In the early days of our marriage, Jim and I had six teenagers and a weekly food budget of $35.00. I am grateful that Jim is such a fine gardener, and that he thoughtfully included the children in that hobby; however, those who have fed a growing teenager, especially a boy, know how very much they can eat!
I canned just about everything that didn't run away including fish, rabbit, fruits and veggies. I soon realized that I was going to have to cook smarter. There was no chance of running to McDonald's when I was unprepared for dinner. And the budget was not going to miraculously grow. The big items were always the ones that took the longest cooking: potatoes, rice, wheat, and beans. So I learned to be prepared.
You can turn a grain (like rice or wheat) and a legume (beans) into a complete protein. There are many recipes for simple foods using these ingredients as the main part of the dish. That was when I put two and two together. It came up five, but with a little work it got back down to four, if you know what I mean.
Once each week I would cook a huge pan of one of the above foods. Sometimes I cooked two big pans of two different foods. The beans which normally cost from .50 to $1.29 per can nowadays, can be bought dry for $1.39 a pound. That's a rough average. A pound of most dry beans turns into three or four "cans" of cooked beans. You can make that into a pot of savory soup with some tomatoes, peppers, onions and salt. You can divide it up and have bean salad one day, veggie burgers the next, and chili the next.
The same went for rice. If I already have cooked beans in the refrigerator or freezer, then the addition of brown rice (the only kind served at our house) on the side turned it into a special meal. A cup of brown rice cooks up into 3-4 cups of cooked rice, depending on the variety. I went for the long grain type because it cooked into four cups. Our favorite recipe was Cajun red beans and rice. Rice also works nicely into veggie burgers, by the way. It makes a wonderful breakfast cereal when you stir in some milk, eggs, a little sugar and cinnamon. There are lovely casseroles using brown rice with cheese, parsley and onions. And don't forget rice pudding. We buy rice, as we do the beans, in 25 pound sacks from Costco. Now that there are two of us, those will last all year.
Potatoes are equally versatile. A big pot of potatoes cooked on Monday can be potato and spinach casserole on Monday, hash browns for breakfast on Tuesday, and potato soup on Wednesday. One of our favorites was super spuds. Just open up a mealy baked potato and start piling on whatever toppings you desire: butter (homemade because we have a cow), sour cream, chili, browned hamburger with some onions chopped in and sauteed, broccoli, cheese, etc.
Wheat went into our little mill and was ground into flour most of the time. We had pancakes, round-topped loaves of whole grain bread, and breakfast cereal from it. In those days it was around $7.00 for 50 pounds. Now it's more like $16.00, but it is still a bargain. You can get about 75 servings from one bag of wheat, however you prepare it. You can even sprout it and clip the green tops into salads. The sprouted grain itself can be stirred into bread dough to make it extra nutritious.
Learning to make $35.00 stretch for a week, even with our own dairy products, fruits and veggies, was a challenge for me, but it got to be a game. I'd hunt for recipes that used ingredients we already had on hand or could buy very cheaply. I especially treasure a small vegetarian cookbook of international recipes like onion pie and quiche. The markdown basket in the grocery store got a thorough going over for bargains. None of us had ever eaten this way before, but we had a financial goal and nothing was going to stop us from paying off our land. Nothing!
One unexpected side effect was the improved health of our six teens. Acne went away. Our too-thin son gained weight and filled out. Our too-plump son slimmed down. Our daughter who always coughed the entire winter every year of her life had some amazingly cough-free winters! And that's in spite of very little added heat in their bedrooms! We have some very cold winters here. The first year there was a 5-day period of 35-below and we slept in our coats. (I was sure they would all get pneumonia and die, but they fooled me, thank God!)
Psychologically, this was all kind of tough on us until Jim started reading the "Little House on the Prairie" books to the kids at bedtime. By flashlight. The stories helped them to see that our "Little Trailer on the Prairie" wasn't so bad. It was actually an adventure! They loved swimming in the irrigation ditch, and hauling each other around on makeshift sleds when the pond froze over, and riding their bicycles for miles.
By cutting our bills to the bare bones, we actually paid off our twelve acres in three years, AND our two mobile homes. The kids are grown now and raising their own families. It's just Pa and Ma here at home, so there's less canning to do. But I still cook pretty much the way I did in those early days. For one thing, we still need a retirement fund. If we don't use it up, we'll just leave it to those six teenagers who grew up in the country, and lived to tell the story!
By Coreen from Rupert, ID
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Good for you, Coreen! My parents had it "hard" when they started out, too. They got married 42 years ago in Okinawa (that's where Mom is from). They were SO poor (how poor were they?) that they didn't have a fridge. They had a cooler, and went and bought a chunk of ice every day. They didn't have a TV until sometime in the 70s. They had a reel-to-reel and records, and listened to the radio. Mom ran a tight budget, and still has the little book where she tracked every single penny. In a way it's kind of funny to look at (especially how she spelled things), but it's also a treasure.
And you know, they say that they never felt poor. They were completely happy to be together. Now they're both retired. They have the house that I grew up in, and about 12 years ago bought another house in the country (that they paid off in just a few years). They lived frugally, but never went without. And now they are very comfortable and have no worries. Not too shabby!
The perfect Thriftyfun essay, a great tale and recipes included too! Thanks for sharing and hope you keep enjoying your life as much as you have so far. Soon be time to start planting again.
I love and still read all 8 of The Little House On the Prairie books. It's a wonderful way to stay "grounded" when you begin to think how hard you're having it. Your story was just as good as Laura Ingalls' books too. It was so nice to read that someone else had actually done this without "having" to the way the Ingalls' did. You reached a goal, and I don't think Charles Ingalls ever did, not really. They survived and lived through some really difficult situations in spite of the hardships. It must have been very scary for them many, many times.
Congratulations to you and your family and many thanks for sharing your wonderful story. I'm sure your children are all very proud of you.
Wow! I am very inspired by your story! Thanks ! :-)
RC From Nebraska
Great story and treasured memories for your family. I hope you write these memories to share with grandchildren and they have the written history.
Thanks for sharing your story and such wonderful memories; what an example of doing with and doing without but making it! You've enriched the lives of your children and other family members and many friends, including your TF friends!
What a great story. My children were raised similarly both in your same town and about 50 miles away. You mentioned you bought your rice at Costco. I have found bags of rice to be cheaper at Asian and Mexican food markets. I hope you were able to glean potatoes especially in the potato growing area you live. Gardening is the way to go. We now plant, grow, and sell vegetables from 39 acres.
What a wonderful story. The Little House books really bring you down to earth, all the illnesses, hardships and accidents the Ingalls family lived with. I live in the UK and would like to point out though, that to own 12 acres of any land puts you in the seriously wealthy league here. To have space around you, and land to farm, are luxuries in many countries.
I cooked much like you with only two teenage sons. We went thro 20lbs of potatoes in a week and some nights it was brown rice and once a week it was either pork and beans (homemade of course) or chili. My boys had sparkling eyes and great teeth as junk food wasn't part of the plan.
Coreen, I always love to read what you have to say. So many people today have such a sense of entitlement and don't know how to save or get-by. I sometimes think that I am a little too frugal, but when my husband lost his job a year and a half ago, others just couldn't get by on their unemployment compensation while we did just fine, we even were able to put some money in our savings. They had family helping them; we were alone. Yet, they acted as if we had some secret fund we were tapping into. The truth is that we were just used to being frugal, so our lifestyle didn't change much. I love picking up frugal hints from other readers. I feel that I still have so much to learn. Thanks for all of your hints and stories.
Good points in your essay. I'm glad that you got to see the better side of life: not what you lack, but your blessings. There is no substitute for eating well (and by well that means your health is good, good skin and nails and clear eyes). I just wanted to agree with you that combining a grain and a legume mixing them up makes a complete protein without ever needing flesh in the meal. Also, try to grind up the beans into flour when dry, a lot easier to throw it into whatever sauce you're making (and saves cooking time). I'm glad you're enjoying your blessing, land is a precious thing, sadly a luxury in this country.
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