A new month, a new series... I'm looking forward to this very much. Having pondered long and hard I realised there would be a definite crossover with other series - both current and past - and that's just fine by me. There may be the odd foray into Precious Things territory, and there'll most definitely be Food Memories involved too. Hurrah for that I say. Just one little disclaimer before we begin. This series isn't me finger-wagging or saying what I think people should do. It's me saying what I do. I'd be very keen to hear how you do things - or your parents or grandparents, for that matter. Shared wisdom is truly valuable (and incredibly interesting).
So, without further ado: elegant economy and the world of baking.
I remember growing up in a house where there was a weekly 'baking day'. Often it would be when the oven was already switched on for something else. It was all about being resourceful, getting as much out of that few hours of heat consumption as you could. Cakes would be baked in battered old tins lined with saved bread wrappers. Cut to size, they were as good as 'proper' greaseproof paper. We'd have sponges sandwiched together with raspberry jam, iced and sprinkled with dessicated coconut. Little lemon curd tarts. 'Flatcake' - rich pastry dough and raisins baked into a round and eaten thickly buttered.
My mum brought us up alone. In the very early days she lived above a cake shop and paid the rent by working downstairs. She'd tell me how, whenever she met up with her friend in a cafe, she'd skip putting the sugar in her coffee and instead take a couple of sachets home for the jar.
These days I can imagine it's only the very old (or eccentric) who do things like that. Back then though, people were thrifty and careful. I remember as a child the strikes which resulted in the water being cut off; we'd have bowls and pans filled to the brim ready in advance and they'd cover the kitchen surfaces...
Back to the present. I do have a tendency to use the oven sensibly. Might as well utilise both shelves if it's going on. And I'm careful with what I buy too. Once upon a time it was cheaper to cook, bake, sew and knit your own. Now, not so much. In our throwaway society we expect food to be ever cheaper, for our clothing to cost just a few pounds. And baking can be a costly business. Granted, nothing tastes as nice as home made. But once you've factored in the cost of heating the oven and buying all those ingredients, is it worth it?
For me, yes. There are some things I don't compromise on - vanilla extract (not essence), butter (not margarine), *free range eggs. But I've found that the Germanic supermarkets (Aldi and Lidl) do some good basics at reasonable prices. Let's face it, ground almonds are ground almonds. Ditto the flaked variety. And caster sugar.
*For me, this is non-negotiable. There's a shop nearby which sells local free-range eggs for £1.10 per half-dozen, and they're large and brown with the most wonderful orangey yolks.
So: it comes down to what's known as Shopping Around. And let's save Having The Time for another post...
Baking's also a good way of using things up. I do hate throwing food away; indeed, it very rarely happens here. I endeavour to get things eaten by their use-by date. Anything stale (or which Joe leaves) goes to the birds. Or is bagged up for the ducks.
I baked banana bread at the weekend. Toddlers are notoriously faddy, and what they love one day they refuse to eat the next. I'm not the biggest fan of bananas, particularly when they've reached that over-ripe stage. Once the skins go brown they're perfect for baking with (or blitzing into a smoothie). Same with old apples - they get cooked down and used in cakes too.
Much of what you have for baking lasts for ages anyway: nuts, dried fruit, spices and so on. I just make sure everything's kept in airtight containers. Nobody likes flour weevils.
In terms of economising - well, sometimes it's OK to push the boat out. I love to make a fancy birthday cake or a special something using indulgent ingredients. But most of the time it's pretty simple and often things taste all the better for it. Basic Madeira cake or shortbread, chicken pie or jam tarts are pretty hard to beat. And fad-proof too...
So, there you have it. I could go on ad infinitum but I won't. Better to perhaps revisit this particular subject than to write War and Peace all in one post. I would love to hear your memories or thoughts on baking and the role of elegant economy in your kitchens. Happy baking.