Since we stopped hunting and gathering and turned to markets for our food and ingredients, cost-conscious cooks have depended on affordable basics to provide hearty, healthy meals for their families. Many of these items are now being appropriated and glorified by “foodies” who have “discovered” them. The gentrification of traditional foods has enhanced the plates of the few at the cost of the many.
Nearly all ethnicities have roasted, then simmered, soup bones for a stock. Used to be that you could ask a butcher for some, and he would give you a big bag, cut into perfect lengths, for free. Traditional ingredients have enabled the cook to serve a wholesome and tasty meal of soup for less than $1 per person, including the chunks of warm bread for sopping it up. Think of all the cultures that rely on soup for satisfying nutrition. With pasta, with vegetables, with grains and curries, with garnishes like parsley or green onions.
Plain bones (no attached meat) are priced at about $2 a pound in the supermarket. And if you want someone else to do the simmering, a quart box of bone broth is about $5. Shanks and oxtails are a step up from bones, with more meat and flavor, but they have become unaffordable for the cook with a large family to feed. Another of my favorite bones, or collection of bones, is one of the dishes that has not been discovered—yet. Pig’s feet are part of the German heritage on one side of my family. I think it may take some doing before they are appropriated by anyone else.
And speaking of pigs, you’ve heard the saying “Use everything but the squeal.” And it’s true. I raised pigs in my former farming life. In addition to their feet, we used head meat to make scrapple, that luscious accompaniment to eggs that raises breakfast to a heavenly level. I will not provide the details, but it was well worth the work. Wonder what scrapple is going for.
When I lived over in Franklin County, I shopped at Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield. This family-owned market broke down whole organic chickens raised on pasture by Mennonite farms in New York State and sold the carcasses with enough meat still attached to make a large pot of soup for about $1.50. The result was the most beautiful golden stock that has ever passed through my lips. Need to make the trip and stock up on carcasses now that I have my little freezer.
Inexpensive, vitamin-rich greens have traditionally accompanied main dishes but were never the high-priced star of the show that they now are. Used to be that when you went to the farmers’ market, you could take as much as you wanted from the basket of beet greens into which the seller chopped off the tops as customers bought the roots. Those greens were large, crisp, delicious and also free. The frugal cook planned the meal around cost as much as any other factor.
When I first farmed back in the 80s, I grew many varieties of kale, a green that had to be explained to customers hesitant to buy. Even as recently as six or eight years ago, folks who don’t follow the food trends had to be convinced. I would tell them about the nutritional value of kale, how to cook it, even give them free samples of various kinds so that they could give them a try. Boy have things changed.