Production Blog

Will Scrimping Come Back in Style?

Few smells are better than homemade bread baking. Let's hope we can continue to get ingredients as baking, besides tasting great and sustaining us, can offer stress relief. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Scrimp was the watchword of my youth.

Ingredients for any food dish were weighed based on cost. Mother's orders were to "scrimp" at every opportunity, but particularly with expensive food items such as nuts, fruit and, occasionally, sugar.

We were always saving, not so much for a rainy day, but "for the farm." If not using an entire package of chocolate chips in a recipe could help build a farm, then it seemed a small sacrifice.

This necessity to economize carried over to other things, too. Forget Elmer's, we made our own paste from flour and water. We mended socks and sewed our own clothes -- yes, even underwear. AND when we bought fabric to make those garments, we figured selvages down to the thread count. My mother may well have been the early inspiration for auto-guidance -- that woman could lay down a paper pattern AB line, leaving behind a pile of scraps scant enough to make a quilter weep.

These long-ago memories have come flooding back over the past few days with coronavirus restrictions and dwindling grocery supplies. I purchase meats from local farmers and "put up" a healthy amount of 2019 produce. So compared to most families, our larder looks like we "cut a fat hog" without much shopping.

However, current events have me wondering if I should be guarding the pantry door more carefully. How long will this term of self-distancing last, and how many family members might eventually need to feed from our trough?

Stopping at four stores without gathering an egg this week has led to a reality check that I might have to revisit some lessons on frugality. The problem is, I've also learned something about myself during this short period of coronavirus containment -- I stress bake.

A friend sent me a link describing this phenomenon. Apparently, others recognized when I bake most, but I was too busy mixing it up to notice. Oh sure, I've always known baking is where I go in troubled times. But reading this article by Amanda Mull in The Atlantic brought anxiety baking into focus. You can find the piece here:….

Just to be clear -- my variation of this indulgence is the reverse of an eating disorder. I find comfort in the creative process of concocting and enjoy feeding others. I have a pantry full of fancy boxes and containers to "gift" goodies. Baking fills the home and senses with aromas more powerful than any essential oil. It makes me happy and I've always viewed it as a self-help mechanism that also benefits, or at least pleases, others.

However, as I pulled some apricot scones from the oven this morning, my husband whimpered that I was doing nothing to "flatten his curves." I've also heard him wonder aloud how many I've invited to dine as our large stock pots fill with soup and bubble close to the edge of excess.

One of the truly liberating moments of my life came when I realized independence meant I could eat, not merely what was set before me, but what I craved at that particular moment.

Mother, bless her practical heart, was no longer monitoring to make sure ingredients were short-changed or demanding one itty-bitty condensed Campbell's-brand tomato soup be "stretched" to fill the tummies of a family of seven.

I said goodbye to the margarine, Miracle Whip dressing and ice-milk desserts so beloved by my parents and hello to real butter, real mayonnaise and ice cream made from real cream (with nuts and a cherry on top, thank you very much).

I quickly learned granulated sugar and water boiled with flavored extract was no substitute for sap boiled from towering maple trees. I fell into the spice cabinet and a pinch didn't have to be enough. There's an entire laundry list of food and other items that I willingly left behind and, honestly, never thought I'd revisit. Don't even suggest sharing bath water or reusing a wet towel.

Now, suddenly sequestered and wondering where our favorite snacks will come from, I find myself ruminating on how we will respond if the supply chains strain. I at least was brought up to know what it takes to ration behavior, but can a society mostly accustomed to instant gratification learn to scrimp?

Hold that thought ... it's time to remove the loaves of sourdough bread I have baking in the oven. It's a favorite recipe that doesn't require eggs, and for now, flour is in good supply.

Pamela Smith can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN



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3/23/2020 | 9:02 AM CDT
My Husband told me that when he was a kid growing up in a family with 4 boys - they Shared Milk for their cereal......The eldest poured his cereal and milk - the left over milk went to the next boys cereal - then the next...then finally my husband who was #4...... And, yes they shared bath water and towels - Again he was #4 Thank Goodness - I grew up on a dairy Farm - Milk was plentiful along with the bath water!!!!