First I’d like to thank everyone for stopping by today. I hope you are all staying safe during these difficult times!
If you are like me, you’re cooking more than usual, and probably being more careful with ingredients. I have to admit that over the years (as in since college and the early days of my marriage when money was sooo tight) I’ve become more wasteful. If the lettuce is rusting, chances were that I’d toss the rest of the head and buy a new one rather than salvaging what could be salvaged. Leftovers often disappeared in the fridge, only to be found when it was “too late”.
But you know what? I know better. And I’ve done better.
Before I started college, I helped cook in a remote Alaska mining camp. It was in the Arctic, 250 air miles north of Fairbanks during the pipeline construction days. I actually spent three summers at camp, but only cooked during one of those summers. I was the bull cook, known in politer circles as the sous chef. I helped the head cook, who just happened to be my mom.
As you can imagine, fresh ingredients were rare. We got them when the grocery order came in by air. Sometimes my mom and dad would travel to Fairbanks and buy the groceries, but often we’d put in an order and the grocer would send the stuff on a plane heading our way. Sometimes, believe it or not, we got the worst produce they had to offer. We weren’t exactly in a position to complain, so I learned a lot about salvaging ingredients.
We only got salads right after the plane came, and after weeks of canned and skillet fried food, salads were pretty darned tasty. If I could save half or even a quarter of a going-bad tomato, I did. Lettuce was often peeled back to less than half its original size.
Potatoes and onions usually came in better condition and kept longer, but there was still a lot of salvaging going on. Anything was better than eating only canned food. Speaking of cans, the pantry was left intact when we left for the winter months and of course the cans froze solid. What does canned food look like after a good solid Arctic freeze? Well, creamed corn looks pretty scary. When my folks were in Fairbanks and I was in charge of feeding the crew, one of the crew members and I dyed the cream corn purple using food coloring to distract from its grayish-yellow appearance. The crew was definitely distracted. (We did practice safety measures with the canned goods and only used those that had an intact seal and showed no signs of damage from freezing.)
Milk was a challenge. We froze it, but it separated upon thawing. It was still fine for cooking, but not so much for drinking. I discovered the reconstituted evaporated milk was far superior to dried milk for drinking. In fact, I kind of developed a taste for it.
I’ve been thinking about my Alaska days as I’m working my way through my pantry and putting my camp cooking skills to work. If it can be salvaged, I’m eating it. Leftovers will not be pushed to the back of the fridge. Milk in cartons will be savored and when it’s gone, I’ll break out the evaporated. My prima dona food ways are going by the wayside and I’m interested in hearing about your kitchen experiences.
If you would like to win one of two $10 Amazon gift cards, please tell me a quick tip you’ve used when ingredients were scarce or missing. Winners will be announced on Friday, April 3.
Stay safe everyone! Sending love and blessings,