Thrift. There’s a word we don’t hear very often. But, when I was little, it was a word my grandmother used a lot. She’d been an ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) driver in the Second World War and years of rationing had taught her the value of using up everything. To Granny, the idea that any tiny scrap of food that was still suitable for human consumption might end up in the bin was anathema. It did make her a little bit scary to a small child used to a more indulgent form of parenting – spinach left uneaten at supper could be guaranteed to reappear the next day at breakfast, and again at lunch until it was eaten (or, memorably, hidden in my knickers).
My mother wasn’t quite as hardcore as Granny, but the legacy of rationing was part of her childhood, too – born in 1945, she endured the lack of bacon, bananas and sweeties until rationing stopped nine years after the end of the war in 1954, and she passed her thoughts on thrift on to me in the kitchen.
I learnt from a very early age that hard-cheese ends could be grated and frozen to add to sauces and pasta dishes, and that stale bread was perfect for making breadcrumbs. If my mother made meringues, then the egg yolks were saved for custard or ice cream, and vice versa, and all meat bones were carefully saved from Sunday lunch plates for the stockpot.
Sour milk makes perfect scones, and can be used instead of expensive buttermilk in pancakes; and parmesan heels go into minestrone to add an extraordinary depth and richness
While I still do all of the above – it’s as normal to me as making a cup of tea – I have a friend whose husband religiously positions the bin next to the fridge on a Sunday night and throws out every single thing that has been opened or is past its sell-by date. Bags of apples, jars of condiments, opened cheese – out it all goes. It makes me want to cry.
When you consider that the food-waste charity WRAP estimates that 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year in the UK, and that almost 50 per cent comes from our homes, it’s time to re-examine how we shop, cook and eat. Not least because we are all stretched financially these days – it makes profoundly good economic sense to use up what we buy.
So, next time you open your fridge and cupboards to start mindlessly chucking things in the bin to make room for the next supermarket shop, think again. Soft apples make apple sauce in minutes (freeze it); an older egg white makes more voluminous meringue (always be careful with pregnant women, elderly and children with eggs); stale cake is great for trifle (I cube and freeze it); sour milk makes perfect scones, and can be used instead of expensive buttermilk in pancakes; and parmesan heels go into minestrone to add an extraordinary depth and richness.
Thrift isn’t just a way to save resources and money – it can make our food taste good, too.