Thriftiness two ways

This week I’ve made a couple of very simple recipes from two books that look at preserving and thriftiness, making use of inexpensive or free foods.
Preserving: Conserving, Salting, Smoking, Pickling by Ginette Mathiot is a slightly reworked translation of a 1948 book. Mathiot was the Julia Child of France, with her Je Sais Cuisiner (translated by Phaidon for a later English edition as I Know How to Cook), first published in 1932, selling over 6 million copies to date. This collection contains everything from simple jams to charcuterie, for those lucky souls with home-kill meat to preserve. Published at a time when wartime food rationing was on its way out, but economy and thrift were still at the forefront of every housewife’s mind (it’s very much aimed at an assumed female readership), today’s readers may not have the same financial need to preserve foods, but nonetheless ‘bottling’ is a handy option when presented with a glut of autumn feijoas or a special on pickling onions.

That’s just what I had – a lot of baby onions – and being a pickle fiend, I decided to give the pickled onion recipe a go. Of course you don’t really need a recipe for something this simple, and could just use vinegar, salt and maybe sugar, but where it comes in handy is the different take on flavourings. After soaking the onions in boiling water, peeling them and putting them into a sterilised jar (a lovely heavy vintage brown glass Agee number I’d been saving for just such a use), I scattered black pepper corns, chilli flakes and a couple of sprigs of tarragon in around the onions and then covered it all with warmed malt vinegar, salt and a little Great Barrier honey. The honey was not in the recipe; I stole the idea from a pickled onion recipe I found online. I also added a bay leaf for good measure.

The onions will now sit on the kitchen bench looking pretty until sufficiently pickled in two months’ time. And next I’ll try one of the more ambitious recipes – maybe the duck rillettes.

The Seaweed Cookbook: Superfood Recipes from the Sea, by Xa Milne, is less obviously about preserving and thriftiness, but is essentially a collection of recipes that utilise an under-appreciated ingredient that anyone who lives near an unpolluted shoreline can source for free. Seaweed has been on my mind a bit since we were last in Scotland, where there are piles and piles of the stuff sitting round making the beaches look a little less pretty. We’d wondered if there wasn’t something that could be done with it – and I have since found out via a TV doco that there is at least one company turning it into skincare products, and others processing it as a food. The Scots actually have a long history of using seaweed as a food source, with dulse being a staple part of the diet of crofters throughout the North West coast, often eaten with oatmeal in a thick broth, or simply boiled and served with butter. Funny, as my Scottish husband is not fan.

Not only is seaweed a low-sodium, umami-rich food, containing natural glutamates (what MSG mimics), it is also packed with nutrients and phytochemicals, apparently containing all 56 of the minerals and trace elements that our bodies need to function. I found wakame and karengo growing around the rocks at local Enclosure Bay (also Neptune’s necklace, which I dismissed as ‘too seaweedy’) and dried them before grinding them in a coffee grinder. I decided on a simple recipe to begin with: seaweed sprinkle, or furikake, as they call it in Japan, where they sprinkle it on rice and fish dishes. Not so much a recipe but a list of ingredients to mix together. The recipe calls for kombu, but I substituted this with my dried karengo and wakame, and combined it with toasted white and black sesame seeds, a pinch of celery salt, paprika and chilli flakes and some crumbled dried nori from the Asian supermarket. It’s now sitting in my pantry ready to be sprinkled on whatever could do with an umami kick.

There are many more substantial recipes I want to try from the book – Thai pork balls with seaweed and chilli, crispy pork belly with fennel and seaweed, grilled sea bass with tarragon, lemon and seaweed and seaweed popcorn with maple syrup to name a few. The recipes use some varieties of seaweed that might not be available here, but as with anything, you can substitute. I borrowed the book from the library but I’ll buy a copy as I know it’ll get used.

Preserving: Conserving, Salting, Smoking, Pickling by Ginette Mathiot (Phaidon, 2015) and The Seaweed Cookbook: Superfood Recipes from the Sea by Xa Milne (Michael Joseph/Penguin Books, 2016).

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