What Food Is in Season?
Back in the 20th century, many products used to be available only during the growing seasons. Strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, apples, and most other fruits and vegetables, were harvested in the spring, summer, and fall in the United States, and that is when they appeared in the grocery stores.
Now, because many foods are imported from other countries, you can eat strawberries and raspberries in the dead of winter, and apples in early spring. The prices will fluctuate with the seasons, however, and that's where you can pocket some significant savings.
The seasons also affect frozen and processed foods. At the beginning of the growing season you can find frozen fruits and vegetables at significant savings because manufacturers and distributors want to move goods before the new crop is harvested and processed.
Another good reason for buying and using vegetables and fruits in-season is the pesticide issue. Out of season fruits usually come from other countries that don't have strict regulations on pesticide and herbicide use. So purchasing produce in season not only makes good sense budgetwise, but also for your health.
If you choose to can food, be sure to keep safety in mind. Get information about safe canning methods from your state university extension office. Call the university in your state and ask for information about home food preservation. They'll connect you to the correct department. There is also lots of information online from extension services. Go to the Cooperative Extension System Offices section of the USDA site and click on your state in the map to be connected to the extension program in your area. Extension services also offer information about buying supplies and timing charts for processing.
Drying foods is a good way to preserve them. Food dehydrators work well and may be a good investment if you prefer to preserve food with this method. Herbs, especially, are a good bargain if you grow and dry them yourself.
If you want to freeze food, there are many sources of good information. The Everything® Meals for a Month Cookbook has complete information about preparing, wrapping, freezing, thawing, and reheating foods.
The Food Chain and You
Eating lower on the food chain will help you save money. For instance, in the price of a steak, costs include the grain fed to cattle, which is grown on huge amounts of land, using lots of labor and energy. Then the shipping, producing, inspecting, and processing costs combine to make the cost of a steak around $6.00 a pound.
If, instead, you eat lower on the food chain you will save more money.
Vegetarian meals can be very inexpensive, but you must be sure that you combine foods (grains and legumes, or grains and nuts or seeds) to ensure meals have complete protein for the best health.
Butter is so superior to margarine in flavor that it's difficult to substitute margarine for it in many recipes. In recipes where the fat is used for structure but not flavor, margarine will work well; but don't use reduced-fat or tub margarines, which contain a lot of water. Use butter when necessary to add flavor to a recipe and use only as much as a recipe calls for. Butter freezes well so buy a pound when it's on sale, especially during the holiday season, then label and freeze it.
Cheeses can add a lot of flavor to your cooking, and if you choose highly flavored varieties, a little can go a long way. A quarter-cup of feta cheese can flavor four sandwiches, and one cup of extra-sharp Cheddar cheese mixed with bread crumbs will create a wonderful topping on a ground beef casserole that will serve 6 to 8.
Should I use imitation or real extracts?
It depends on what you're making. If it's a cookie with many ingredients including chocolate and nuts, imitation vanilla is just fine. It's about 10 percent of the cost of real vanilla. But a simple shortbread cookie may demand the real thing. In a recent taste test, a panel of home economists liked the foods made with imitation vanilla more than those made with real vanilla. Have a taste test yourself and decide.
Use more expensive ingredients as garnishes. A cup of shrimp is an excellent garnish on grilled fish fillets topped with chopped tomato and herbs, and it will finish six servings for just a little money. Macadamia nuts, chopped and sprinkled over a cup of soup, add great flavor as well as eye appeal for a small cost.
Any special food that your family really loves is a worthwhile splurge. Save up to buy that pound of shrimp or smoked salmon to celebrate a special occasion. There's no point in working so hard to save money if you can't splurge once in a while.