Coles and Curtis Stone’s $10 meal deal has been roundly slammed by Choice Magazine, and rightly so. You can’t expect people to have a pantry load of spices, herbs and oil and it is silly not to cost in these ingredients PLUS the price of the pots and the heating to cook it all.
I started to think about how to achieve the $10 meal for 4-6 on a budget like that.
First, raise your own chooks or ducks from chickens or ducklings that you get free from schools after science experiments.
For poultry ‘tractors’ recycle found objects from hard garbage collection day eg. Pallets or old framing timber, old rolls of wire, old flywire screens. Make a decent cage which you can move around the yard to strategic locations for pest control. So this is the equivalent of Mr. Beeton’s ‘First catch your hare …’ instruction in her recipe for jugged hare.
Feed the chooks on wheat and mash mixed with vege scraps you ‘harvest’ from the greengrocer. He/she will be happy to let you remove it as this will reduce the waste from the store. There are always cabbage leaves etc. you can boil up with the mash. Add some crushed egg shells when you have them and allow the birds to forage for insects, snails etc..
You should then have a heap of meat at low cost. Don’t give them silverbeet. This is not good. Give the birds a great life and treat them well, harvesting eggs if possible but if not, dispatch them before they are too old. Humane killing is still tough on both parties. My mother did teach us all to do the neck wringing fast and accurately but it was still a bit of a trauma. Dad used a sharp axe. While you are raising the meat, think about the veges.
You can plant micro greens, potatoes from organic eyes cut from the skins of bought spuds, herbs and all sorts of kitchen garden produce in small spaces. Allow 12 weeks for the veges. You can buy seed or you can buy seedlings, but better still is to get some leftover seeds or the discarded seedlings from other friendly gardeners or a gardening club. People love to give away the extra seedlings that are pricked out and thinned from the initial sowing. You can virtually get them for free or barter for something. Even a couple of hours of your gardening time could be donated. So now you have enough meat for a couple of weeks, heaps of veges, chook manure and weeding to keep the garden fertile. Maybe there will be some mushrooms growing around in the fields. Make sure you know what you are picking though!! Anything that stains yellow is poisonous. Do some research on funghi before eating.
If you don’t have oil already, just render down the fat from the chicken and use that. (Render: boil the bits of the chicken, put in the fridge to cool, skim fat off the top).
By the way, cooking for free is easy if you have a backyard pizza oven. We had one and used to fuel it with old fallen eucalyptus branches or prunings from the fruit trees. Loved it! We would roast meat and make bread as well as pizza and the smell was so good that the neighbours would come for lunch. Great fun!
How about some dessert? Take a walk around the streets and check out your neighbours and the nature strip street trees. Prunus fruit (plums) may appear sour but you can make fab jam roly-poly. Make some jam from street fruit. Ask neighbours to give you some fruit and return some as jam to them. Bulk flour is cheap which reduces the overall cost of your feast. You could also look for filberts or almonds growing wild. Shell, bake and pulse till you get flour from these. A great idea is to buy after-expiry date cake, mix it up with some dried and fresh berries/grapes, cinnamon and a splash of milk and eggs and steam like a pudding. Old bread sticks are cheap and can be made into bread and butter pudding with eggs, milk and a smear of jam. Old donuts are excellent recyclables and the icing on these can be scraped off and recycled into a terrific sauce. Just add a dash of cream and a mini Mars bar!
Mint can be harvested (grows like crazy) and will give you a nice cuppa for after the meal.
Don’t forget, you can always brew your own beer and make a fair drink of wine. You can pick up bottles from recycling places. Sterilise well by scrubbing with a bottle brush and bake in the oven at boiling point.
Freegans, of course, will have harvested their banquet from dumpsters or the leftovers from markets and stores. And good on them for that! Their bottom line will be lower than our, but it is effort finding the food.
It IS easy to live cheaply. First, shop locally and in season. Secondly, be alert and aware of supplier food, wild food and bulk food when you are out doing other things (eg. Working). Learn to fish. (Buy a licence). Carry an Esky primed with ice bricks in the boot all the time. Never leave home without it. Thirdly, just think of how you can use the last crumb of everything you buy and how you can rescue ‘stale’ food. It is not shameful to do this but shameful to WASTE.