The philosophy of Zero Waste was not around when my grandmother or my mother were running their households, and yet they had it down to a tee. So now it is a good idea to think back on a few of their bag of tricks. Here are just a few of them:
These are very trendy again now that plastic bags are banned, but I remember seeing many ladies at the market or in grocery shops with a shopping net, either knitted or crocheted. Even if they were bought, they had to last a long time. The alternative was a basket or a trolley.
Ini many shops you can find knitted or crocheted cloths now and they are quite expensive. My nana made them out of left over wool. If you spilled something, you mopped up with cloths or towels, not paper towels. I have made a few cloths. They are not perfect but somehow cleaning is more fun using cloths you have made yourself and they do the job well.
What can you do with a jar?
When we went on train or bus journeys, we would often take a thermos jug and mugs with us. My mum loved driving so we went to visit friends and family quite often. We didn’t stop at a bakery or café to get a cup of tea or coffee in a plastic cup.
Its amazing what you can do with glass jars. Mum used to wash them up and keep them. I remember making snow globes out of some. You can also use them for storage, washing stockings, pickling vegetables, and making jam. We had a vegetable garden. Even if you only had a tiny plot, you knew how to make the most of it. I remember my stepfather growing prizeworthy onions. We had kind of a steady routine of meals during the week. Fridays, I would go and get fish and chips (wrapped in newspaper). It was a delicious meal with my stepdad’s pickled gherkins.
Something old Something new
There was no bin liner in the bin, just plain old newspaper. As there wasn’t so much in the bin, that wasn’t a problem.
My mum used to make clothes for me out of her clothes. I wasn´t always over the moon about them, but she was quite an accomplished seamstress.
She was also a good and fast knitter. Having learned to knit for soldiers during the war, she knitted me quite a few jumpers. I remember the clacking of the knitting needles, and how quickly a garment emerged from a few balls of wool.
One of my mum’s mantras was definitely: “Don’t waste it!” She was referring to what was on my plate. I was a terrible eater when I was little. But the fridge was always full of little bowls and plates, or two plates put on top of one another to prevent something from drying out. Nothing would get thrown away. You always knew you would find something to nibble in the fridge. Many things didn’t land in the fridge as there were other ways of storing food.
Mum would put bits and pieces on toast and cheese on the top. (It tasted good). She could make a curry out of almost anything. One of my favourites was fish cakes made from leftover mashed potatoes. An omelette was also a good way of using up bits and pieces. There were no frittatas or pizzas then.
“It is often said of a person that he or she is ‘beautiful inside’. A browned banana, a bruised fruit still has a huge potential in terms of smell, flavour, texture. Therefore, responsibility of the chef, as well as that of all of us cooking at home, is to find that inner beauty in each product.”Chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana
Simple but good
My stepmother would often say when placing a steaming pot on the table: “It’s nothing special, just a stew with dumplings.” Or pork chops with peas and carrots. Such simple food made with good ingredients. That was before we went global and mass-produced. It tasted just sublime.
I’m getting there
I wouldn’t say I am as good at zero waste as they were. However, I enjoy making jam, often from the fruit produce my friends have in their garden. In the boot of my car, there is a box with material bags in all shapes and sizes. I wash up with handmade cloths. Some of the garments in my wardrobe are upcycled – by me! And many more are second-hand. Knitting is not my forte. Sometimes, when my husband asks me: “What’s for lunch?” I answer: “Leftovers.” He almost rejoices. I am pretty good at rustling something up in the kitchen. Now we are in the soup season – also a great way of using up leftovers.
What memories do you have of your mums or nans avoiding waste?