Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cutting Your Summertime Food Costs

     Summer's a perfect time not only to save money on your food costs now -- but in the near future. A few easy ideas can help. (Special note: they're also healthy ones!)

*Grow a garden. But if you can't...

*Take advantage of easily available (and therefore often on sale) fruits and vegetables. Especially fruit. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are often on June sale flyers in my neck of the woods. In Michigan, The Mama lives a mile from a huge pick-your-own strawberry farm that has even better prices. Stuff yourself with fresh fruit, then throw at least three or four bags in the freezer, as well. (Wash 'em, slice if needed, bung them in a ziploc bag. That's it.)
     Try this blueberry crostada now.  (See update note below.) Make two -- freeze one unbaked. Think how nice warm blueberry pie will sound one rainy autumn night, when you're cold, tired and hungry!

* don't have extra cash to be buying extra fruit? Can you:
        -- eat off what's already in your freezer or pantry, then use the cash saved?
        -- make a swap with the seller? (Offer to work at the farmer's market. Offer to babysit, bring by a hot supper, or help pack up at day's end. Most sellers are more than willing to dicker, or pay in vegetables, because then they don't have to haul them back home.)
        -- offer to go to a pick-your-own place for a friend or relative who's working? Suggest: "I'll pick the fruit, you pay for it and we'll split it."  Your friend will get fruit at a much better price than the supermarket. Fresher, too.
       -- glean fruit, from trees in your neighborhood, or throwaways from the ground?  (Ask first.) We don't have much wild fruit here -- it's too dry -- but we still have plums and chokecherries. Your area may be much more productive than that.

Note:  Our favorite discount market, the Friday/Saturday store, yielded 6 boxes of blueberries at 35 cents each -- enough for three large blueberry crostadas. The same trip got enough leeks (50 cents a pound, $2 total) for three quart-sized bags of sliced leeks, for future meals of vichyssoise. Yum.

*Follow the fruit season, for even better prices.  When the cantaloupe ('muskmelons') start coming up from Rocky Ford, about mid-August, I'll buy an extra one, chunk it, and put it in the freezer. Then for a special dinner, I'll buzz the chunks in the blender, along with a little water and sugar, for a 'fruit gelato' that's incredible.
      In Colorado, peaches start producing in late August - mid-September. We buy a bushel, give them to friends, and eat them like crazy; the taste of a fresh, ripe peach must be a little what heaven is like.
      Peaches are also easy to process: slice them in half and remove the pit, then into the bag for the freezer. Or just put them in, pit and all. You'll want to use these half-frozen, but they taste far better than commercially frozen fruit. And if you buy them on sale, from a farmer's market, or even better -- from the farmer him/herself -- you'll pay far less.

*Stock up on the basics. A large bag of onions keeps for weeks. Potatoes keep even longer -- we often buy 50 pounds, then store them downstairs in the basement, where it's cool and dark. Potatoes are on the list of 8 'superfoods' that cost less than a buck a serving. They're easy to fix, and if you go easy on butter and sour cream, they're also surprisingly low-calorie. There's even a  potatoes diet.
     Don't forget about other staples, like sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin. They also store well. But buy them on sale.

*Watch for 'signature' food sales.  Turkey's not the only thing that magically goes on sale during the holidays! Hot dogs and steaks typically cost less around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July -- but so do all kinds of ice cream products. (Melons often follow this pattern, as well -- but I can't do as much with watermelon, because of the Brick. He grew up in North Carolina, eating melon until it literally ran out his ears...and refuses to touch it now. Ever try to eat a large melon by yourself?)

     Pork chops have also been especially well-priced this doubt because they grill so beautifully. Side items like barbecue sauce and baked beans are often on sale too. And they store very well.
     Sometimes you'll also find oddball sales. More than once, I've stocked up on canned soup, for example, because it's suddenly at a screaming price. Are the soup manufacturers desperate for money? Clearing out stock? I don't care -- it just means less spent for us.
     Seasonally-decorated items, like cakes and cookies, but also napkins and other paper products, are usually half-price (or more) when the holiday ends. All the better for the budget!

*Keep pantry items that do more than just season food. Vinegar preserves cucumbers, makes a mean salad dressing...but also, thinned with water, can be used as a rinse to keep your hair clean and shining.  Stock some baking soda, as well, and you've not only got the means to make biscuits, cakes and muffins -- combined, vinegar and baking soda are a very effective cleaner.

Take advantage of easy recipes that taste good. Leanne Brown's Good and Cheap cookbook was written originally to help food stamp recipients. But her recipes have become a great way to use summer's bounty, as well. Go here to buy a copy -- or download a free one. (She welcomes donations, too.)  Many of these, like the blueberry crostata above, also freeze well.

Plan right, and you save money all summer, using these tips. Plan even better, and you've got extra for the coming months, too.

UPDATE:  I made this for supper -- and it is one of the best blueberry pies I've ever done. I did adapt it somewhat. Half a recipe made one pie/tart enough for 5-6 servings, using two small containers of blueberries. (No lemon -- no sense diluting that rich berry flavor.) The water's needed for the crust, not the filling -- and grating the butter beforehand works surprisingly well. 
     It took longer to bake than the recipe says. (About 45 minutes.) And a lot of liquid came out of the berries. (I poured some out, and the remainder didn't seem to hurt the crust any.) The crust stayed crispy, in spite of it. (It didn't stick, either -- I didn't use any paper, but greased the pan beforehand.)
      REALLY good flavor. 
     I plan to make another blueberry crostada for the freezer, then use this recipe for the rest of the fruit that comes along. The raspberry version should be excellent...ummm.

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