Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Dime A Day.

These challenging economic times are a boon for food magazine editors and writers it seems. Every mag, blog, and paper has ‘new’ ideas for eating, decorating, entertaining, and generally having a good time on less income. Why should this blog be any different?

Truth to tell, food literature has always found domestic economy to be a sound subject, with managing on a specific weekly or monthly budget to be a particularly popular theme. Some advice comes in a nice book published in New York in 1860 with the full title of How to Live: Saving and Wasting, or, Domestic Economy Illustrated, and the glorious continuing blurb of:

by the
Life of two families of opposite character, habits, and
Practices, in a pleasant tale of real life, full of useful
Lessons in housekeeping, and how to live, how to
have, how to gain, and how to be happy;
including the story
A Dime A Day.

This calculator suggests that a dime in 1860 had the purchasing power of a bit less than two dollars and seventy cents today. The honourable mother who provides the author’s role model in this book tells how she feeds her family of four children for that amount .

“I had, said she one day last week, only one Dime in the world and that was to feed me and my four children all day, for I would not ask tor credit and I would not borrow, and I never did beg. I did live through the day and I did not go hungry. I fed myself and family with one Dime.”
“How ?”
“Oh that was not all. I bought fuel too.”
“What with one Dime?”
“Yes, with one Dime!1 bought two cents worth of coke because that is cheaper than coa,l and because I could kindle it with a piece of paper in my little furnace with two or three little bits of charcoal that some careless boy had dropped in the street just in my path. With three cents I bought a scraggy piece of salt pork half fat and half lean. There might have been half a pound of it - the man did not weigh it. Now half my money was gone, and the show for breakfast dinner and supper was certainly a very poor one, With the rest of my Dime I bought four cents worth of white beans. By-the-by, I got these at night, and soaked them in tepid water on a neighbor's stove till
morning. I had one cent left. I bought one cent's worth of corn meal and the grocery man gave me a red pepper pod.”
“What was that for ?”
“Wait a little - you shall know. Of all things peppers and onions are appreciated by the poor in winter because they help to keep them warm. With my meal I made three dumplings and these with the pork and the pepper pod I put into the pot with the beans and plenty of water (for the pork was salt) and boiled the whole two hours and then we had breakfast, for it was time for the children to go to school. We ate one of the dumplings, and each had a plate of the soup for break fast, and a very good breakfast it was. I kept the pot boiling as long as my coke lasted and at dinner we ate half the meat, half the soup, and one of the dumplings. We had the same allowance for supper and the children were better satisfied than I have sometimes seen them when our food has cost five times as much. The next day we had another Dime - it was all I could earn for all I could get to do - two pairs of men's drawers each day at five cents a pair and on that we lived - lived well”

The woman goes on to describe how she makes a dime feed her family each day for the next few days - manageing some variety too. The next day they have ‘a sort of chowder’ made from scrap pieces of lean beef, potatoes, and more dumplings (made this time ‘about as big as grapes.’)

An interesting story? An inspirational lesson? A project to try out?
Here is a recipe from another book on domestic economy from the same year – hardly a frugal effort however!

A Beef Stew.
Take two or three pounds of the rump of beef, cut away all the fat and skin and cut it into pieces about two or three inches square; put it into a stewpan and pour on to it a quart of broth; let it boil; sprinkle in a little salt and pepper to taste; when it has boiled very gently or simmered two hours, shred finely a large lemon; add it to the gravy and in twenty minutes pour in a flavoring composed of two tablespoons full of Harvey's sauce, the juice of the lemon, the rind of which has been sliced into the gravy, a spoonful of flour and a little ketchup; add at pleasure two glasses of Madeira or one of sherry or port a quarter of an hour after the flavoring, and serve.
Practical American Cookery and Domestic Economy, Elizabeth M. Hall, 1860

Quotation for the Day.

Without frugality none can be rich, and with it very few would be poor.
Samuel Johnson


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Perhaps the beef stew recipe is not as frugal, but you could probably stretch the results for several meals - including a little soup and some nice sandwiches. (I am keeping up on all the cost cutting tips out there!)

The Old Foodie said...

Hello t.w - you are right, of course. That's the great thing about stews, isnt it? It must be time for another retro cake challenge?