The Better Days Books
Frugal Food Bible
If it seems like every time you walk into a grocery store all the prices have gone up, rest assured, you’re not imagining things. In the one year period prior to this writing (2007-2008), the cost of a gallon of milk in America has increased by 26%, and we’re paying 40% more for a carton of eggs. A combination of forces, including increased global food demand, bad weather in the American farm belt, and dramatically increased (and often government-mandated) production of grain-based biofuels like Ethanol have, during that same year, caused the price of corn to double, and wheat to triple, impacting the price of every food product in which these grains are used as ingredients. Add to that the nearly 500% increase in the price of diesel fuel since January, 2000, a cost that gets added to the shelf-price of every product trucked to retail grocers throughout the nation, and it becomes clear that we are facing a nationwide food cost crisis.
But not necessarily one of “unprecedented proportions.” As bad as things are (or could become – experts predict food prices in America will continue to increase by 7.5% yearly, with no end in sight!), the present food crisis is by no means the first time Americans have faced financial hard times or issues of food scarcity. From its very beginnings, our nation has experienced a long series of economic panics and depressions with devastating repercussions for middle and lower class families. In 1832, the year in which Lydia M. Child’s The American Frugal Housewife (the opening volume of this collection) saw initial publication, President Andrew Jackson refused to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, fostering the nationwide collapse of the banking system. Before the year ended, one third of all manual laborers were jobless in New York City alone, and the national unemployment rate reached a staggering ten percent. In 1873, more than 10,000 businesses failed as an economic depression raging in Europe spread to our shores. In 1874, a grasshopper invasion in the Middle West and a potato-bug blight in the East destroyed most grain, corn, and potato crops, forcing farmers to leave their homesteads in search of work. World War I left millions starving all around the world, and America embraced the heroic cause of food conservation with religious fervor – our Government even issued posters proclaiming the wasting of food “The Greatest Crime in Christendom.” And everyone remembers the historic Stock Market crash of 1929, which launched America’s “Great Depression” of the 1930s-1940s.
During all those past crises, Americans not only survived, many thrived in the midst of hard times through a unique combination of ingenuity, pragmatism and sheer, American pluck that has always defined the spirit of our nation and our people. The difficulties of our own day call on us to do the same, and there is no better place to find the inspiration and practical, down to earth advice we’ll need to succeed in the present than in the writings left to us by great Americans of the past. The economic and food crises we face in 21st Century America are very real and frightening in scope, but it is not the purpose of this book to wallow in insecurity or fear. We have compiled The Better Days Books Frugal Food Bible, instead, to revel in the genius of Americans past, and to make their pragmatic wisdom freely available, once again, to modern Americans in our hour of need. While most of us will surely survive our nation’s present hard times, this book is dedicated to those who would choose, instead, to thrive by taking control of their food budget, making wise food purchasing and preparation choices, both for economy and for health, and by “thinking outside the box” of the eating habits they may have known since they were children – habits which, in the present economy, are simply no longer sustainable.
While many of the factors contributing to our present-day food crisis may be uniquely modern, the timeless solution our predecessors knew well, and which we must come to understand and embrace, can be summed up in a single word – Frugality. A WWI era food conservation poster reproduced in C. Houston Goudiss’s Foods That Will Win The War And How To Cook Them (the second complete book included in this volume) sums it up this way:
For those who understand the significance of home-grown foods to surviving and thriving in difficult times, yet who may have little knowledge or experience of gardening technique, or who have access only to small urban or suburban yards or community gardens, we have included F. F. Rockwell’s Home Vegetable Gardening: A Complete And Practical Guide To The Planting And Care Of All Vegetables, Fruits And Berries Worth Growing For Home Use, which may be the best single volume, practical manual of family-feeding, high-yield home gardening ever compiled.
These three classic volumes work in harmony to reveal the “can-do!” temperament that has traditionally lifted Americans above the simple facts of hard times, while simultaneously offering hundreds of pages of no-nonsense advice, delightful recipes, culinary wisdom, and hands-on “how to” instructions for bringing frugality into every aspect of the family diet.
New to this expanded third edition of The Better Days Books Frugal Food Bible is A.G. Payne’s classic British cookbook, Cassell’s Vegetarian Cookery: A Manual Of Cheap And Wholesome Diet, which begins:
The present work, though written upon strictly vegetarian principles, is by no means addressed to vegetarians only. On the contrary, we hope that the following pages of recipes will be read by that enormous class throughout the country who during the last few years have been gradually changing their mode of living by eating far less meat… Where there are thousands who are vegetarians from choice, there are tens of thousands who are virtually vegetarians from necessity… only those who have tried a strictly vegetarian course of diet know what real economy means.
As the price of corn (the prime ingredient in most domesticated animal feed) increases exponentially, so, too, must rise the cost of meat and poultry products. Soon, no one with a frugal eye for their food budget will even consider their purchase for day to day consumption. What makes Cassells Vegetarian Cookery such a fabulous addition to this volume is the author’s clear understanding that, for those who choose a meatless diet out of necessity (rather than philosophy), the most important factor is flavor. We want foods that taste good, that are familiar, reliable, “down home.” To satisfy this desire, Payne wraps his recipes in savory sauces and other culinary devices geared to make meatless food richly attractive to the meat-trained palate.