“Waste not, want not!” I heard my grandmother say more times that I can remember. It’s funny how certain sayings will stick with you through life. Granny used this phrase most often while she was standing in her small kitchen in a stained apron with one hand firmly planted on her hip. Having lived through the Depression, she remembered how hard it was and how expensive it could be to get food.
To use another one of her quotes, I think Granny could even “get blood from a turnip.” She was one miraculous power short of turning water into wine. I think she would have tried harder had she not been Southern Baptist. With everything else, she could stretch a little dab of nothing into a lot more of something!
Let’s take buttermilk for example. When she was ready to make biscuits or cornbread, I have personally witnessed Granny open the refrigerator and retrieve the carton of buttermilk. Giving it a little shake, she would realize it was a good bit shy of the amount she needed. She never fretted or drove to the grocery store since it wasn’t her regular day to shop. She just calmly improvised!
Without giving it a second thought, she walked over to the sink and added the amount of tap water she felt she needed to increase the buttermilk to the proper amount. Then she held the paper carton tightly shut and vigorously shook it until it was just one step from making butter. “Granny, is that going to work?” I asked. “Of course!” she replied. Before I knew it, the bread was coming out of the oven.
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She would use the real butter, or cow butter as she called it, until there was hardly a shine left on the paper wrapper. Instead of immediately tossing the wrapper into the trash, she would put it aside for later use to grease the bottom of a pan. Only when the wrapper was absolutely free of butter, would she put it in the pile to decide later if there was another use for it.
Speaking of trash, it just occurred to me that I never saw a trash can in Granny’s kitchen. She always made a pile of items to be discarded on the end of her sink closest to the back door. For anything to be taken on the walk to the outside trash can, each and every potential piece of trash had to go through an extensive checklist of possible other uses.
To my knowledge, she never purchased a Ziploc. Instead, she saved every single plastic bread wrapper when all the bread was eaten. If you wanted to take a piece of cake or fried chicken home, Granny would get a bread wrapper and assist you with placing the food in it. Then she sealed it off with the same twisty tie that had kept the bread fresh. In fact, she had a drawer absolutely full of both.
Uneaten biscuits never saw Granny’s countertop trash can. They were crumbled up and blended with milk, sugar, butter and vanilla to make what she referred to as biscuit pudding. The batter went into a small baking pan where it baked until it was a golden brown. She then cut it into squares and, voila, a biscuit wasn’t wasted and we had a delicious dessert.
Just the other day, I was cleaning out our pantry and found a partial loaf of bread tossed to the side. I picked it up and noticed that the expiration date had not only passed but so had another month. I took it over to the trash can and tossed it away without a thought. I couldn’t help but think of Granny. She would have somehow breathed new life into the bread and then saved the wrapper and tie.
We throw away so much because we’ve never had to live without enough food. Our personal journeys through life shape how we live. We now live in a disposable world. We waste because we have never had to want. With Granny’s words in my head, I’m trying to be better. Anytime I throw something away, I can almost feel her frail hand on my shoulder. We could all learn a valuable lesson from Granny’s quote, “Waste not, want not!”
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at instagram.com/mark creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.