Homemade convenience foods

Dinner tonight was accomplished in about 15 minutes, largely by opening cans and jars. Honestly – it feels like cheating. But it’s all good stuff: tomato sauce (commercial, but local from small farms), home canned diced tomatoes and smoked pork, and hominy (no idea where from, but it’s just corn – no weird ingredients). Oh, and a huge double handful of fresh spinach from the garden, and some chili powder and cumin. Bring to a boil, drop in the thermal pot sleeve, and let “steep” for ten minutes. Way yummy – and basically instant.

I’ve been thinking a lot about instant food lately, sparked largely by my tour of the Jiffy Mix factory in nearby Chelsea, MI. It’s an awesome tour – I highly recommend it if you like seeing how things are made. (Coolest factoid of the tour, for me: they build the box around the paper liner!) I also couldn’t resist buying the “Tour sampler pack” of 24 little blue boxes of mix. Muffins, cakes, cornbread, biscuits, pizza dough – all for 50 cents a box. I made the cornbread a couple nights ago as a snack – good gravy, that stuff is addictive! Light, sweet, with an amazing crackly crust because I baked it in cast iron. And it was so easy to make: dump in bowl, add an egg and a sploosh of milk, stir, bake for 10 minutes.

And it hit me: no wonder people buy this stuff. It’s so easy.

But…it’s sweet and airy because the flour is white, the corn degerminated, and a fair dose of sugar added. Seriously overpackaged. The muffins, especially, are full of artificial flavor and color – things I would rather not eat at all.

I think a lot of us homesteader types value work and time-on-task because difficulty stands as a proxy for other values, like anti-commercialism, quality, and “homemade-ness.” But if I think about tonight’s dinner, I wonder, where is the balance between arduous doing-it-yourself and convenience?  Tonight’s dinner was not a lot of work…tonight. There was plenty of work that went in at other times, though: when I canned the tomatoes, when I stewed the pork. But you know what? It’s worth it. It’s not money in the bank; it’s time in the pantry. Sealed in a jar and banked for use on a night when I desperately need wholesome, high-quality food with a minimum expenditure of energy.

And that’s got me thinking about my own Jiffy mixes. Measure corn meal, flour, baking soda, salt, and maybe buttermilk powder into a pint jar…just add an egg and water and bake! Or vegan gingerbread: flour, brown sugar, spices, baking soda…just add oil and soy milk. You could whip up half a dozen jars in the time it takes to make the recipe once…and then you’d have it there and ready to go. No recipe, no thought, no measuring…and no artificial ingredients, white flour, or other things best left on the “treat” menu.

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5 Comments

  1. EdgeWiseInAnnArbor said,

    April 23, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Yeah, I made a couple mason jars of the dry ingredients for each of a couple recipes and it saved a fair amount of time.

    I’ve been playing with OnceAMonthMom.com and it’s an interesting idea. Chop the whole month’s onions (wearing swim goggles) at one time. Make all the food in a bulk fashion. I’d like to be able to consolidate and optimize my own recipes in a similar way. Too many of my recipes are scattered in books, binders, and folders.

    -Steve

  2. April 23, 2012 at 9:06 am

    The Jiffy Plant tour! I would welcome additional details. :D
    Yeah, the muffin mixes especially are unappealing.
    Corn-bread mix… I’ve come so close to this idea and never actually had the idea before… a delicious thought!

  3. jj said,

    April 23, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Pre-mixes in jars are a good idea if time/convenience are really the issue. Myself, I don’t think many people realize how little time it truly takes to make a batch of, say, muffins from scratch. I know my husband (who now makes muffins every couple of weeks) is still surprised, every time.

    As for the canned goods – yes, they do take time, and it’s not always at a convenient moment – the tomatoes come ripe when they come ripe, not necessarily when you have a long weekend or whatever. However, the hours I spend canning I could also spend working to pay the extra for the non-BPA, no-HFCS, organic, etc stuff from the store…if I could find such a thing. I think it balances out in the end…

    • Emily said,

      April 23, 2012 at 10:26 am

      The funny thing is, I’ve always been firmly in the “Oh, pish, you just don’t realize how easy/quick/simple it is to make your own XYZ.” And when my brain if firing on all cylinders, I still stand by that. But these last few weeks, I’ve been just exhausted, and honestly – my brain wasn’t working right. Similar to the “mommy brain” reported by sleep-deprived parents of infants, I think!

      So it was a revelation to me just how differently I perceived the work of dump mix in bowl – add egg – add 1/3 c milk – stir – bake compared to getting out a cookbook, measuring half a dozen ingredients, and proceeding from there. I also used to make pizza dough with three kinds of flour – until I got the bright idea to just mix the flours in a big container, and scoop three scoops of the mix instead. It actually does make a difference.

  4. motherskitchen said,

    April 29, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Love the Jiffy mix tour – I’ve been on it twice. I always bring Jiffy mix with me when I am camping….nothing is better.


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