Frugal food management

27 August 2018
Most of the year we grow food in the backyard that will feed us on a daily basis. Whether it's vegetables, herbs, fruit, eggs, or honey from just down the road, the work we do in our garden pays off in the form of fresh food that we know has not been sprayed or "treated" in any way. It is planted in rich soil, fertilised with seaweed, comfrey, blood and bone or manure, watered with rainwater from our tanks and when it's ripe, we pick it and eat it fresh.  Except when we don't. We also preserve, pickle and freeze some of our food so we can eat or drink it much later in the year.

Spicy pineapple relish.

I don't remember what our first crops were here in this garden but I do know that over the 21 years we've been gardening here, we've grown what we know we'll eat fresh. We also have a number of crops that we eat fresh but then process the excess in some way so it will feed us months later. Last week I wrote about our garlic crop and how that will see us through the year - we'll eat our garlic  as well as keep enough to plant a crop for next year. We also grow lemons and oranges. We eat most of the oranges fresh during winter, and I use some for baking. The lemons give us two good harvests a year. We use some as they're picked but we also juice about 100 lemons from the winter harvest, pack the juice in plastic bottles and freeze it to use for summer cordial.

We use berries and flowers from our elder tree and there's always plenty to share with the wild birds that visit.
Some years we grow rosellas and make jam or cordial with the fruit.

Rosellas and elderberries are both stored in the freezer until we're ready to use them.

We have passionfruit that is eaten fresh, and frozen for later use. There is nothing like the sharp, aromatic taste of passionfruit and it can be used in fruit salads and drinks as well as for baking and curd. Our elderberry tree gives us enough berries for winter tonics, and flowers for elderflower syrup and cordial as well as hundreds of berries for the wild birds that visit the tree daily. And the ginger we grow here is used fresh in cooking and baking, and is fermented to make ginger beer.

Ginger is used in cooking and fermented in ginger beer.

Two or three cayenne chilli bushes, which usually last about two years if I cut them back in late winter, give us enough chillies for cooking during the year and enough chillies to make about six jars of chilli jam. That means we have that delicious spicy jam during the year and we don't have to buy it for $8 a jar. We also grow beetroot and cucumbers which are eaten fresh and pickled for year-long eating.

These are sweet Hungarian peppers.
This type of housekeeping and food management also applies to cleaning products too. I make soap, laundry liquid, a Gumption-type paste and vinegar cleaner.  All these do an excellent job and cost a bare fraction of the commercial products bought at a supermarket.

I know not everyone can grow their own vegetables or fruit and if you're in that boat, look around for cheap boxes of seasonal vegetables like oranges, lemons, onions, beetroot, or a couple of kilos of chillies or garlic and you too can do what I do. If you can buy cheap seasonal produce, doing the work of jamming, pickling, freezing etc. will save you a ton of money and you'll have the best preservative-free products.

This year I bought enough strawberries from our local strawberry farm to make jam for us for a year. I also have two bags of dried apricots to make apricot jam. Sometimes, in mid-January, I buy a cheap box of good peaches and either make peach jam or I bottle peaches for eating later in the year. Two-one kilo bags of small onions will give us enough pickled onions for a year, one carton of cheap late season tomatoes gives us enough tomato relish or tomato sauce for a year. When I picked up Tricia from Armidale a few weeks back I bought a large box of green apples at Stanthorpe for $7. We've had a lot of apple desserts, eaten the apples raw and I still have half a box of apples that I'll stew and freeze this week. Those apples will be used in cakes, pancakes and desserts.

All the prep and cooking of these sauces and jams is easy and will only take an hour or so but you end up with enough product for many months.  Juicing 100 lemons takes a few sessions, even with our fabulous juicer, but we know it gives us all the lemon juice we'll use all year.

Rosella cordial.
Silverbeet/chard and kale can be blanched and frozen.

For me the work is well worth what I get out of it. If you've never organised your produce and kitchen work like this, I encourage you to give it some thought and start with two things that will be easy to make.  Find recipes that suit you, tweak them to make them exactly right for you and your family, and then add more when you can.  It's a great way to provide excellent food for your table and you'll be saving money as you do it.

I'd love to know what you make to put aside for later. Are you preserving, canning, drying and freezing what you grow or buy cheaply at a market?