Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 6

Breakfast: Barley in Mutton Broth and Scalded Milk
Corson suggested that I have mutton broth for breakfast today, but cooking the barley the night before used it all. So I ate a bowl of leftover barley with a cup of milk. It was still good, although not necessarily want I want for breakfast.

Cost: .25 cents

Lunch: Beef and Potatoes

Like every other meat this week, it’s boiled according to the directions for Salt Pot-au-Feu. I had a chuck steak ($1.40) that I tenderized with a few whacks from a heavy rolling pin. I dredged it in salt, pepper, and flour then browned it in butter and cooking oil (.15 cents). I chopped up two potatoes (.34 cents) and tossed them in the pot, then covered everything with water and boiled it for 15 minutes.

It was fine. I ate all the potatoes, because it’s really hard to mess up a potato, and three-quarters of the meat. The meat was very tough. I chewed thoroughly, and tried not to choke, because I didn’t want to be found dead in my apartment next to a mysterious looking bowl of beige food. But when it was all done, I felt full for the first time this week. Either potatoes are awesome, or my stomach has shrunk. Probably both.

Cost: $1.89

Supper: Beans in Broth

Stupid beans. I hate beans. They take so freaking long to make. I soaked 1 cup of beans (.84 cents) for six hours, then boiled them in beef broth for 90 minutes. I sucked on a lemon in the meantime ( .12 cents).

And then I smelled something burning. And it was my beans. I had been afraid of this all week: skrewing something up and then having to eat it anyway. And now it was happening.

So I ate about a cup of burnt, awful beans.

Cost: .96

Total Cost: $3.10
Approximate Calories Consumed: 785

Running Total: 15.64-16.18

I am in a foul mood. And I’ve lost three pounds so far this week. I get to have hot cocoa tomorrow morning, and I am looking forward to it so, so much.

Eating Like A Tenement Family: Day 5

Lamb and Turnips: A World of Beige

Breakfast: Toasted Bread and Scalded Milk

The usual.

Cost: .32 cents

Lunch: Mutton and Turnips

Mutton and Turnips is prepared according to the instructions for Salt Pot-au-Feu. I used a lamb shank ($2.47), and chopped up one turnip (.86) and half an onion (.05 cents). I rinsed the lamb and patted it dry, then rubbed it with salt and pepper. I heated a tablespoon of butter (.15 cents) with a dash of cooking oil in a pan, then browned the lamb all sides. I took out the lamb and tossed in the the onion (mmm..lamb fatty onions.) I browned them a little, then added the turnip and let it cook about a minute more. I put the lamb back in, and added water until the lamb was about 3/4 covered. I put a lid on the pot, and left it at a low boil for half an hour. After straining out the lamb and veggies, I saved the broth for supper and tomorrow’s breakfast, as usual.

I declare the dish edible, but not delicious. The turnips were a little over done, but tasted strangely like broccoli cheese soup. The lamb was gummy–I’m beginning to think boiling is not the best method in which to prepare meat. The cut of meat I selected was also pretty fatty, which is probably why it was relatively cheap. However, lamb has a very rich flavour, and it maintained some of that. It was probably one of the most flavourful things I’ve eaten this week.

Cost: 3.52 (Yikes.)

The hardest part about this is not necessary the taste of the food; but after I’m done I still feel hungry, and all I have to look forward to is continuing to be hungry.

Supper: Barley Boiled in Stock

I reheated the lamb broth from lunch, and added a 1/2 cup of barley. I simmered it about 45 minutes. I have to say it was pretty damn good. The broth was very flavorful, and the barley absorbed it all, but left a starchy goo between the kernels. It was salty, warm and satisfying; but I still could only eat about half before I was full. I put the rest in the fridge for tomorrow.

Cost: .39 cents

I also had one extra cup of milk (.25 cents)

Total Cost: $4.48
Approximate Calories Consumed: 763

Running Total: $12.54- $13.08

I often feel overwhelmed and out of patience, especially after physical activity. I live about a mile from the subway, so after a walk to the train I’m a pretty cranky bitch.

Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 4

Fried Polenta!

Breakfast: Fried Polenta and Scalded Milk

Instead on Ms. Corson’s suggested breakfast of Rice Panada, I decided to save a little money by frying up slices of polenta left over from last night’s dinner. This preparation is another suggested meal in Fifteen Cent Dinners, so I’m not straying too far from the path here.

I sliced the cold polenta about 1/2in-1 in thick, and fried them in a skillet with 1 tablespoon hot butter (.15 cents). The edges were crispy and buttery, although a little plain. It could have used some cheese or maple syrup.

Cost: .40 cents

A couple hours later, I was in the shower, and got woozy. Then nauseous. And I had to sit down until the feeling passed.

Now, I want to point out that I’m a videographer by trade, and my work is largely sedentary. Long hours of editing require me to sit on my butt all day. So if I feel woozy on this diet, I cannot imagine how a full-grown male, working 12-15 hour shifts rolling barrels at the Fulton Fish Market would fair.

Lunch: Salt Pot-au-Feu

“Salt Pot-au-feu-Put one and a half pounds of Salt pork (cost eighteen cents,) in three quarts of cold water; bring it slowly to a boil. and skim it well; when it has boiled fifteen minutes, put in with it a two or three cent head of cabbage…and boil both steadily for half an hour…”

After the shower incident, I decided it was time to make lunch. I had not yet had a chance to go to the grocery store, so I had to substitute the salt pork with 3 slices of bacon (about .90 cents) I let them brown up in a pan, then threw half an onion (.05 cents) into the rendered fat. I let it cooked about five more minutes, then added 1/4 of a white cabbage (.33 cents), salt, pepper, and about 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar (about .02 cents). I covered it over with water and let the whole mess boil for 15 minutes. I choked down about half. I saved the broth for supper and tomorrow’s breakfast.

Cost: $1.30

Supper: Lentils Stewed in Stock

I cooked 1/2 cup of lentils (.27 cents) according to the package directions, using the stock left over from lunch as the cooking water. I ate about half of them, before feeling full and uninterested. Simultaneously, I still feel hungry. I also allowed myself one slice of bread (.07 cents).

The cider that I added to the broth at lunch gave the stock a really weird taste. I’m not saving it for breakfast tomorrow.

Cost: .34 cents

I also had an extra cup of milk (.25 cents) and an apple (.33 cents)

Total Cost: $2.04
Approximate Calories Consumed: 796
Running Total: $8.06- $8.60

Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 3

Stewed Tripe.

Breakfast: Toasted Bread and Scalded Milk

Pretty much as it sounds, because nothing wakes me up in the morning like warm milk. Although, I presume they’re boiling all of their milk because pasteurization wasn’t around yet, and there was a contaminated milk crisis in New York City.

Cost: .32 cents

Lunch: Stewed Tripe

Like most middle-class Americans, I’ve had very little experience with offal. Our affluence has afforded us the luxury to ignore organ meats in favor of the succulent muscles of our animal friends. But not today!

“Stewed Tripe.-Cut in small pieces one pound of tripe. (cost eightcents,) half a quart each of potatoes and onions, (cost of both five cent) and put them in layers in a pot, seasoning them with one table-spoonful of salt, and one level teaspoonful of pepper; mix quarter of a pound of flour with water, gradually using three pints of water, and pour it over the stew: (the flour and seasoning will cost two cents) put the pot over the fire and boil if gently for an hour and a half.”

I have had tripe (cow stomach) once before, in a Philadelphia Pepper Pot stew, and it was like springy, tasteless chicken.

I told myself to stop being a baby and went to wash the tripe (.48 cents). Just the feel of it was enough to turn my stomach–like used Kleenex soaked in baby oil. I prepared the tripe using these instructions. I’m assuming its so important to wash and sterilize it because of the risk of digestive tract bacteria; germ theory was probably not something a Tenement family would be familiar with.

It smelled like a fish tank when it was boiling. Or like a cat pooped in a sandbox.

When I was slicing up the tripe, I wasn’t sure if it would be best to go with small pieces, that might melt away into the broth, or larger pieces I could pick out if I wanted. I decided to go small, and also cut up two medium potatoes (.34 cents) and half of an onion (.05 cents). I added the onion to my pot first, to let it get a little color, then the tripe, and lastly the potatoes. I added a little salt and ground pepper.

I had saved the water in which I had boiled the macaroni the night before. Corson recommends drinking the starchy water for breakfast; while I wasn’t up for that, I couldn’t let all those nutrients go to waste. I whisked in 1/4 cup of flour and poured it in my soup pot. I brought the mix to a boil, then turned it down and let it simmer for 30 mins, until the potatoes were tender. It thickened considerably, but still maintaned that fish tank smell.

In the end, I am a big puss. I could handle one bite of the gummy organ meat; It really had some flavor that I associate with contaminated water. I ate out the potatoes, trying to taste them as little as possible.

Cost: .87 cents

Supper: Polenta

“This favorite Itallian dish is closely related to the hasty pudding of New England, and the mush of the South. “

After this afternoon, I was relieved to have something unchallenging for dinner. Polenta is easy and about one of the cheapest foods you can make, costing about .05 a serving. It can be made with water, milk, or leftover stock; and is improved by the addition of onions or cheese.

I made a third of this recipe for polenta. I ate half, and stored the rest away in the fridge for tomorrow. It was great.

Cost: .32 cents

Also had my daily apple and lemon half.

Total Cost: 1.96
Approximate Calories Consumed: 800

Running Total: 6.02-6.56

Eating like a Tenement Family: Day 2

Breakfast: Broth and Bread:

On the subject of broth, Juliet Corson has this to say:

“I wish to call your attention to the following important fact. The hardy and thrifty working classes of France, the country where the most rigid economy in regard to food is practiced, never use tea or coffee for breakfast, and seldom use milk. Their food and drink is BROTH.”

With this is mind, I pulled last night’s broth from the refrigerator, and poured it into a mug to be reheated in the microwave. It smelled like farts, and there was some sludgy stuff on the bottom I decided I couldn’t stomach, so I threw that out. I added a little water to thin the rest out.

I toasted a slice of bread as well, from a loaf of fresh-baked Italian bread that cost .99 cents. It works out to about .07 cents a slice.

All in all, the broth wasn’t bad. It tasted like a rich soup, which is not necessary what I want to eat first thing in the morning, but it made the hunger headache I’ve had since last night go away. I felt full, but not really satisfied. I give breakfast broth a B+, although I think it will grow on me.

Cost: .07 cents.

Lunch: Baked Beans

I decided it wasn’t cost effective to make baked beans from scratch, as it was very labor intensive and used many items that I don’t usually have in my pantry. So instead, I opened a can of Campbell’s Brown Sugar and Bacon Baked Beans, cost .59 cents. Done and done.

Cost: .59 cents

Supper: Macaroni with Cheese

“Boil half a pound of macaroni…put it into a pudding dish in layers with quarter of a pound of cheese, (cost four cents,) grated and mixed between the layers; season it with pepper and salt to taste; put a very little butter and some bread crumbs over it, and brown it in the oven. It will make just as hearty and strengthening a meal as meat, and will cost about twelve cents.”

Ms. Corson suggests boiling the macaroni with an onion in the water; I have also read other recipes in which you add Mace, a spice made from the shell of the nutmeg. Mace has got a real kick to it, and is often hard to find in modern grocery stores. I’ve decided to add 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes to impart a similar flavor.

My roommates were home, so I made a full recipe following Ms. Corson’s directions. 8 oz of macaroni costs about .80 cents, and 1/4 lb of cheddar cheese costs about $1.50. I also used 1/8 stick butter (.15 cents) and a sprinkling of bread crumbs which I had in my pantry. The recipe makes about four adult-sized servings, at a cost of .61 cents each. With enough salt and pepper, it was tastey and fairly flavourful.

Cost: .61 cents

I also ate one apple (.33 cents) and half of a lemon (.12 cents)

Day 2 Total Cost: $1.72
Approximate Calories Consumed: 995

Cost to Date: $4.06-$4.60

Note that all prices are based on a New York grocery store; they will vary by location. Today was better, although for the most part I feel headachey and and somewhat nauseous. I couldn’t imagine doing 12-14 hours of heavy labor on this diet; but I supposed sometimes you just do what you gotta do.

Eating Like a Tenement Family: Day 1

Corned Beef with Cabbage.

Breakfast: Boiled Rice with Scalded Milk
There was no recipe given for Rice with Scalded Milk, so I added 1/2 cup of rice (this item was already in my pantry, but costs about .39 cents) to 1 cup milk (cost .25 cents). I brought it to a boil, stirring constantly, then turned down the heat to low. I stirred it and let it cook until it was very thick and starchy, then add about 1/2 cup water and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
It was gross and gummy. A tablespoon of sugar greatly improved the taste. The recipe yielded about 2 cups, and I ate half.
Cost: $ .25-$.64
Dinner (Lunch): Corned Beef and Cabbage
The recipe for Corned Beef and Cabbage is based on the recipe for Salt Pot-auFeu, at Ms. Corson’s recommendation. I’ll be making Salt Pot-auFeu on Thursday, and will get into the recipe in more detail then.
There were no instructions in Fifteen Cent Dinners (FCD) to make corned beef from scratch, so I assumed they were buying pre-made, possibly potted, beef that would have been less expensive than making it at home. After comparing prices of modern pre-packaged corned beef, I decided on Budding brand slices, costing a total of .86 cents.
I heated 1/2 a piece of bacon (about .15 cents, but I already had this item in my pantry) in a pot, to render some cooking fat and add flavor. I then added 1/2 of a small onion (about .05 cents) and let it cook until soft. I then added the Budding Corned Beef, browned it a little, then poured in enough water to deglaze the pan. I added 1/4 of a white cabbage (.33 cents) and added enough water to cover everything. I put the lid on the pot and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
When I took the lid off, the broth was a rich brown color and it smelled promising. I lifted out the cabbage with a strainer and placed the slices of beef on top.
The results: the Budding beef was a bad choice. Although cheaper than its cousin in a can (which costs about $4.00) it was tough, flavourless and inedible. The cabbage was not bad. I’m not a huge fan of boiled cabbage, but perhaps it will grow on me.
Cost: $1.24-$1.39
Supper: Peas Boiled in Stock
I added 1/2 cup dry split peas (.40 cents) to the leftover broth from the Corned Beef and Cabbage. I brought it to a boil, then turned down the heat, added a little pepper and salt, and simmered it for about 45 minutes, until nice and tender. I strained the peas and saved the broth for breakfast tomorrow. Nutritious, flavourful, and economical!
Cost: $ .40
I also ate 1/2 lemon (.12 cents) and 1 apple (.33 cents)
Total Cost Day 1: $2.34-$2.88
Total Approximate Calories Consumed: 661
Right now, I’m so hungry I’m having trouble thinking.

Experiments in Culinary History: Eating Like a Tenement Family

I recently came across a reference to an 1877 pamphlet titled Fifteen Cent Dinners. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I found a copy of the pamphlet online, and I got curious if the meals were as filling, nutritional, and cheap as the authors purports.

The pamphlet, according to it’s author Juliet Corson (founder of the New York Cooking School), is meant as a guideline for the poorest working class families to provide a nutritional meal on the cheap. She proposes a meal plan that can feed a family of six for three dollars a week, about $57 in today’s money.

In New York, a poor, working class family usually meant a life in the tenements. My curiosity stems from the desire to understand a small part of what life was like for these families by preparing and consuming the foods that made up their daily lives.

Although these families were also likely to be immigrants and were probably cooking some of the foods of their homelands, Corson assures her readers that the recipes are based around “…articles in common use among the working classes.”

I’m going to start my experience with Ms. Corson’s suggested menu. Here is my Bill of Fare for the next seven days:

I was struck by how efficient the menu is: the stock created at lunch has vegetables added to it for supper, then reheated for breakfast. Ms. Corson leaves an extra 62 cents ($11.94 our money) which she advises is for the purchase of “extra bread, milk and butter.” I’ve decided it would be wise for me to use this money to purchase apples (because I would like to poop sometime this week) and lemons (to prevent scurvy). I’ll also be taking a daily multi-vitamin.

I’ll be working with 1/6th of Ms. Corson’s given budget, so I plan to eat this week for about $10. I’ll be keeping a running tally of the groceries I buy and each day I’ll post recipes and photos of the foods I cook.

Ms. Corson says that “The cheapest kinds of food are sometimes the most wholesome and strengthening…” A statement that does not seem to hold true in today’s society. The poorest classes are often the most obese, and the cheapest foods in the grocery store seem to be those that are the worst for you. Through cooking Ms. Corson’s recipes, I hope to tap into an older, and perhaps wiser, way of eating on a restricted budget.

Or I might just end up constipated. I begin on Monday.

Fifteen Cent Dinners for families of six. (pdf)