so many fast and meatless days they composed about 1/4 of the total days of the year. An elaborate cuisine resulted, based on pickled fish, sour cream and especially mushrooms. Fast day food became so fancy and elaborate that there’s a saying that one is too poor to afford to eat meatless.

    [1] Owner-chef of Citronelle in Washington DC, famous for tromp d’oeil with food, such as “pepperoni” made of sweet dessert ingredients or “apple pie” made of sweetbreads.

    [2] Mmmm, chocolate.

    Comment by Harry — March 20, 2009 #

  29. To Bad Yogi and Harry:

    Haute Cuisine did originate as the food of the middle class and the Paris bistros made really really good, but food and the concepts we hold about food change. Haute Cuisine quickly became the food of the upper class when it became the food in the grand hotels of France. Here there was still frugality, as the chefs who made haute cuisine would not waste food because it was a waste of money.

    I think it became “wasteful” when Haute Cuisine reached the US. Americans tend to focus on more elaborate preparations using the “best” ingredients, rather than the forms of haute cuisine that developed to use waste/trimmings, ect.

    Furthermore, as a culture we tend to throw things away rather than reuse them.

    Comment by Morganna — March 20, 2009 #

  30. My local paper ran a How to save money on food story the other day and one of the revelations was that — wait for it — you don’t have to throw away day-old bread! It can be used for bread crumbs!

    Really!!!!

    And leftovers! Can be saved! And eaten later! Even frozen!

    On Oprah, a stay-at-home mom had to be told that using paper plates for her kids was not economically wise.

    I am from the Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste, so none of this is news to me. But it makes me sad that it is to some people.

    Comment by class factotum — April 1, 2009 #

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