Ah, the recession. It’s hard to believe that just a year ago the party was still in full swing with bankers splashing out on expensive champagne, only to spray it around a nightclub rather than drink it. These days, you’re more likely to read about restaurants offering customers free food with customers asked to pay only what they thought the meal was worth.
But although restaurants who have tried this report that people usually pay at least as much as they would have been charged, it simply isn’t a trend that I can see catching on very widely – so we have to be a little more creative to maintain our culinary standards these days.
Between the recession and buying a house, I find my disposable income to be as scarce as a roast suckling pig at a vegan dinner. What’s a gourmet girl to do? Well, you could:
a) max out your credit card, push your overdraft to the limit and live as if nothing has changed;
b) eat what and where you’ve always eaten, just do so less frequently, and live off dry toast the rest of the month; or
c) think of more creative ways to feed yourself on a budget.
I’ve gone wholeheartedly for option c) – my mom told me never to max my credit card, and I’ve never been much of a fan of toast without loads of Nutella, so the choice wasn’t hard! And do you know the weirdest thing about this new frugality is? The colour suits me, and the sense of achievement is absurdly rewarding. Here’s how I’ve been cutting down the food bills:
Grow your own – this summer we have tomatoes, beans, butternut, rocket and various herbs in the garden. Even if you only have a windowsill, you can grow cherry tomatoes and herbs – all they want is sun and water. And nothing spells “Nigella” like popping out to the garden to pick some sage leaves as you prepare your pork roast.
Shop in cheaper shops – here in London, I have migrated overnight from Sainsbury’s to ASDA, and the grocery bill has dropped noticeably. And let’s face it – loo paper is loo paper, wherever you buy it! As far as meat goes, local butchers are often cheaper than fancy supermarkets (and some deliver!), and local farmers’ markets are likely to sell both cheaper and fresher produce.
Buy in bulk – buying meat or even fruit and vegetables from a cash ‘n carry is cheap, but who can eat all that before it goes off? The simple answer is either to go with a friend and share whatever you buy; or to freeze the excess immediately and eat at your leisure.
Waste nothing – a skill that our grannies had and we seem to have lost! Vegetables that are past their prime can still make perfectly good soup. Squishy fruit can go into puddings and jams (which are, incidentally, ridiculously easy and rewarding to make). And almost anything can be tossed into an omelette or a quiche.
Live off the land – probably a little harder in South Africa than in the UK, where blackberries grow wild! Still, there are mushrooms to be foraged (make sure you know which ones are poisonous!), nasturtium leaves to use instead of rocket in salads, pine nuts to be extracted from pine cones, and sour figs (vygies) to be made into jelly.
So how are you eating to beat the recession?
Jeanne Horak-Druiff is the face behind the multi-award winning blog www.cooksister.com. This ex-lawyer based in London now spends all her free-time cooking, photographing and eating good food.