Missing, Reward Offered: Peasant Meals and Practical Skills

“Many don’t know anything except what they know, they don’t know there is another way or where to get help in equipping themselves for a more frugal life.” (Rhonda Hetzel in a recent post on Down to Earth)

Book cover: Frugavore: How to Grow Organic, Buy Local, Waste Nothing, and Eat Well, By Arabella ForgeFrugavore: How to Grow Your Own, Buy Local, Waste Nothing, and Eat Well, by Arabella Forge; Published by Black Inc, Collingwood, 2010, RRP AU$29.99. Currently available on Fishpond at AU$26.86

US edition: Frugavore: How to Grow Organic, Buy Local, Waste Nothing, and Eat Well; Published by Skyhorse Publishing, 2011. Currently available on Fishpond at AU$18.24 or Amazon at US$15.50

One of the difficulties of living sustainably in a western country today is that we have lost the skills of our foremothers and forefathers that would allow us to do so.

Many of us don’t know how to make our own stock, so we are forced to buy it from the supermarket, food miles, packaging and all.

We don’t know how to make our own cleaning products, so we buy the expensive and toxic products the marketing campaigns tell us to, and then flush them down the sink into our rivers.

We don’t know how to use the whole of the chicken that we buy (much less the parts that are usually thrown away before they get to us), so much of it ends up in landfill.

In Frugavore: How to Grow Your Own, Buy Local, Waste Nothing, and Eat Well, Australian writer and dietitian Arabella Forge does an excellent job of giving us some basic skills that were common to any peasant family not all that long ago, and indeed are still commonly found in many parts of the world today. But more importantly, she balances direct skill sharing with showing us what we’re missing.

You could borrow this book from the library (as I did, initially), and you’d probably get lots out of it, but it is really a book to keep on your shelf, to refer to as needed, once you’ve got a hold of the basic ideas Forge is presenting, and a good idea of the specific information she can give you.

In addition to sections on different types of food, each with a series of recipes as well as other information, Forge begins with sections on Sourcing Your Food, The Frugavore Kitchen, Stocking Your Larder, and eating as a peasant would.

Frugavore is focussed on food, but it is not only a cook book (though it is that, and I will tell you about one of the recipes I tried, below), it is also a book about regaining the lost skills of our grandparents, from growing a kitchen garden to making our own oven cleaner. You can read this book all the way through, or dip into it to suit your needs and interests.

Of course you may not want to read each recipe through until you are using it, but in addition to recipes, each section has practical and interesting information about the particular food type (poultry, fish, sweets etc), from how to grow your own vegies, to how best to slaughter chickens, or at least where to buy cheap chicken feet and carcasses for your stock; from why you need to pre-soak dried beans (but not lentils), to how to recognise fresh fish.

What is a frugavore?

Frugavore is about frugal eating. But it is also about eating well, including eating organic food where possible. “The health benefits of good food are clear”, Forge says.

“But people are always telling me that it costs too much to eat well… There is some truth in this… So if you ask me whether it costs more to buy the best quality produce through conventional retail outlets, my answer, in short, is yes it does. But there are shortcuts and backstreets you can take to access good food without going broke. By tapping into unconventional food resources and being frugal with what you buy, you can stick to a low budget while enjoying quality produce: that is what being a frugavore is all about.” (pp. 10-11)

The introductory sections of the book help you begin to think like a frugavore, who “makes the most of what they have, supports the best practices in farming, wastes nothing and grows their own food when they can.” They also provide some tips on how to do this.

Figuring out what you don’t know

Forge doesn’t exactly hand feed you in this book. She’s not going to tell you everything you need to know about breeding or raising your own chickens, or growing your own vegetables. Frugavore is not a replacement for a good book on preserving food, and if you like to cook from recipes, it’s probably not the only cook book you’ll ever want to own either. What it does give you is enough basic information to make a start, and to give you a better feel for what you don’t know.

That may seem unhelpful at first, but in fact it’s incredibly useful. In discovering what you don’t know, you are able to see what you can do with just a little more information.

Perhaps you’ve never thought of keeping your own bees – but when you hear that many people are now starting their own hives on inner city rooftops and apartment balconies, you may be keen to find out more. Or maybe you didn’t know that it’s often possible to source your meat or dairy products directly from a local farm, but now that you do, you can do some investigating in your local area. Or, you may not have known that you can often get fish bones, heads and carcasses for free from a busy fish market, from which you can make an awesome stock – and Forge will tell you how to make it, and then how to use it to make some delicious sounding soups.

Personally I didn’t know what castile liquid soap was, in fact, I’m embarrassed to admit I assumed ‘Castile’ was a brand. Actually it just refers to pure, natural soap (in this case, in liquid form).

I didn’t find that out by reading Frugavore, but what I did find out was that mixing a little of it with a little borax and some warm water will give you an effective, yet safe, oven cleaner. And that if you stock these and a few other basic ingredients in your cleaning kit, you have the makings of cleaners for just about any situation, for remarkably little cost, either to you or to the environment.

Cooking

There are lots and lots of recipes in Frugavore that I want to try, but I decided to start simple with the section on beans, lentils and pulses (legumes in the US version). I make hummus regularly as a snack for my children, so I thought I’d try the sweet potato hummus recipe and see how they liked it. One of the problems I foresee with switching to a more frugal, peasant style of cooking, is that my kids know what they like, and are not always keen to try knew tastes, or if they do try them, they are predisposed against liking them, for at least the first twenty times I serve them. Actually, my ten year old is starting to come out of this inflexible period, but my two year old is just moving into it. So taking it gently with a few familiar dishes seemed like a good plan.

Sweet Potato Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans), soaked overnight (the packet I had said 8 hours, Forge recommends 12-24 in general for beans, including chickpeas – I followed the packet but I think longer would have been better), or 2 x 450g cans of chickpeas
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 clove of garlic (or more if you like, which I do)
  • ½ tsp paprika or Ras el Hanout spice mix (I skipped this, to make it more palatable to my children, but should have added extra garlic to compensate. You live and learn!)
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • Sea salt
  • ½ cup olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Drain the chickpeas, and if you soaked your own, put them into a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Canned chickpeas don’t need this step.
  2. Coarsely chop the carrot and sweet potato and add them to the pot along with the garlic. Forge doesn’t mention this, but you will likely need to add more water to cover them. It won’t matter because you’re going to discard the water anyway (or save it to put on your garden perhaps). Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the chickpeas and vegetables are soft.
  3. Drain the water off and combine the chickpeas, vegetables, spices and lemon juice in a food processor, adding salt to taste (remembering that if you’ve used canned chickpeas, they are probably already salted). Add the olive oil gradually, pureeing the mixture at a high speed until a smooth paste forms. You may need more or less than ½ a cup of oil to get the consistency you like, hence adding it slowly.
  4. Season to taste and serve, or refrigerate in an airtight container (or both, because this makes a lot of dip!).

The verdict, what I did wrong, and what I’d do next time

This is a great dip. Unfortunately, none of my children agree with me on that yet, but I have high hopes that at least the two youngest (both big hummus eaters usually) will come around.

I didn’t use a food processor, just my handheld stick blender, because that’s what I usually do when making hummus. Next time, I’ll get out the food processor. What I failed to consider was that adding a large sweet potato and a carrot added a lot more bulk than the usual teaspoon of unhulled tahini! Also, I  confess that I usually use canned chickpeas, so I’ll often just use one can. I think I should have pre-soaked my chickpeas for longer, or simmered them for longer, as they were certainly not as soft as the canned ones. This combined with the extra bulk meant using the stick blender was frankly just painful, and also probably didn’t produce as smooth an end product.

I also left out the paprika, partly in the hope of children eating it more easily, but also because I don’t happen to like the flavour. Forge says to use one clove of garlic, or more if you particularly like it. I do particularly like it, but I only usually use one clove, so I thought I’d stick to her recipe and see how it was. But again, I didn’t allow for the extra bulk of this recipe, nor for the fact that garlic cooked for half an hour is not as strong a flavour as raw garlic. Next time I will use several cloves, and perhaps even a little paprika.

Overall I did rather like this dip and will definitely be making it again. The recipe does make a lot, and Forge says she uses it “through-out the week in sandwiches and as a snack with sliced carrots and celery.” It’s easy and economical, she says and keeps her going through “a long week.” I would add that it’s delicious on toast for breakfast, and very satisfying.

I have a confession to make

I initially borrowed Frugavore from the library, but I accidentally got the US version, and I wanted to see how different it was from the original Australian version (not very, is the answer – see my note below). So I emailed the Australian publisher, explained I was writing this review, and asked if they would send me a review copy. To my delight, it arrived within a few days. Initially I thought I might do another giveaway (after all, I am supposed to be avoiding adding to the clutter, right?). But I’m sorry folks. This book is too good. I’m keeping it.

Note on the US edition

Book Cover: Frugavore: How to Grow Organic, Buy Local, Waste Nothing and Eat Well. Arabella ForgeApart from the subtitle, there is not actually all that much difference between the US and Australian versions, but tablespoon and cup means different things in US and Australian measurements, so of course all the measurements are different.

There are also different resources in the back, naturally, though this is not a large section in either version and they do have some resources in common.

Other differences were mostly down to language, as you’d expect. Pulses in Australia, legumes in the US, larder in Australia, pantry in the US (personally I say legumes and pantry, but maybe that’s just a Canberra thing?). The layout (lots of white space and easy to read) is the same for both versions, and the page numbers are also almost identical all the way to p. 138. After that there’s a two page discrepancy because the US version skips the recipe for Kangaroo-tail soup. What can they be thinking?
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I shared this post at Fat Tuesday Forager Festival. There are gazillions more real food recipes linked up there!

  5 comments for “Missing, Reward Offered: Peasant Meals and Practical Skills

  1. June 13, 2012 at 7:21 am

    It is a great book, I am not surprised you decided to keep it 🙂
    It is one of my favorites. I have been lucky enough to meet Arabella and she is very passionate. She inspired me when I started skipping the supermarket. The book has a huge array of interesting and practical tips. Enjoy working through it.

    • Editor
      June 13, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      It is good isn’t it? And definitely a plus for helping with a skipping the supermarket challenge.

  2. June 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    It sounds like a good recipe book. Our family have been trying to change menus for a healthier diet and I think this will help us a lot. About your dilemma on omitting some ingredients, aren’t there possible alternatives for these? Maybe Frugavore can also help with that?

  3. Lisen
    December 16, 2013 at 12:33 am

    Is there a UK version please???????

    Many thanks, Lisen

    • Kirsten
      December 16, 2013 at 9:52 am

      I don’t think there is specifically a UK version Lisen, but as i said, there’s not a lot of difference between the US and Aussie versions – most of the material will still apply in the UK also.

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