Free Food






Part of a Large Block of Work called DIRT POOR

It’s that time of the year. Time for what some call, gleaning. I call it watching for opportunities for free food and making them happen.

Gleaning is something the impoverished part of the fiefdom, kingdom, city was allowed to do, after the crops had been “gathered in”. Sometimes not. What it amounts to is picking up the small orts of food left after the harvest.

In the Bible story of Ruth, the young widow (and in those days that meant poor) asks to be allowed onto the field to pick up what is left after the barley harvest, and in doing so, she meets Boaz who will eventually take her into his household. People for centuries have survived on what is left over, the cast-offs, the garbage, the refuse of richer meals not their own.

Since moving to the south, I realize I love the bounty that surrounds me, growing on the trees right in my neighborhood. We moved to an apartment with a pecan tree–and though it bore no pecans this year–I was told next year it might. (Something to research, how to get a pecan tree bearing again, since I’ve heard that skip a year stuff is a myth.) I walk the dog and everywhere there are lemon trees and oranges. This morning we ate a grapefruit my sister in law brought to me from a neighbor’s yard; it had fallen off a tree early.

Another sister-in-law has friends who live in Poplarville, MS, about an hour north of New Orleans. I asked if she was driving up to pick pecans. She said she would, if I would drive. I agreed. Her friends have both deceased, and their son is now tending the property, and welcomed us to pick what we wanted. Some of the pecan trees closer to the road appeared to be picked, but when the son came home (yes, he was a prodigal son at one time, don’t get me started on this Biblical side) he said, “Go up close to my house.”

The tree there had a carpet of fresh, big pecans. I filled my plastic grocery bags, then a bigger one (from the H+M opening last week where we stood in line, Lily and I with three of her friends to get scratch off cards for dollars off. Lily won a $50 off and I won a $25 off.) I then slipped two of the grocery bags, already tearing from the sharp ends of the pecan shells into the “Personal Belongings” bag from Dennis’ last visit to Tulane Hospital. I didn’t want a precious pecan to drop out; I wanted them all.

The son said, “Pick all the citrus you want.” My sister in law was eager for the kumquats. “Nobody picks these, just me, and Miss Sadie,” she said wishing in her words that her friend was still with her this day. “I look at you picking these kumquats, and I like to think that you’re Miss Sadie.”

“I’ll be your Miss Sadie. I’ll come back with you again and pick the ones that aren’t ripe yet, and I’ll be your Miss Sadie.”

“Sadie taught me how to make kumquat marmalade; they’re not much good for anything but that.” I bit into a kumquat, straight from the tree and it was bitter and orangey, but not bad.

“I’ll make marmalade with you.”

“They make good Christmas presents, you know.” She thinks like I do. I like homemade gifts much more than expensive ones or even inexpensive ones I can’t afford. I picked lots of kumquats. From there we drove over by the corral where we’d left the heavy bags of pecans, and worked our way over to five or so citrus trees, drooping with orange bounty.

“He said he could get about $300/per tree in the market for these,” my sister-in-law said. “But he wants us to take all we can eat.” We each picked big brown bags full and loaded them into the back of the HIghlander.

By the time we got back to New Orleans, I felt I had made a killing on that trip alone. I wanted to bake up some pecan pies for Thanksgiving and pecans were costly in the store.

The day before, the missionary sisters called and said they had a whole tall brown bag of crusty ole poor boy (Nawlins sandwiches) bread that someone had given them. “Can you find something to make with these?” The girls were at a total loss.

“Well, bring them up,” I said, “we’ll make some bread pudding. It’s good with French bread!” There were eight or nine long baseball bat hard loaves, but they cut pretty well with a serrated knife. I set up an assembly line–one of the girls chopping walnuts that I’d already bought on a buy-one-get-one free–the other cubing the loaves. The milk, cinnamon, eggs and vanilla we paid for. In another container, I mixed up smaller cubes with spices I’d gotten from my sister whose son-in-law works for McCormack. He sends my sister $2.00 coupons and sample spices regularly, and there are always more than she can use, so she decided to send them on to me, her Dirt Poor sister. With the other bread, and a bit of fresh parsley and onions and butter, I will make our Thanksgiving stuffing.

The missionaries leave with a 9 x 12 pan of bread pudding for an investigator they are sharing the Gospel with. I keep the remaining long loaf and a half which I will shred into bread crumbs, since I’m out of those too. We have the remaining three pans of bread pudding to share–one for an after funeral event for a friend Ramona, and another two to bring to the potluck after church the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

On Saturday, we go to a our daughter’s dance performances at 7 and 9 PM at the Fringe Fest in New Orleans. To help out, Dennis runs to get a meal for in between the shows for the company–chicken wings and salad makings to feed the twenty-two young teenage girls who are dancing with Lily. Afterwards, there are greens left from the salad and a partial bag of carrots. No one wants them; we take them home.

The next day is Sunday, and I help carve the turkeys for the potluck dinner after church. That is where I glom–my word for getting something free–glom two turkey carcasses with which I make soup. Nobody ever wants the carcasses. I have been the recipient of untold turkey carcasses at this kind of event. I have even taken them, out of their foil cooking pans from the top of a church trash can, tote them home, and get the biggest pot I have to boil them down.

It takes a few hours for the orts of meat gripping the bones to fall off, and in the meantime, our house is filled with the most fragrant aroma of comfort food salvaged from the waste.

Getting free food doesn’t mean not working for it. It took me a good hour to clean the bones of that turkey glom. I separate it into three groups–the best of the meat that is appealing and edible, the meat by-products, let’s call them–though the turkey liver and heart are far from that–that I cull out for our dog Dixie, and the bones, skin and gristle that I’ve boiled down to add flavor to the soup makings, but are too fatty for my dog to eat, or just not good for dogs. So not only do I get food for our table, but the turkey boil nets me three servings of turkey bits that I will mix into the dog’s kibbles to remind me of how thankful we are to have a great dog.

My mother always made a good turkey soup after Thanksgiving, and with eight kids, she served a big turkey, so there was a lot of it. She prepared it Greek style with lemon egg sauce and rice. I loved that soup she served with crusty French bread and butter that would melt as we dipped it into the hot broth.

On Mondays, we almost always eat free; it’s bean night—a tradition in the Donegan family, and everyone heads out to PawPaw’s house for beans and rice. Dennis’ brother who delivers baked goods in and around New Orleans offers up some damaged pastry shells. We take a plastic nested layer of 12 home, and on Tuesday I take some of the soup makings, eliminating much of the liquid, add cut up carrots from the dance concert leftovers, and add in some frozen peas, thicken it with flour and water, and serve bubbly over the pastry shells that no one can tell are broken with the turkey and gravy over them. When I serve them, Lily shouts out “Happy Thanksgiving,” since we won’t be doing Thanksgiving together, what with Dennis working that day. We have a wonderful, almost free meal, save the peas and a little flour, and I truly am Thankful.

The recipes I mentioned are simple and easy to make

Bread pudding

Bread pudding is simple. Cut the bread into 1.5″ pieces. Mix 4 eggs with 2 cups of milk, and 1 T. Vanilla; add in 1T cinnamon and 1T nutmeg. We used about 1 cup of walnuts chopped to a small pea size. Oh yeah, and for the 4 tins, we used a whole stick of butter, melted. Mixed it all together and baked in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Read on the Internet a great sauce for top. Let some vanilla ice cream melt and pour on top as a sauce.

“Soup Makings”

In boiling up the Turkey carcass, cover with enough water in a deep (stock) pot. You may have to break up the bones a bit to fit, but if you can’t don’t worry, after a little stewing, the bones break easily. Boil them for a good 3-4 hours. Less will do, but not less than 1.5 hrs. If the turkey was seasoned well–the ones I used this time were seasoned with a strong rub–then you don’t need to add bouillon or bay leaves or salt and pepper. But if not, add all those things. If I know I’m going straight to soup, I’ll add in celery and onion at that time. The more boiling, the more those vegetable “seasonings” as my mom-in-law calls them dissolve into the broth, but if boiling less, they can complicate the “picking” part.

Picking starts by pulling out all the large pieces of turkey carcass remaining, and letting them cool so you can handle them. Then I sieve off the rest of the pieces, and end up with clear broth, or relatively so. This means you’re going to dirty another container and a sieve, but free stuff doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the dishes. It’s worth it to do it right, and small bone pieces are very unappetizing and potentially lethal in the soup.

Pick the bones, and add the meat into the broth. Cooling at this time will bring any of the turkey fat, or the fat used to cook it–unbeknownst to you if your glomming somebody else’s–to the surface. You can scrape it off before heating and using in a recipe, or before freezing.

Now you have what it takes to make Soup or Turkey and Gravy or a Turkey Pot Pie, all using the above “soup makings” as I call them.

Turkey Soup with a Greek Variation

This soup is made from just the makings above. Add a half a chopped onion, some celery, or celery soup–my favorite all round spice–and add some already cooked rice, or if you’re going to finish the soup in this go round, then cook the rice in the boiling liquid of the soup. Reheating rice-y soup can make the rice very soggy.

To add the Greek Avgolemono sauce

Separate 3 eggs put the yokes aside. Beat the whites until they peak, add in juice from 1/2 lemon. Whisk together. Add the yokes in an whisk only to combine, not to whip, add a bit of the hot broth from the soup–about 1/4 cup. Stir together. This will “cook” the eggs ever so slightly. Then pour on top of the soup, either individually or the soup in a serving bowl or we did the whole pan and skipped a serving bowl. Make sure there’s a portion of sauce on each of the servings. Mmmmmmm.

Turkey and Gravy over Pastry Shells

Take the soup “makings” and scoop out more of the solid parts that the liquid. (You can always freeze the liquid in ice cube trays and save for home made bouillon. Pop them out and store in a zip lock in the freezer to use the trays for ice.) Heat in a pan and follow the directions in the text above. Warm up the pastry shells in the oven so the warm liquid works with the dry shells.

Turkey Pot Pie

The pastry shells are just a pot pie variation. Turkey pot pie is made with 2 crusts–bottom and top–I use up all my left over vegetables I have in the refrigerator. The rest of the carrots from the dance concert, the corn in the Tupperware. Making a gravy like the one above makes it succulent. I like to flavor turkey and chicken pot pies with with ground Sage. If I have to stretch a pot pie due to too little Turkey or meat, I add in partially cooked potatoes–either regular or sweet work well. Make sure your ingredients are partially cooked before pie-ing them. Frozen peas will cook in the pie like the 4 and 20 blackbirds, so don’t overcook them.

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