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A couple of food tips from Grandma

Food is one of your big household expenses, one that sometimes can seem difficult to manage. But there are plenty of ways to trim those expenses back, stock your fridge and freezer, and put a better product on the table.

Food is one of your big household expenses, one that sometimes can seem difficult to manage. But there are plenty of ways to trim those expenses back, stock your fridge and freezer, and put a better product on the table.

You already know that shopping the sales is key to saving money on groceries. It provides an opportunity to stock up on the items you use most frequently.

But if you just harken back to a few things that were common knowledge in your grandparents’ day, you’ll see that sales also spell opportunity.

Here are three examples of the simple stuff that Grams and Gramps knew.

(1) You can get a small jar of strawberry jam by boiling together one cup of mashed strawberries with one cup of sugar—and if you want to add it, a squirt of lemon juice. Sure, you’ll have to tend it a bit while you sit at the table reading and sipping a cup of coffee. But the end product will be much better than store-bought.

And it can be a lot cheaper, too. With fruits and vegetables, you can wait for height-of-the-season sales, but if you live in an urban area, you’ll find that ethnic markets often serve year-round as conduits for selling last-day produce at bargain prices—for example, large containers of over-ripe strawberries priced at a dollar or less.

That’s a jam-making opportunity. And it couldn’t be easier.

Moreover, it’s scalable, so it doesn’t have to turn into a production number.  It’s easy to make a small batch, say a few jars, forgo the hot-water processing part, and simply store it in the fridge.

(2) Ditto for pickles, the second example. Look for cucumbers or zucchini on sale. While almost any fruit or vegetable can be pickled, good old Midwestern bread-and-butter pickles made from cucumbers or zucchini remain a favorite that is just about the easiest pickle to make that there is.

Basic idea: Slice some onions and cucumbers (or zucchini), salt them, put them into a bowl and let them sit. A few hours later drain them in a colander. While they’re draining, bring equal amounts of cider vinegar and sugar, along with three spices, to a boil in a pot. When it has boiled enough to dissolve the sugar, dump in the cucumbers, stir them just enough to heat them through and turn off the heat. Bang!—you’re done.

Again the key is small batches that take little time or effort to manage and that you can refrigerate. And like jam, it’s scalable. The proportions always remain the same, and you can eyeball it or work from a basic recipe. You can use cukes or zucchini (which makes a fine sweet pickle) or use the Kirby and Persian cucumbers that Asian markets usually carry year-round. It takes almost no effort to whip up a half gallon to put in the back of the fridge, or to give away in small jars for holiday visits.

That takes care of fruit and vegetable examples. Now on to the third example, meat.

(3) Ever see those two-foot-long whole boneless pork loins on sale for $1.49 or $1.99 a pound and wonder who buys them?

The answer: The folks who spend 10 minutes to trim off a bit of the fat, slice most of it into boneless pork chops that go for $4.99 a pound (tossed into the freezer in meal-sized portions), and cube the rest into stew meat.

Now, of course, you’re not going to live on just jam, pickles and pork chops, but you get the idea. The point is that it pays to shop with your eyes open to possibilities. That’s the way your grandparents (or maybe great-grandparents) did it.

You’ll end up with better, home-made food, and save a little money in the bargain.

And it might make a trip to the grocery store a little more interesting.

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