Waste Not, Want Not

The dog was delighted.

He had spotted his sworn enemy, the huge husky-type, walking past the back gate. And if he timed it just right he could bark at the back and then hare through the kitchen and catch his enemy at the front for further remonstration.

Normally his mistress would head this one off at the pass.

But today he careered past me and I didn’t turn a hair: because I was engaged in battle with the fridge.

It is an old fridge, more than ten years I believe, and it shows its age ungraciously.Its seals are dodgy as befits a pensioner, and it makes strange noises in the night.

The last two weeks have been busy and fraught. I have not had two minutes of my own to rub together, and the old gentleman in faded white in the corner of my kitchen has been the subject of neglect.

Consequently he has done his best, but there have been a few accidents. Water trickled out from underneath a few days ago. He’s gurgling like a wookie possessed. Every time I open the fridge door I grimace. There’s that fresh chicken soup I made but we never finished: the rhubarb from my father’s garden which I promised faithfully to put into a crumble; spring onions which have lost their tension, and a dairy product whose name I dare not speak.

It was this community of decay which drew my undivided attention, far, far away from the sound of a baying terrier to the land where decomposition is king.

I did not mean to let these gems go. I’m time poor. My mother, when she reads this, will have a fit.

Ask anyone from the wartime generations about what I have done to my fresh garden-grown rhubarb and they become vehement. They will tell you they cannot abide waste. They simply cannot bear it.

Could it be that this strength of feeling is born of propaganda? This generation was born under the sound of air raids, during that second great war when what little there was must be used to achieve miracles.

Our traditional food supplies from Canada and America came across the Atlantic, and they were being attacked by German U-boats. What we could make on our island must play a much greater part than it had ever done before.

Such husbandry does not come naturally to all. And so the MInistry Of Food, SW1 London, mounted a campaign which penetrated every kitchen and the majority of foodstuffs. Waste became anti-British.

One of my favourites is a newspaper advert urging frugality with bread, beautifully written. It concludes:”We ask you to be careful with bread – don’t stint yourself or your family but don’t on any account waste it. Do you know that if everyone wasted half an ounce of bread each day it would amount to 200,000 tons a year?

“It would need quite a big convoy to bring that over! Don’t be one of those careless half-ouncers!”

Everywhere you looked, waste was a matter of national importance. Every scrap was used, and the waste went to chickens who laid grateful wartime eggs.

Did previous generations have the same approach? A cursory read of Mrs Beeton and her classic manual on household management shows that prudence in a wife was an asset. Bur the far from the hallowed principles of Beeton, reality occasionally took a different turn.

The Pooters at Brickfield Terrace, Holloway were late Victorian. They lived comparatively well, and Charles Pooter’s life provides material for one of the great comic works of the time, The Diary Of A Nobody.

They have one belligerent scullery maid, Sarah, a maid-of-all-work. And when a large amount of blancmange is left over from a party, the maid will insist on putting it out every day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, despite the growing consternation of her master.

George and Weedon Grossmith handle the whole affair with droll timing. A phrase is slipped in here and there: “I told Sarah not to bring up the blanc-mange again after breakfast;” and in the next chapter: “In spite of my instructions, that blanc-mange was brought up again for supper.”

Finally he tells his wife Carrie that if the blanc-mange is placed on the table one more time, he will walk out of the house.

Now there’s a man who knows how to handle the staff.

The dog was going potty. I dispelled my reverie, disposed of the sad leftovers in my fridge as once the fictional Sarah must have done to the blanc-mange, and cleaned the fridge from top to toe.

It sounds happier now, and I can bear to look inside. I shall strive, like the wartime generation, to use every scrap.

But if, like Pooter, the strain of blancmange at breakfast becomes too much: I beg leniency to dispose of the leftovers.

Image source at MyLearning, the museums, libraries and archives online service here


47 thoughts on “Waste Not, Want Not

      1. not that bad then! I follow the rule of not pulling rhubarb after the end of June. So you can imagine what I thought about the age of your rhubarb!

  1. Haha, how I can sympathise! I have been known to ‘save’ left overs until they were only recognisable by the dish in which they ‘grew’. I too grew up with the maxim usually chanted at dinner time…

  2. That generation certainly did use every scrap. Some parts of the country had real problems, whereas some of the country areas had enough of everything. The large cities and towns really suffered, but country areas like Dorset still had plenty of everything – including meat, or so I’m told.

    1. So I read – the BBC project which collected everyone’s reminiscences(2003) records those who lived on the farm living a good life, with chickens and eggs and all. City life can’t have been that great though.

  3. “Don’t be one of those careless half-ouncers!” Ah, waste not want not was a mantra here as well, Kate, and this wartime phrase reminds me of my grandmother. Bread was eaten, toasted, sandwiched, then made into breadcrumbs for the meatballs and if anything was left, it was tossed outside for the birds!

    I cringe, guiltily, each time I clean the fridge. I’m pretty good at leftovers and turning chicken into pot pies, but, there are all too often those hairy crusted whatever in the cold, dark recesses of the refrigerator. In fact, I need to go and clean it out now.

  4. Kate, fine writing indeed! I can hear my mother’s voice admonishing us all to clean our plates…not to waste. And my father’s admonition rings in my ears, one he learned during his US Army days, “Take all you want, but eat all you take.” We had no wasting of anything in our home. My maternal grandmother was an orphan, raised is the American South in a church run children’s home. She saved and reused everything, being that she was a housewife during the Great Depression. Mama learned from her, continued the tradition. Mama’s jelly jars for “putting up” preserves, pickles and jams were reused glass mayonnaise jars, or peanut butter jars or pickle jars. We were instructed to turn inside-out and rinse/wash all plastic bags, air drying them and later using them for any manner of food storage. And don’t get me started on the saving of tin foil…

    Little did I know that these women’s ways would become my own manner of housewife husbandry of stores and provisions. They made recycling cool and ingrained it into me before Earth Day ever happened as an official act.

    1. There’s a good feeling that goes with making sure everything is used, Cheryl, isn’t there? I can just see those jars and jars of produce. Far from being an act of omission it always feels like an act of creativity to find uses for the humblest of leftovers. I love your reminiscences. What an amazing family line of tradition.

  5. Yes, you are correct.The feeling of making sure everything was used is so ingrained, that when my now 29 yr old son was an infant and I laundered cloth nappies to you and diapers to me, I had the greatest sense of satisfaction to see them all hanging on the line in the sun…knowing that I was performing my small act of saving the planet…

    And I adore your writing. You have a lovely way of weaving so many strands together.

  6. Wonderful post, Kate. Especially enjoyed:

    * He’s gurgling like a wookie possessed.
    * spring onions which have lost their tension.
    * this community of decay.

    We use what needs to be used as a spring board for each hodge podge of a meal we enjoy. As a result, we rarely have to toss spoiled food into the trash . . . but our meals tend toward the “eclectic.” πŸ˜‰

  7. This post made me chuckle, and I had to fetch H to let him read it too. I love the thought of spring onions that have lost their tension. My H would pop them in the casserole or scrambled eggs, floppy or not.

    1. I shall bear that in mind, although these particular specimens would have needed severe pruning, Rosemary.
      GLad to cause a chuckle: and the post today about the wood carver might be your best yet….I loved it…

  8. I sympathize – my own fridge I’ve had for more than ten years, and I’d be willing to bet it had seen a decade or more before I got here. I believe I am more than reasonably frugal, but I reserve the right to throw out anything that, on opening, makes me want to swear off food altogether. πŸ™‚

  9. We, at least, have recycling bins πŸ˜‰ My good lady has been away for a week…Dread to think what alien force is plotting to take over planet earth in my fridge!

  10. The book sounds most fun. I’m a bit of a waste watcher… I spend so much on produce (bulk of vegan diet) that I never over buy. Though, winter soups do get pitched if not eaten quickly… it just becomes a dreadful calling to spoon one more drop ~

  11. We actually bought a smaller refrigerator (after the larger one passed away) and thought it would help us be more responsible…fewer hiding places. Alas, not always successful even then! This year I signed-on and give some support to the Slow Food USA program (they are international) and I’m trying to be an excellent advocate…and more of a personal activist! Planning…what a concept! I have to throw things out, though, or my husband (raised in a home by a Depression Era/single mom who depended on every scrap), will eat anything that isn’t moving! We can all do better in using our leftovers, but please, no food poisoning! You have my permission, for sure! πŸ™‚ Debra

    1. Planning is indeed a wonderful thing, Debra. It’s a great way to minimise waste by thinking of meals which use a bi-product of another, like stock. Must see if I can think ahead…

  12. I’m fortunate that I don’t have food in my fridge long enough for it to go off, Kate. Although that may not be a good thing considering how all of my clothes seem to have shrunk… but I agree, waste is horrible and, on the odd occasion when I throw something way, I feel guilty too…

  13. I spent, with a few of my friends, some time on the real ragged edge of poor–like heating with wood we “acquired” from the local forest because we couldn’t afford gas. Nothing beats real hunger when it comes to making every last bite count.

  14. I have a garden composter and I throw the waste (what little there is, I add hastily , with guilt uppermost) in there and close the lid quickly…and my fridge is ….um…Olde ….and leaking and there’s a metal tray underneath catching the dripping water from the freezer bottom half. .and I say I think about the Planet BUT I’m probably adding the ‘whatsits’ into the atmosphere daily.. trouble is money is tight, so I have to tighten my conscience to suit. xPenx

    1. Us too, Pen. We’ve just started paying school fees – sounds upper crust but we’re the scrape-it-together type. So the faded red carpet stays on the floor and the ancient fridge is pressed into yet more service. But we are poor and happy, as the fridge wheezes on in the corner. Lovely to meet someone else with an olde fridge πŸ˜€

  15. I had to work real hours to earn the money to buy the food: The least my family can do is eat the damned stuff. And if they don’t eat it – the dog gets it.

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