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Seeing Beyond Three Meals a Day

There is far more to true self-reliant nutrition than serving size, calories and protein content.  In days past, gardens were common place, livestock was a given in the rural areas, ‘everybody’ had a fruit or root cellar, home canning was as normal as going to the supermarket for the middle class. Every year, with seasonal regularity, people stocked up for winter. And from that pantry they prepared three meals a day for months.

Both my great-grandmother and her sister ran boarding houses in small mining towns during the Great Depression and World War II. Among the interesting old items I inherited were their cookbooks and recipe boxes. They lived in mountainous areas where gardening was extremely challenging and every extra edible was canned. The meals not only needed to taste good and be filling, but more importantly, they did all they could to make them balanced nutrition. It was early in the commercial canning era and those products were not always affordable except to add a little flair. Since they were sometimes feeding whole families from young children through aging adult stage, the menus had to be planned carefully to insure ingredients were utilized to their fullest without going so far as to prepare multiple, completely separate meals.

These old recipes obviously use home canned foods and some were altered to compensate for rationed ingredients. The sisters (like me) used wood cook stoves so the directions read accordingly. “Bake in a slow oven until it shows” means 15-20 minutes at 250 degrees. Slow or cool oven = 150 to 250 degrees. Moderate or warm oven = 275 to 350 degrees. Fast or hot oven = 375 to 425 degrees. Slow, moderate or fast described the activity in the fire box. Tad, pinch and dash are graduating measurements of spices that we now know as “flavor to taste”. “Whisk to a thin thread” means adding liquid ingredients while whisking until the batter drips in a thin steady stream as opposed to “whisk to a shoestring”. And, of course, we still use the toothpick method for testing doneness.

Seeing beyond three meals a day means careful pantry management and a basic understanding of nutrition. I have enjoyed using and sharing these recipes and menus and I’m pretty well convinced that they will prove useful for you, too.

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