Being a Penny Pincher Pays Off in the Time of COVID

Title

Being a Penny Pincher Pays Off in the Time of COVID

Description

Everyone wants to make their fresh food last and to make as few grocery shopping excursions as possible these days.

Writer Sheila Grant provides tips on extending the life of food items, including fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, and baked goods.

Date

2020-04-03

Type

Publisher

The Gazette Inc. (Dexter, Me.)

Source

The Eastern Gazette, Vol. 168, No. 14

Rights

Creator retains copyright. Item may be used for noncommercial purposes under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

Text

If people in the Piscataquis region know me at all, they know me as a writer for local newspapers and magazines. What most folks don’t know is that I grew up without a lot, as did many Mainers in this neck of the woods, and I struggled with poverty off and on for years before finding my financial footing. I’ve even been a welfare recipient, though I’ve tried to pay those funds back, either directly or by paying it forward to other families and organizations in need.

I did not realize until this past two weeks, when friends and family have asked me (because I am known for my research skills) if it was safe to freeze, or how to extend the life of some food item, that I may have acquired some useful skills during my journey. Everyone wants to make their fresh food last and to make as few grocery shopping excursions as possible these days.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s, as stepmom to three growing kids, the book “Putting Food By” taught me how to can vegetables and make pickles. It also features chapters on drying, freezing, and storing in a root cellar, to name a few. It’s an “oldie but a goodie,” and has been updated a few times over the years. Copies are available on eBay and Amazon.

I buy my blueberries and many of my vegetables already frozen. For items I do buy fresh which are not pre-washed, I like to soak in a solution of three parts cool water, one part white vinegar for 15 minutes, rinse, dry and then package for use. I don’t know if vinegar kills COVID-19, but it does have disinfectant properties, and this kind of a wash also helps berries stay fresh longer.

Bananas turn dark faster in the refrigerator, but the insides stay firm and fresh far longer – and when they become too mushy, mash up three and store in the freezer in a small plastic container to thaw for banana bread later! Also, don’t separate bananas (or grapes) until ready to consume, as connection to stems keeps them fresh longer. Celery lasts longer wrapped in tinfoil. Lettuce won’t get soggy as fast if it is stored with a paper towel.

I bought some green and yellow peppers last week for recipes I won’t get to for a while, so those got chopped, pre-measured and stored in small plastic containers in the freezer. It’s important not to leave too much “head room,” the space between the food and the top of the container, when freezing, to reduce the risk of freezer burn. But you do need a little room, or items that expand when frozen could burst out of containers.

People have asked me how to make milk last longer, and eggs. Both can be frozen. Eggs should be removed from shells and frozen in whatever quantity required for various recipes. It’s best to use previously frozen eggs only in recipes that require a lengthy cooking time, in case of any bacteria that might otherwise cause intestinal distress. Thaw them in the fridge, and never re-freeze eggs. And the milk? Just give it a really good shake once it’s thawed. I also freeze the last of a gallon of fresh milk if it’s starting to sour, measured out for future baking needs.

Other items that can be frozen include butter, margarine, shredded cheese, spaghetti sauce, chicken broth, and most stews and casseroles. I have to experiment to find which dishes freeze well. My Italian meatball soup is fine frozen, but my taco bean soup, not so much!

Baked goods can be frozen, as well. Putting a paper towel in with a loaf of bread will keep it from getting soggy as it thaws. Putting a slice of bread in with cookies will keep them softer as they thaw. It’s best to use frozen breads and muffins within 30 days, as the quality begins to degrade after that. Cookies seem to last a little longer. We were still eating my molasses holiday cookies in February.

Apples are another fresh food that does well in the freezer. I slice mine into pie-sized batches and freeze. Or, if I have some that are looking a little worse for wear, I peel, slice and cook on low heat, adding sugar and cinnamon to the applesauce to taste, cool, and freeze.

Our grocery store workers are doing their best to keep the shelves stocked and oft-touched surfaces cleaned. I figure I can do my part by not visiting them any more often than I have to until COVID-19 concerns have passed.

Original Format

Collection

Citation

Grant, Sheila D., “Being a Penny Pincher Pays Off in the Time of COVID,” Heart of Maine Community Stories, accessed September 26, 2021, https://heartofmaine.omeka.net/items/show/33.

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