Return To The Basics-Our Budget

cupboardPutting to use the old time recipes and tips my grandmother used. That’s the answer and the question is:

What do you do when your expenses go up and your income goes down. Not a unique situation for may these days. This is what has happened to our family recently with the passing of our old gentleman friend whom lived with us.

My answer for our family is not all the simple. For us our budget by choice has always been carefully watched and always cut back when I am able to. So I must rethink each and every part of it and look hard to make money saving changes for our family.

Some things I know and have let slip, some I have known and never taken advantage of and there are always new ways to learn.

My family is not in immediate financial danger. We have about 8 months of income saved as well as additional savings. Notice I said income, not expenses. Our income is greater than our expenses. This is the good part. We also have some income in the way of my husbands retirement, and his job will be starting again for the season in a few weeks. Also my job as a care provider should be starting again in a few weeks with the addition of another in need of care to our family.

Life will go on as usual without our bills becoming behind. But I do feel the need to cut back even further than I normally do. Here is where a few of these old time recipes and tips will come in handy.

Back in the day when my grandmother used them she had no other choice, the convenience of premade was way beyond her income and before that the depression, when nothing was available.

First I have been busy and I’ll admit it just plain distracted and let the convenience of premade cookies, cake mixes, crackers and snacks sneak into the house. It’s way to easy to toss these into lunches on the go. Maybe not the best heath wise or cost wise but easy. Some times you have to weigh the time vs the cost savings. For me this is a lame excuse. I need to make time… One trick is to do the baking in one day. It’s easier and faster to mix, bake, and clean up all at once rather than several times a week. Also this allows the oven to be turned on once, saving the cost of fuel.

Next will be to address the need to change our diet a bit to low fat, low carbohydrate, low sugar. (again these things have snuck in) I will search out tasty desserts, cookies and crackers. I’m thinking more whole grains than is normal for us. Our main meals seem ok for the moment.

Also we will need to cut back on fresh fruit, and use canned or frozen. (Oranges at the grocery today were $.99 each, and peaches were $2.09 a pound.) If I had been on top of things last summer I would have went to the pick your own farms and canned, frozen or dehydrated more fruit for us. Lesson learned for the coming season.

This brings me to my first few tips:

Making Vanilla extract and Vanilla Sugar for baking. It’s very easy and if you have bought real vanilla extract lately you will appreciate this. Vanilla Sugar is good on oatmeal, toast, in coffee, tea, fruit and baking. What is also good is the supply is almost endless and very cost efficient. Once you have your vanilla bean it will last for a long long time making them worth the $12. for about 6 beans you will be paying for them. Even better is reusing Vanilla beans.

Vanilla Extract

1 quart mason jar with tight fitting lid
2 cups Good quality Vodka
2 teaspoons good quality dark rum
6 fresh Vanilla beans (Not the dried up ones you see in some stores)

In a clean mason jar add the vodka and rum. Give it a swirl and add the vanilla beans. Use a metal spoon to push them into the liquid. Cover tightly and store in a dark, cool cupboard. Every once and a while give the jar a swirl. In about 8 weeks it will be ready to use. Leave the beans in there and when about half used refill with vodka and start again. Do this over and over again until the bean is used up.

*note most store bought brands have sugar syrup added to them to give a sweet taste, the rum is a good replacement without the added sugar. But if you like you can add some sugar syrup to taste. To make sugar syrup boil about 2 cups of fresh water and stir in sugar until no more will absorbe into the water When done this will be about 1 cup of syrup. Cool before adding to the vanilla extract mixture.

Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla beans
Organic brown sugar (plain white granulated works too)
1 quart mason jar with tight fitting lid.

Fill a clean mason jar 3/4 full of sugar and add 2-3 used vanilla beans or 1 fresh cut in half all the way to the top except the last inch. This will hold the bean together.
seal tight and shake. Let sit in cool dark cupboard for a few days.

The vanilla beans can be fresh, but making vanilla sugar is a great way to use used beans. Once you have used them in your custard, sauce, or ice cream take them out and pat them dry then place them directly in the sugar. Any vanilla specks that have not been scraped out can be scraped into the sugar. A quick shake of the jar every so often will break up any clumps of sugar that formed. The sugar will store indefinitely, replenished with fresh sugar or additional vanilla beans as necessary to make more. Store in a dark, cool cupboard.

If you have priced vanilla sugar in the gourmet food stores you will appreciate this.


Brown Sugar

1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark molasses

place sugar in a pie plate and drizzle molasses on top, stir well and store in a tight sealing jar. If your sugar should become hard add a piece of fresh bread and reseal, the next day remove the bread and give the jar a shake, it will be soft again.

Cake flour

This is simple, flour that has sat around has compacted and needs to be “fluffed”. This is for making 1 cup of cake flour but adjust to the amount you need for your recipe.

Sift 1 cup of flour in a bowl. Measure 1 cup of the flour you just sifted and return the rest to the flour tin. Pour this back into the bowl. Remove 2 tablespoons and put back into the flour tin. Replace the 2 tablespoons with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift this together at least 5 times, seems like a lot but it’s worth the work. You will be glad you did. Proceed with your cake recipe. 1 cup of this is equal to 1 cup sifted cake flour.

And here are some worth mentioning:

Bake several things at one time to bake in a full oven that require the same baking temprature. They may take a bit longer, then leave the oven door open to let the heat into the room when done.

Save your bread ends in the freezer, when you have enough of them toast them on a baking sheet, when cool process into crumbs in the blender. Store in a glass jar in the fridge for fresh bread crumbs. Don’t use stale bread, this will make stale bread crumbs. You can season them if you wish before toasting the bread.

Affordable chocolate…. The day after a candy holiday: Christmas, Valentines, Halloween, Easter- all the candy goes on sale up to 75% off. I buy bags of Hershey kisses and m&ms for as little as $.25 a bag and save them. When I need chocolate these melt nicely,  & can be chopped for chips. Also I have noticed after Christmas the chocolate chips go on sale. This is the time to stock up on them. Chocolate if kept cool will last up to 1 year. They may get a white film on them but it’s ok to still use the chocolate.

Here are a few tips that we do all the time here at the farm, but some might not and appreciate the reminder:

Save the wrapper from the butter and use it to grease you baking pans.

Save you bacon fat for frying. Store in a glass jar in the fridge. Don’t pour hot grease into the jar it will break, let it cool a bit first.

Skip the microwave popcorn, buy the plain old popcorn and pop your own, add your own seasonings, powdered ranch dressing mix, butter, Italian seasoning…

When cutting vegatables save the peels and ends. Freeze in a bag to make soup stock later when you have collected enough. Also save all bones and meat drippings for soup stock later, these freeze well.

Plan your meals for the week from your own pantry and freezer then shop for the missing ingredients. Or be creative and use substitutions for missing ingredients.

Buy basic ingredients in bulk and split with friends and family for the best value and quality. Don’t buy more than you will use before it goes bad.

Trade and barter your extras for things you need.

When I bake bread for the week I always make 4 extra loaves to trade with a neighbor who trades me 3 dozen eggs a week.

When I make fudge I will make an extra batch and trade with the general store for whole milk and butter.

Skip the soda, canned drinks and drink mixes-make your own tea, punches and cocoa.

When donating baked goods to a bake sale add your name and phone number to a lable and put on the bottom, you will get calls for more. Don’t skimp on the quality of ingredients. These pies, cookies, & bread are your business card, so to say..

When making a meal make extra to freeze for a quick meal later when you are in a rush.

I happily except all the zucchini and summer squash anyone wants to leave off here. I dehydrate it and add to soups and stews. But some times enough is enough. I will take the dehydrated squashes and turn to a powder in the blender. Then mix in most anything, mashed potatoes, soups, cream corn, casseroles, baked goods…This adds a bit of veggies to the dish and stretches the meal a bit further. This also works as a thickener.

AND most importatly spend every meal time with your friends and family, this time can not be better spent.


I’ll post more later. If you have your own please post here, I would love to hear them.


Posted on March 29, 2009, in Family, Food Storage, Home Cooking Recipes, House Budgets, Planning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Very good advice. Would you come bake for me, Karyn? I sure could use the help right now!!! 😉

    DON’T go low fat!! Just stick with butter, lard (bacon grease), tallow, coconut oil. I suspect you know this. 😉

    Want a source for less expensive vanilla beans? Try this one:

    I bought 40 beans for about $18 last autumn. Very high quality, not dry. Now would you figure out how to make vanilla paste for me? I’ve not had the energy to experiment. But I’m thinking a sugar syrup with a ground up bean or two. What do you think? Oh, and I like your rum idea in the vanilla! I just used vodka.

  2. Hi Kristin,
    I would be happy to come bake for you. Iv’e got my recipe for fudge brownies out and handy, will that work?

    It is funny I was thinking about vanilla paste last night and pulled out my grandmother’s recipe box to have a look. Sure enough I found it. Not great instructions but then again she would have known what she ment.

    Here it is:

    Vanilla Bean Paste for Baking

    1 Bean=1 TBL.

    Grind dried but useable beans in coffee grinder until powder, stir in corn syrup until paste.

    Sounds pretty much like what you are thinking. I don’t have any beans at the moment so I can’t give it a try. I will check out the beans you suggested. (I just looked at the web site, they are out of stock on most of the beans at the moment, but I didn save the site for later.) Aren’t those vanilla orchards so pretty….

    One interesting note on the bottom of the card 🙂

    Lilac/Vanilla sugar cakes
    Mix lilac and vanilla extract together and sprinkle onto sugar, form cakes and dry in just warm oven. Store in tins, will last the year.

    (I assume this is for tea? but could be for baking?)

    Have a wonderful day

  3. just found your blog, and love the recipes! this is the kind of stuff my great-grandmother used to make 🙂 I found organic vanilla beans on ebay from vanilla products usa for less than 30.00 a lb, SHIPPED! and they throw in free beans too, I got 2 lbs for 40.00 and they gave me an extra 1/2 lb of free beans, and theuy are really nice too 🙂 BTW, there are over 100 vanilla beans in a pound 😉

  1. Pingback: Just the Basics « Lizzy Lane Farm

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