T.S. Eliot was wrong. February is the cruellest month.
With the day:night ratio still brutally weighted towards darkness and the good intentions of January ending in frustration or failure there is little to cheer come month number two.
What’s more, financially imposed restraint withers the bud of any frivolous relief: one must pay for midwinter exuberance at some point and that is usually about 30 days into the year. There shall be no steaks or fine wines in February.
But it presents the enthusiastic cook with a challenge. With budgets slashed more brutally than an American teenager in a bad horror movie, the cogs of invention begin to splutter and whirr into gear in an attempt to answer the age-old question: how does one eat well – cheaply?
I found the answer in the 1980s.
When we moved in together, the GF and I inevitably meshed media collections. This explains why Destiny’s Child now cosy up to The Dears and how Badly Drawn Boy ended up in such close proximity to Band of Horses (the alphabetisation is all me, sadly).
The cookbook collection was also enriched by this collision. In addition to the Nigels and Nigellas were some fabulous items from the mid 1980s which 20-some years on have managed to recapture their appeal, if only for kitsch value.
The Austrialian Women’s Weekly Dinner Party Cookbook No.2, its cover adorned with a domed fruit jelly, whipped cream piped around the perimeter, is a particular favourite. How to Make Good Curries is another I adore, chiefly because of the modest ambitions of its title.
The good folks at the Aussie Women’s Weekly are also responsible for The Barbecue Cookbook including – I kid you not – a section on a barbecued wedding breakfast.
But our favourite discovery, and one that caused much mirth when we were going through our new collection is a small undated pamphlet issued by the British Sausage Bureau entitled A Month of Sausages.
I think that warrants some thought.
Firstly, it is both commendable and highly amusing that such an organisation existed given that it sounds like something dreamt up by Edmund Blackadder or the writers of The Thick Of It. An entire (government funded) organisation dedicated solely to the advancement of the sausage. Magnificent.
But what’s more surprising and sadly archaic is the notion that a tentacle of the government would recommend eating sausages – albeit in various guises – every day. For a month.
In an era of five-a-day, low-sodium, low-fat, no-butter, no booze, no fags, no eggs, no cream, no bacon – the very idea that a publicly funded body could recommend eating processed pork for thirty straight days like some sort of inverse Lent is anathema to modern health proclamations.
Towards the end of the booklet they seem to be getting a little short on ideas (sausage kebabs – a sausage on a stick, Welsh Sausage Supper – sausages fried with leeks) but one has to admire the sentiment even if the execution is a little suspect.
However, despite my adoration of pork, I fear that a month of sausages is a challenge beyond even my capabilities but I was tickled by the notion and it chimed with the rather timely need for thrift.
For the next week we shall be eating chilli con carne. But we won’t be eating the same meal twice. The chilli shall serve as inspiration and base but the format shall vary.
At the moment it is bubbling away slowly in the oven and has been for four hours. The total cost of the ingredients was under a fiver and I’m as yet unsure where to go beyond chilli with rice and enchiladas but we’ll get there.
It might not be a month of sausages but a week of chilli is a darn good way to start a frugal February.
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