Waste Not, Want Not

Is The Mountain Farmgirl the only one who hates to see food thrown out? Recycling applies as much to the contents of our refrigerators and pantry closets as it does to everything else that we use in our homes. With the abundance of Thanksgiving dinner now behind us, I pray that everyone shared in its bounty with grateful hearts, no matter how grand or simple a scale. But in many kitchens all across America, leftovers now abound. Check out a neat way to get extra mileage from some of our favorite foods and ingredients, which promise to  bring raves every time.

I read an article in the newspaper the other day about the wastefulness of Americans when it comes to food. The journalist was reviewing a book called “American Wasteland” by Jonathan Bloom.  Wastefulness has always gone against my grain, as I imagine it does with Farmgirls everywhere. For me, maybe it’s because I spent so much of my childhood down on my grandparents farm … folks who raised their family during the Depression years,  knew hard work firsthand and the real value of a dollar.  But whatever instilled it in me, I have always tried to make use of everything, right down to the last crusts of bread!  It’s not so much an obsession/compulsion for me as it is a really fun challenge that brings out all sorts of creativity and innovation. I’ve personally lived through times of both scarcity and abundance, but no matter which way my personal economy blows, I just cannot bring myself to waste a scrap of food.

According to the article I read, the US produces about 591 billion pounds of food each year, and up to half of it goes to waste, a ‘practice’ costing farmers, consumers and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Interestingly, food waste actually begins at the farms themselves. Lettuce for example has an average harvest rate of 85-90%.  The rest, the heads that don’t look or feel perfect on quick inspection, are just left to rot in the field.  One cucumber grower who was quoted in the article said that at least half the cukes on his farm aren’t harvested at all, mostly because they are too curved (making them hard to pack for shipment), or have small blemishes such as white spots or cracks. The losses are generally higher for hand-picked fruits and perishable vegetables than for machine harvested commodity crops like corn and wheat; about 9% of such crops planted in this country aren’t harvested at all!

Back in the days when I was a stay-at-home mother of four home schooled children, money as well as time were in short supply. But we kept bees and chickens, and had large organic gardens on our homestead where we grew a lot of our own food, making us pretty self-sufficient. I had several large freezers that were stocked chock full each harvest, as well as the ‘food pantry’ of my dreams.  It was a room off the kitchen with floor to ceiling shelves holding hundreds of jars of canned fruits and vegetables which we put by each year. On one side was a little window seat, “my sanctuary”, in which I could curl up with a book or write a letter within the secure ‘arms’ of our yearly harvest. It was better than money in the bank. Our kids were always part of the process of ‘stocking up’.  Knowing where something as important as our food comes from and being part of the process that gets it there, is one of the most valuable lessons we can share with our children. It teaches ‘cause’ and ‘effect’, contact with both nature and Creator, as well as a good old-fashioned work ethic. (Not to mention the added benefit of a good, sound sleep every night!). When our children were young, and for more than 10 of their growing-up years, we had an added blessing in our lives: Pine Hill Farm and Uncle Eddie. Ed is really my husband’s cousin, an amazing mix of part Teddy Roosevelt, part Mark Twain with a good dose of Thomas Jefferson thrown in for good measure. He is self-taught, well-read, and one of the smartest and wisest men I know.  Ed lives on a very historic farm, settled in revolutionary times by a Frenchman named Hector St. John de Crevecouer, who wrote the now famous book “Letters From an American Farmer” back in the year 1782.  This book was the original ‘guidebook’ for Europeans, describing in detail what a farmer’s life was like in the colonies. It was a best seller, too, but Hector St. John and his Pine Hill Farm is a story for another day.

It was an invaluable experience for our family to have contact with our own modern American farmer, Uncle Eddie, who currently inhabits Hector St. John’s farm. Intimacy with the land itself, as well as being able to provide for our own sustenance and nourishment, made the 40-minute/5 day a week trip with 4 small children worth all the effort. When our oldest son Chris was only 5, he would help transplant seedlings in the greenhouse in the spring. Later on he would ride on a little makeshift seat behind the tractor, planting the tomatoes and other plants in the furrows dug by the plow. When summer came on, our kids would all pick vegetables in the mornings, then set up the roadside farm stand with the produce they had collected. They waited on customers, learned how to make change, carry on meaningful conversations with real adults, and know that their efforts were important, if not essential, to the welfare of our family. That alone gives a lot of self-confidence to a child, and modern culture has all but made it extinct. Each day that we worked (5 days a week in the season from July-October) we brought fresh vegetables home to eat and preserve.  I often saw waste in the fields, the same waste that has recently been addressed in the article I mentioned, and thought: what a wonderful thing it would be to get rid of food stamps where possible, and issue Farm Stamps instead!  All that food sitting in the fields, not perfect enough to pick, or too abundant or ripe to make it possible to ship, could be exchanged for economic subsidies for families in need. It would eliminate waste, ensure pure, healthy nutritious foods for growing families, and help out the farmers at the same time with government backing of the program. Money would go directly to the farmers, real food would go to the people who needed it, and the self-worth of both would be enhanced. A win-win situation. Anyway, these were the kinds of things I would think about sometimes down on the farm, and these years were some of my best growing up years right along with my kid’s! We were pretty poor financially back then, but richer than kings for the experiences we had. I made use of everything. Ripe fruits and veggies went into the dehydrator, into canning jars, or in containers for the freezer. The stock pot begged daily additions vegetables; some of which got baked into breads or made into casseroles.


These days at our inn, I make many fancy things like specialty muffins and coffeecakes and cinnamon rolls  for our guest’s breakfasts, but none gets more compliments, nor is there a recipe more requested, than my bread pudding, which can be made into a sweet or savory dish depending on the ingredients you have on hand. It is probably the most humble of ‘recipes’, (and I use this term widely, as I do not have a recipe written down for it), and for this reason I am always amazed that so many people comment on it every day of the year!  But when I think about it, there may be a real good reason for this, as it is somewhat of an intuitive a Farmgirl standby. A real comfort food of days gone by, bread pudding is hearty, nutritious, inexpensive and (if you can go by my guest’s comments), a somewhat enviable dish. It is one of my loaves and fishes sort of dishes … in a pinch, I can whip it up even if I have practically nothing in the house and Mother Hubbard’s cupboard is bare! It is one of the best uses of leftovers and a kitchen recycler’s dream!  Here it is:

Basic Ingredients:
Leftover bread, rolls, muffins, bagels, even pancakes or oatmeal! (anything ‘bready’ will work) Milk
Vanilla Pudding mix (I use the non-instant variety)
Fruit (such as apples or raisins, if you have some to throw in)
Maple syrup or cinnamon sugar

As I said, I don’t have a written recipe, and it’s not an exact science, so experiment to see what you can come up with, (based on whatever you have handy and what needs using up in your larder).  I save and recycle everything ‘bread-like’ in a plastic bag in my freezer until I have enough to make a bread pudding casserole (see above suggestions in ingredients list). When I have enough to put in a casserole dish, I crumble or tear them into bite sized pieces in a bowl, and sprinkle them liberally with the dry pudding mix. (One step better would be to create your own mixture of milk, sugar, cornstarch and eggs to make your own pudding – but I use the powder for simplicity’s sake because I make large quantities every day of the year). Once the pieces are coated with the dry pudding mix, I transfer it to a greased baking dish, cover it with milk, and dot it with butter. Then I let it sit overnight in the refrigerator until it’s time to bake it next morning. (If you don’t have the luxury of time at this point, top it with the maple syrup or  cinnamon sugar now and bake it immediately. It still turns out great!).  I bake it at approximately 350 degrees for almost an hour, until the milk is set into a custard, and the entire dish is beautifully brown and puffy.  It can be served hot or warm with a drizzle of extra maple syrup (it tastes like French toast!); or sliced cold. It’s that simple, and amazingly, it gets raves from everyone!

Half the fun is experimenting to see what you can come up with, knowing that you are making use of what’s on hand and being a good steward in your kitchen. Transforming a few seemingly’ uninteresting ingredients ‘ that wouldn’t be able to stand on their own, into an edible symphony of flavor is nothing short of Farmgirl Kitchen Magic!  But just as much fun as creating is the process of sharing. I’ll bet there are more than a few ‘Blue Ribbon’ recipes out there that have been created on a whim or by necessity.  How ‘bout it, Farmgirls? Have you got any kitchen magic to share?
Until next time, ‘Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings’
From the Mountain Farmgirl



By: Cathy
On: 11/29/2010 18:32:59
Great article. I wish more large scale farmers would allow gleaning. There are so many who would be happy to have those curved cucumbers!
By: Juanita Massey
On: 11/29/2010 18:33:29
I love your Bread pudding story, When My 3 boys were growing up, we were very frugal and I never threw out any thing. Bread pudding was one of the staples in my house. I would make it in a casserole and make it sort of thick and when they were little they could hold it in their hands and loved it. I would put apple sauce in or what ever fruit I had on hand. I to would freeze the bread until I had enough to make a big batch. I still make it for mone of my sisters for her Birthday, she wants that instead of cake. Now it is just my husband and I. I don't cook like I use to.But still enjoy cooking. Keep up the good work. sincerely, Juanita
By: Leon Hadden
On: 11/29/2010 19:26:26
I, as an older gentleman, read your blog when it appears. I like to cook and my 21 year old daughter and wife share the cooking duties around here. I like the left over bread recipe and will probably work it up tomorrow night. My speciality is biscuits. I worked at a restaurant that was famous down here for its biscuits just so I could duplicate them for my family. So far, everyone is happy.
By: Roseman Creek Ranch
On: 11/29/2010 19:42:41
What a great idea of allowing people to collect the extra food. Especially people already in need.How happy this would also make the farmers.Brilliant!

How can we allow government to be more creative in their thinking? How can we demand and expect it ?
By: Marion Armstrong
On: 11/29/2010 20:54:21
The bread pudding sounds wonderful. You remind me of my mom who never could see anything go to waste. We had very little money, but she canned everything she could get her hands on--no freezer in our home then. We picked cherries and strawberries every year, and sold part of them to pay for the ones we kept. There was an ice cream company in town, and they loved to get the fresh fruit. We had our own cow and chickens, and had a big garden every year. When my mom was baking, she always filled the oven full; always squeezing in a bread pudding, a rice pudding, or a baked custard. We loved those puddings and looked forward to them. To this day, those foods are my "comfort foods," especially the custard. My dad always expected dessert with his meal; so my mom baked regularly, several times a week. My dad often said, "What's for dessert--cake, pie, or pudding? So, she did not waste food either.
Your idea of letting people come in and pick is a wonderful idea. My mom did let others come in and pick green beans after she had canned all she needed, and we had eaten our fill of them fresh.
My mom learned "Waste not; want not" from her mom, my grandma. When my dad would take us to visit our grandparents in Wisconsin{We lived in Michigan}' my mom would spend hours baking before we left, making cupcakes and cookies for we five children. By the time we arrived in Wisconsin, the goodies would be dried out, stale, and crumbled. Grandma would not let us throw them out. Instead, she put them in bowls, and poured pudding over them; and called it "floating islands." Guess what--we ate it and enjoyed it.
I am happy to see that the younger generation has a few thoughtful moms who still say, "Waste not; want not." Keep up the good work.
By: Joanna Rance
On: 11/29/2010 22:34:03
I have just looked at your blog for the first time and feel comfortably at home! I am a stay at home mom of four homeschooled children and I too have a ziploc bag in my freezer where I collect odds and ends of bread to save up for my savoury bread pudding. I layer 9x13 pan with cubes of my thawed "bread" and sprinkle the top with grated aged chedder and then add another layer of bread and cheese. In a small saucepan I warm milk 4 cups of milk with 1/4 cup butter until butter is melted and then I add a Tbsp of dijon mustard. In a large bowl I beat 10 eggs add salt and pepper to taste and then add the milk mixture to the eggs. I pour this over the bread and cheese and let it sit for at least 10 mins. while I heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pop it in the oven for about 45 minutes (or until puffed and golden). My kids love it and I am happy that all my bread scraps didn't go to waste. I adapted the recipe from a Canadian Living recipe. I also use the bag of bread ends or bread that is a few days old to make my thanksgiving or christmas stuffing...it works wonderfully. I have gotten many strange looks from people who have seen my ziploc bag...it is nice to see that somebody else shares my "strange" behaviour!
By: Sheree
On: 11/29/2010 23:31:46
Cathi, this is a wonderful article. I cook with this kind of creative abandon when it comes to leftovers for dinner, but have always been shy about whipping up a pudding. Next stale loaf of bread better watch out!
By: Connie McCaffery
On: 11/30/2010 03:20:20
I enjoyed reading your article. It is very inspiring!
By: Dianne
On: 11/30/2010 05:35:31
Bread pudding has always been a favorite of mine. Thanks for reminding me about a way to use leftovers. The possibilities are endless. Merry CHristmas!!
By: TJ
On: 11/30/2010 07:37:29
I love this bread pudding recipe, will be making it soon!! I usually save the end pieces (frozen)of my wheat bread loaves to add thickness to soups and stews, but this sounds like a great breakfast idea!

I love making homemade stock - it's usually just about free to make, and tastes so much better, and is so much healthier than storebought! The only problem, last night being a perfect example, is that the savory smell of, say, turkey bones/leftovers (mixed with onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, a bit of pepper, and a bunch of garlic) cooking slowly down to luscious broth in the crockpot will make sleeping somewhat difficult!! Turkey only makes you sleepy if you eat it - if you are trying to sleep and smelling it, oh dear!!!

I throw end pieces of veggies (like those above) into a ziploc in the freezer during the week... especially during the winter, when I can't compost due to the fact that the composter outside is, well, frozen solid. Likewise, chicken bones and pieces, the trimmed fat and skin, etc. Even steak and rib bones (in a different baggie). The crockpot can turn the biggest mess of end pieces into the savoriest stock in 24 hours or so on Low!!

Thanks for these ideas!!! I'd love to see the Farm Stamps implemented - teach tomorrow's generation that food comes with work, not just opening a container or placing an order!
By: Debbi F
On: 11/30/2010 07:48:30
I can vouch for how good this tastes. I could hardly wait for morning when we stayed with you. Now I will be doing this for us. Please email me the company where you get your cereal's from. My husband is STILL talking about your granola (even though it was a combination of several cereals). What is the company name?
By: Eileen
On: 11/30/2010 09:04:05
I agree with you totally. When our family butchers hogs my mother-in-law always says that you use everything but the tail and the squeel.
By: April
On: 11/30/2010 15:29:02
I love seeing how much I can get out of my food stash! It's a game to me too! Great article!
By: Dollie
On: 11/30/2010 16:49:03
I can almost smell that delicious Bread Pudding, my husband's favorite. I also save anything Bready in the freezer until I have enough to make Pudding. I also use the same idea with bread and anything cornbready to make Chicken Dressing, year round. Plenty of opportunities to make Chicken Broth, to use with it. Not to mention the water from cooked or canned vegs for soups,etc, along with those bites of leftovers. Yummy! I cannot make the Artisan Breads that are appearing everywhere. Looks so easy but will not rise for me! Suggestions? Thanks for sharing your life with us! D
By: Brenda
On: 11/30/2010 18:00:26
sounds good and a good way to use up left over bread. I usually use it for stuffing or grind it up and mix it for bread coating I even have made croutons out of left over bread and I even grin it up to add to my cat food since I have a number of barn cats that seems to have adopted me. Thanks for the recipe never have used pudding on ot what a time saver.
By: Janeen
On: 12/01/2010 11:36:31
The Society of St. Andrews located in Big Island, VA oversees just such a gleaning of the fields project on a large scale, distributing the food to needy people.
By: Shery
On: 12/10/2010 19:34:51
Oh Cathi, Your blog is just delicious...top to bottom, front to back...visually stimulating and you always take me to the best places of thought. Thank you. Shery

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir