I wonder sometimes about how it was during the Depression and the lengths to which people went to save and conserve – in the kitchen and out. Not having grown up during that time, it’s not something I understand viscerally.
My dad is the product of parents from that time, and he saves rubber bands, plastic bags, aluminum foil, pieces of wood, bits of string – the list goes on. One never knows when a small bit of string might come in handy!
Of course he’s passed that frugality on to me, and it is again in vogue to recycle and upcycle. And while I didn’t grow up during the Depression, I am old enough to appreciate the cyclical nature of things.
We may be furiously recycling and conserving resources these days, but I remember the gas lines of the ’70s in Detroit, followed not so long after by the exploding popularity of gas-chugging SUVs.
Extremes may come and go, but I have seen that there are some habits that become too deeply ingrained to change. One of my clearest memories of my Nana, my dad’s mom, is of her sitting in a restaurant at the end of a meal with a sideways glance at the sugar packets ready to be, by sleight of hand, transferred to her purse.
My dad would always remind her that she could buy her own sugar now, but he realized eventually that satisfying the compulsion to liberate the sugar was something that lived so deeply inside of her, it was better to leave well enough alone.
Recently we had a guest on board who was from Korea and whose mother is still there. One day we were sharing childhood recipes and she began to tell me about her mother’s recipe for kimchee. I was slicing radishes at the time and in the process of bagging up the radish greens when she said that they would make a great kimchee, and of course we began to scheme from there about what ingredients we had that would get us closest to her mother’s recipe.
The radish leaves were in place of cabbage. We added the green leaves from the bottoms of several heads of cauliflower and the stems from broccoli. Chives and scallions were in place of garlic chives and red pepper flakes.
We salted the greens and leaves for several hours, rinsed once they were wilted and had accepted some of the salt and then layered them with grated carrot and sliced radish and pushed them all into a glass Ball jar that once held last year’s strawberry jam. Several days later, after daily sniffing and tasting, we had the most delicious, lightly-fermented vegetables, which I served over sticky rice and a number of other dishes for lunch.
There was a moment when my Korean friend saw some watermelon being cut into slices, and she commented that her mother, when times were lean, would even make kimchee out of the rinds.
This got me thinking about watermelon pickles and what else could be made with stuff that I’d considered fit only for the compost pile, and which smart and creative cooks in lean times would have considered a meal, or at least part of one.
Here is a short list of what my kimchee time stirred in me. What are your stories? How do you use up what might otherwise be considered compost even though it’s a perfectly good “piece of string?”
Broccoli stems: Stir-fried, grated into slaw, kimchee.
Cauliflower leaves: Stir-fried, sliced thinly and tossed with lemon and olive oil, kimchee.
Broccoli leaves: Anything you do with kale, you can do with the leaves of broccoli plants.
Watermelon rind: Salted and then flavored with lime and ginger as pickles, sprinkled with sugar, lemon and mint for watermelon marmalade.
Carrot tops: Pesto, kimchee, chopped into soups.
Turnip and radish greens: Wilted very lightly and served as a warm salad.
Cheese rinds: With Parmesan and other hard cheeses, save in the freezer until you have at least 8 ounces, and then make a broth that can be used for soup.
Bones: The usual – stock. And don’t forget that even previously roasted bones have good flavor.
Vegetable scraps: Stock, again … But is there something else that you might have overlooked?
Corn cobs: Again, they make a great stock even if the corn has been removed from the cob. Use in soups, sauces or risottos.
Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea.” She can be reached at: [email protected]