Ask the Past: Cost of living

Every time I go to the supermarket at the moment, I am filled with a simmering rage about the cost of food. I've had a look for recipe ideas, but there are only so many times I can stand to eat lentil bolognese. Can you suggest any other cheap recipes?

If there's one thing old cookbooks are good for, it is recipes that bluntly tell you that they are cheap (or economical, if the writer wants to soften things a bit). You can find lots of recipes for Economy Pudding, like this one from The Red Cross War-Time Rationing Cookery Book:

6oz sugar, 3/4 pint milk, 2 oz cocoa, 12 oz flour, 5 oz fresh, sweet dripping, 1 teaspoon baking soda. Rub dripping into dry ingredients. Bring the milk to the boil and stir in the soda. Mix quickly into other ingredients. Pour into greased basin and steam 2 1/2 hours. Serve with sauce.

If all that animal fat strikes you as a little extravagant and if you don't have time to steam anything for 2 1/2 hours, then you won't be able to go past this Sultana Loaf (Economical) recipe from the New Zealand Women's Institutes Cookery Book:

Two cups flour, 1 cup sultanas, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder. Mix with cold water to a soft dough. Cook about 3/4 hour.

If economical isn't cutting it for you and you just want to cut right to the chase, try this Cheap Orange Cake from The Red Cross War-Time Rationing Cookery Book:

1 1/2 cups flour, 2 oz each sugar and dripping, 1/2 cup milk, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 good dessertspoon grated orange rind. Put the baking powder in the flour, rub in the dripping, add all the dry ingredients, beat the egg, add the milk, mix, pour into a well-buttered tin, and bake 1 hour.

That takes care of desserts, but I suppose at some point you might want to eat something else, and the CWA Cookery Book, Tenth Edition has you covered there. For breakfast, you can have Omelette Economical:

3 Eggs, small cup of milk, 1 teaspoon cornflour, salt and pepper, butter to fry

Beat the eggs well, blend the cornflour with the milk and add to eggs, season to taste. Melt butter in frying pan, pour in the mixture and cook a light brown. Loosen round edge of omelette. While cooking cut in sections, turn and brown on the other side. Serve on buttered toast with bacon or steak.

And then for dinner, there's this recipe for Brawn (No 2), Economical:

1/2 Pig's Head, 2 pig's feet, 1 lb. shin of beef, allspice, salt, pepper

Remove eye from head and chop the head and feet well. Put head, feet, and beef all together in a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and continue boiling slowly until meat will fall from bones. Then take out and remove all bone and gristle. Put in a basin and season well. Boil liquid down to about half the quantity and pour it over the meat. Leave until quite cold and set. Scrape off any fat that may have risen to the top, then turn out. -Mrs D. Lynn, Goomalling.

If you're still having supermarket rage after all of that, then perhaps try this advice from Harmsworth's Household Encyclopedia before you step into a supermarket instead:

It is not healthy, as a rule, to smoke on an empty stomach, but there are exceptions. It is well known that tombacco has been found very helpful in cases whete men have had to go long hours or perhaps the best part of a day without food, whether from pressure of work or through actual poverty. These, however, are exceptional circumstances; the rule holds good under all ordinary circumstances, that the best time to smoke a pipe or cigrarette is after a meal and not before it.

I'm sure that will help.

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