Christmas is coming and money may be tight. We want to give beautiful gifts, true. But it’s also cold & flu season in the U.S. Bills for next semester’s university fees and textbooks are looming. And life just keeps happening because cars and washing machines don’t wait until after the holidays to break down. And we still have to eat, right?
I have long suspected that many of my family and friends think that keeping a stocked pantry, cooking from scratch, and my other attempts to spend less are just quaint little domestic pursuits that suit my personality. Other times acquaintances have asked how we do things because they came upon a life event that forced them toward frugality. And still others probably think I’m just weird and beneath them.
So be it.
Just to reinforce how truly weird I am, I’ll admit have a reputation for being the person who will accept leftover turkey carcasses and ham bones. People actually talk to me before holidays or call me after and ask if I want the bones of their ham or turkey before they throw them away. I always say I’ll take them because it’s free food that I can bag up and stick in the freezer, except for the bittersweet situation I had this year when somebody offered a turkey carcass and I couldn’t take it because my freezer was full.
I mean, YAY! My freezer was full. What a blessing! But I sure hated to turn down a turkey carcass, because I love junk stock and the yummy things I can do with it.
Part of the reason my freezer was full is that I ended up with parts of several turkey carcasses after our church Thanksgiving Dinner. Like I said, people know me and I know how to stretch my grocery budget. Free food sure helps! As I was helping the lady in charge of the dinner with clean-up she asked if I wanted the remains of the turkeys. I said I would gladly take them if nobody else wanted them. Nobody else did. So I brought them home and put them in the freezer until I could deal with them.
I ended up with a wonderful case study for why it’s good to be weird.
I pulled out a gallon-sized zipper freezer bag filled with turkey and bones. It ended up being about three legs and three wings and some odds & ends, most of which still had some meat on them. I also had the turkey neck from the bird my husband deep-fried for the church staff Christmas party we hosted. (More on the party here.)
All of the turkey pieces plus a couple of onion ends went into my 6-quart slow cooker and were covered with water. Then I let it cook overnight to make junk stock. The next day I strained the liquid and found I had about 9 cups of junk stock. That’s enough to make a triple batch of my favorite creamy turkey noodle soup! I picked the meat off of the bones and wound up with a little more than 4 cups of meat. That’s enough meat for several casseroles or batches of soup!
To be clear, I don’t accept the bones because we’re destitute. We are not. I accept the bones because it keeps us from being destitute. If I spend less on food then Jay & I can do something else with the money. We can give more to our church or one of the charities we support. We can pay university tuition or buy books for our children’s education. We can repair cars and replace appliances when we need to. We can do fun things with our family. We can provide anonymous gifts to church members who may need them. It’s a matter of priorities, and finding sources of free food helps us maintain ours.
Suppose my kitchen had been pretty bare when I brought home those turkey bones, and suppose I made junk stock and saved the meat. Even if I had nothing else to put with it, I would have meaty broth to feed my family for a couple of meals. And it would be totally free food.
Suppose I had some seasonings and some flour, or maybe I could borrow some from a neighbor. I could use the meat and broth to make turkey and dumplings. If I had a couple of shriveled carrots or stalks of celery (which I grow free in my junk garden) then I could make a heartier soup and it would be nearly free.
As it turned out, I went to my pantry and refrigerator and pulled out carrots, celery, onion, canned milk, flour, dried noodles, and spices to make a double batch of creamy turkey noodle soup. I had 2 ½ cups of junk stock and 2 cups of turkey meat left over to put in my freezer for future meals. My family had supper one evening and lunch the next day from the soup, and it was delicious, if I do say so myself! While these two meals cost a bit more, the price per serving was still very low because I maintain my pantry by shopping sales and rarely paying full price for things.
Does it sound strange to accept bones? If they come from the carving board or serving platter, I’ll take them! A bone from a spiral sliced ham may still have a pound of meat on it once the spiral slices are removed. That’s easily enough for split pea soup with ham, which is absolutely delicious! Even a couple of turkey legs can yield enough meat for sandwich filling, casserole, or soup. Why toss it in the trash? Use that free food to make junk stock and other yummy things. Your stomach, your refrigerator, and your wallet may all be full at once!
Are you “weird” like I am? Do you cook with free food that others might consider junk? What do you like to make?
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