Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Preparing and Preserving Cheap and Free Past Prime Foods

Yesterday I wrote about how I went to the market and came home with an insane amount of produce, most of it that I got free, and a lot of it past prime. 154 lbs of food that needed to be dealt with when I came home yesterday and all today. The past two days were a marathon of food preparation and preservation, because there's no point in bringing home so much free and nearly free foods if it all spoils because you didn't take care of it.

So, here's what I actually did with what I brought home from the market yesterday, and other things that I did to be able to accommodate all that I needed to now store.

The first thing that I did was divide up the chicken parts into bones and skin. The bones went into the freezer to use for soup at a later date, and the skin went into my cast iron pots to become rendered chicken fat, which I use for delicious cooking, and crackling, also known as fried chicken skin.

Once the skin was all crispy, I poured it into a strainer so the fat could drip down so the skin would stay crispy instead of becoming oil-logged.

All throughout the day yesterday and today the kids and I ate up the crackling. High in protein and tasty, it is a nice crunchy snack. At first Anneliese didn't want to taste it, because she thought it looked "hard and dry" but I told her it was like potato chips, just made from chicken skin, and then she loved it and didn't want to stop eating it.
The rendered fat went into the fridge.

I had to put all the other food I bought away, but there wasn't really room in the fridge.

I took out my three eggplants that I'd had left from my last shop, and decided to roast them to make baba ganouj, Middle Eastern roasted eggplant salad, since my nine year old, Lee, was just telling me how much he loved it when Grandma recently made it for him. That reminded me that though I hadn't made it in a really long time, it was one of the first foods I learned how to make- I used to make it with my mother and do all the seasoning on my own when I was in early elementary school.

I still had a large amount of cucumbers from my previous shop, hence my hesitancy to take these new ones. So with some of them I made a tasty simple salad, just with some of my sliced purple onions, sliced cukes, and salt. I was going to dress it further, but the boys enjoyed it just as is, so I didn't bother doing anymore.

After making the cucumber salad, I still had so much more, so I put the ones from my last shop in a bag and offered them to a neighbor who really appreciated them. Then I put as many of the cucumbers as I could fit into my vegetable drawer... But there still wasn't enough room to put all of them away.

Meanwhile, I put all the soft tomatoes (there were maybe 7 or 8 non soft ones) in a large pot, with a bit of water, so that was, give or take, 17 lbs of tomatoes.
I cooked them until they started releasing their juices and then their skins started slipping off, and then I waited for them to cool on before the next step.

I also took the pears that I had that were mostly mushy and made them into a compote of sorts. But, to be honest, because they'd mushed so much on the way, I wasn't so interested in cutting them up, etc... so I just washed them, pulled off the stem, and put the entire fruit in a pot with a bit of water and cooked them until soft. Once cooked, I let them cool down, and I was easily able to remove just the seed area with my fingers, as well as the hard part at the bottom. The kids and I snacked on that today, and then what was left, I blended up into pear sauce. I ended up making some more with some more soft apples and pears I found in my fridge today, and mixed them with the batch from yesterday.

When the tomatoes were cooled down, I took off the tomato skins and put them in my oven to dry to be used in my tomato spice blend. Unfortunately I think I had the oven on a little too hot, and they got a drop burnt, but I think they'll still be usable.
I also tried making dehydrated onion flakes from the purple onions I got, but they made my eyes tear so bad that I didn't make a bunch, and some of them also got a bit burnt.

If you've been following my blog lately, you'll have noticed I mentioned making homemade alcohol a few times, so when I was thinking about what to do with the watermelon that I had that was dropped on the floor and smashed open, I thought that making watermelon wine would probably be an awesome idea, since it didn't need crispy appetizing pieces, so I just scooped it out of the rind, smashed it up further, and set it to ferment.

With the tomato skins and onions dehydrating, I put the food in the fridge, other than a large amount of cucumbers left on the dining room table in their box, as there was no room for them in the fridge, and went to bed.

Today I dealt with the cucumbers, and I canned.

I took the cooked tomatoes and separated the solid tomatoes from the liquid that came out of them. I put the liquid all in one pot and boiled it down, and blended up the tomato solids to get a puree. However, the puree wasn't so smooth, and sometimes I really want smooth, so I pushed the puree through my mesh strainer, so that only the very fine parts went through, and put those in some jars to can. With the solids that didn't fit through the mesh, I tried to make them more fine by processing them again, and when they were as fine as they would be, I added some of the concentrated tomato liquid that I'd boiled down in the pot, until I got a sauce consistency and put them in jars as well. And then the rest of the liquid I put in jars and a bottle as well. 17 lbs, 7 jars of tomato "stuff". That is how much it boils down and gets concentrated, and why I don't generally make my own tomato paste or sauce from fresh... unless I get the tomatoes free, it simply doesn't seem worth it- but more on that in a future post.

After putting all of them in jars, I canned all my tomato products and my pear apple sauce, and fortunately, with my new water bath canner, I had enough room to fit all the jars in at one go, so I didn't need to do that part in batches.

And then the cucumbers. Oh that mountain of never ending cucumbers!!!

I didn't really have available mason jars, since I generally use all of mine for my kombucha ferments, but currently I don't have any batches going, so I consolidated to free up jars to use for my cucumber ferments- probiotic pickles, made with salt and no vinegar.

The first thing I made was a simple dill pickle ferment, standard dill pickle recipe, that I just sliced this time instead of leaving them whole or in spears, simply because they were larger than the types of cukes I generally pickle.

I researched how to make homemade pickle relish, and concluded that I should ferment diced cucumbers with diced onion and mustard seeds (I used foraged black mustard seeds) and celery seeds and a little red pepper in a brine. Once it ferments to the sourness I want, I will mix it with honey or any other sweetener (probably will use honey, as I bought some on sale the other day) and refrigerate it, so the honey doesn't ferment and it stay sweet.

I wanted something a bit different, so I thought about making a cucumber kimchi, and saw that other people do it too, so it should be good- I grated the cucumbers, added ginger, garlic, hot pepper flakes, scallions, and salt, and squeezed it until water came out, and then packed it into the jar and topped it off with more salt. No idea how it will come out for sure, but I have a feeling it will be awesome.

But so many cucumbers I didn't want to just make lacto-fermented- I wanted variety, and I wanted to be able to eat our pickles sooner than it would take for the fermented ones to be ready.

So I took jaggery syrup and boiled it up with some vinegar, water, salt, celery seeds, and garlic, and poured it over a jar of cucumber spears. But I still had more, so I filled the plastic container with cucumber slices and used the rest of the sweet and sour mixture on there.

Then I made a version of my quick homemade vinegar pickles, just going by taste though, not following exact measurements, and mixed vinegar, salt, water, garlic, and dill, brought it to a boil and poured it over two jars of small cucumbers. I still had a few last cucumbers in that box, and a little more vinegar, so I alternated cucumber slices, carrot slices (from some carrots on their last legs) and yellow pepper pieces, and poured the rest of the hot vinegar mixture on them.

These should take 24 hours or so to be ready.

 And while I was doing all this, what were we eating?

Well, after making the rendered chicken fat, I saw there were some parts of the chicken stuck on to the bottom of both of my cast iron pots, and from experience and research when this happened last time, this seemed to be the collagen from the skin, which is very good for you, not to mention tasty, so in the smaller cast iron I simply boiled water so the collagen would dissolve into the water.  (Added bonus being that this makes the pot so much easier to clean!) In the other pot I sauted my cheapo (12 cents a pound) purple onions from yesterday's shop and carrots that I got free last trip, and fennel I got free yesterday in the collagen encrusted pot, in some of the rendered chicken fat, and then added water (including the water from the other cast iron pot), free chicken frames that I'd frozen after my shopping trip a month ago, a piece of pumpkin I got free yesterday, and some zucchini from last trip that I bought pretty cheaply. To season it, I made my own homemade version of hawaij, a Yemenite spice mix which used foraged vitex seeds (also known as monk's pepper) in place of the black pepper. I figured this entire pot of soup probably cost me no more than 13-25 cents, making each bowl worth pennies, even though it was uber nutritious and delicious, even if not the most photogenic in the world.

 Now that all the food is taken care of, I think I can safely say that all this food that I got will not be going to waste, and this all was worth it.
Tomorrow... I just need to veg out, after this two day marathon.

What ways do you preserve food when you have things that you know will go off if you don't deal with them? Do you can? Ferment? Pickle? Freeze? Dehydrate? Or something else?
What would you have done with 30+ lbs of cucumbers, not to mention all the other stuff I got?


  1. Wow. I am inspired. I get a tote of sad vegetables from the local grocery three times a week, but most,of,that goes to,the animals.

    1. Thank you! Going to animals isn't a waste, because it means that you don't have to pay to feed them.

  2. Aren't you concerned about all the fat/cholesterol in the chicken fat and cracklings

    1. Not at all. For various reasons. This is partially why.
      Secondly, I don't believe that fat generally is what makes people fat, I do try not to go overboard with how much fat I eat, but I do make sure to eat fat regularly.
      Saturated fats I'm not concerned about- trans fats I am.
      Additionally, I do stay updated and check my and my husband's cholesterol numbers regularly, and either despite or because of eating with only saturated fats and avoiding unsaturated fats, my cholesterol numbers are better than amazing, according to my mainstream "cholesterol is bad for you" cardiologist father. So he even confirms that what I'm doing isn't causing me any problems, I can keep at it.
      Additionally, apparently I have a genetic "defect" that causes my body to have extra good cholesterol numbers, according to my dad. I forgot what it is called.
      Lastly, cholesterol is very vital for healthy brain and nerve function.

    2. It's also very controversial and not guaranteed that eating cholesterol from animals is whats causes humans to produce/retain cholesterol.

  3. Good for you!!! I tried your standard dill pickle recipe (no vinegar) and I found that they are a bit soggy - you said grape leaves help keep the crispness? Is that right?? They are very strong from the garlic I used, but not crunchy :( The ones I canned with a canner are good, they were a vinegar base and happily are not taking up my entire fridge like the salt water brine ones.

    What do you do when you have brined pickles... they stay in the fridge, right?

  4. Oh penny, I'm tired just reading this, I have really been opting for convinience over frugality lately and I'm not proud of it, but for now I need to for my survival! I have even been saying no to free things. I suppose it will turn around once I get this baby out but right now I'm trying not to consider the financial repercussions. Oy

  5. This is extremely impressive!

  6. Wow! You definitely must be exhausted. I could not come up with so many ideas for cucumber..I do pickles and relish. My mom and grandma always put the grape leaves in for crisper pickles. I tore my garden out this past week so have been canning green tomatoes into salsa and enchilada sauce. I make bone broth and pressure can it. I am now trying to save the chicken fat to cook with as i read you do. Previously I only saved bacon fat for use later. Beside waterbath and pressure canning I dehydrate and freeze things. I vacumn seal some dry goods too. I have never tried fermentation except saurkraut. Right now I am making, vanilla, and will start raspberry flavor soon. -- JAV

  7. How inspiring! And, I think your soup looks wonderful. :)

  8. Wow that is awesome! Very inspiring.


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