“Waste not, want not” was a favourite saying of my mothers when we were growing up. It came second only to “you’ll follow the crows for it yet” and both were used regularly whenever there was an indication that we kids might do anything less than clear our plates of all that was put in front of us. In our house, leaving food behind on your plate was simply not an option, and you soon learned that eating smoked haddock when it was warm was at least marginally preferable to eating it after a stand-off of an hour or so between you and your dinner plate!
While I might not have wholly appreciated it as a child, though, I certainly know now where my mother was coming from. We were a large family (try 10 kids for size) and my parents both worked hard to put that food on the table for everyone. They also both came from large families themselves and, having been young adults during WW2 (or “The Emergency” as it was known in Ireland), knew all about privation and having to be economical with rations (though, somehow, being reminded of this never made that smoked haddock seem any more appetising…)
The sayings (and the substance behind them) have, however, left a lasting impression. I still clear my plate at dinner (though, admittedly, it’s easier when there’s no smoked haddock to contend with) and I have a deep-seated abhorrence of food waste, which I see far too often for my liking. It also means that I always feel obliged to eat my food experiments, even the ones that turn out to be less than stellar.
Last weekend, for example, saw my first attempt to make gluten-free bread. I’ll freely admit that I was winging it, as my cupboard, bulging though it was with flours, couldn’t precisely match any of the flour mix recipes I’d found. So I took a selection of flours and starches, added some xanthan gum and yeast, kneaded and waited for the bread rolls to react in the usual yeasty way, but they didn’t rise one little bit. I cooked them anyway and what came out of the oven had crusts of steel.
The maize flour used in the mix meant that these solid little babies qualified as cornbread, if, er, rather more rigid on the outside than is usual for same. Having managed to break into one of the rolls, I did find that there was a lovely cornbread aroma and really quite a pleasant taste once you got past the serious crust chewing involved. I was still a bit daunted by the fact that I was going to have to chisel my way through the entire batch as resident sis, after the first sample or two, was steering well clear. In this round of Kitchen Idol, she was voting them off (and with good reason) while I, well, I simply couldn’t bring myself to throw them out..
It was then that it came to me, almost jedi-like: “Use the
force microwave”. Normally bread and microwave should not cross paths for any more than a few seconds, unless you want to end up with a soggy mess. In this case, however, 40 seconds on a microwave high turned the bulletproof cornbread shield into a pleasantly chewy crust. This allowed me to (a) split the rolls without having to resort to a pickaxe and (b) relax in the knowledge that I would neither waste the cornbread nor want for something to accompany my bowls of chili for quite some time to come.