James Whelan Butchers: The Big Stretch

The problem with common sense is that it’s not very common at all. A truism that appears more relevant today than at any other time. I don’t think I have ever heard as many people concerned with price, value and money in general and we all understand the unbearable burden that financial pressure can bring. Sometimes though, it is the pressure, stress and endless media misery that can blindside us into feeling there is no hope at all. While I know many people can relate I also have the great fortune to have several customers who are positivity personified and nothing short of a breath of fresh air. One particular customer springs to mind instantly; a lady who has been coming into the shop since I was a boy and is now in her late sixties. We often stop and shoot the breeze about current affairs and the economy and I always come away feeling uplifted and inspired. I have recently tried to analyse the secret to her calm stability and I can tell you honestly it is not money. This lady is not necessarily rich and, like many, has to live on a modest income. Her real strength is practicality and one of her favourite sayings is “Well Pat, it is what it is and we have to get on with it!”

She is right, worrying won’t change anything, but small practical changes can make a difference. We have much to learn from these cool pragmatic souls. Many have experience that we ignore from coming through previous recessions to having been raised in relative poverty by comparison to today’s standards. They’ve been there and survived it and laugh out loud at the soft tiger cubs who perceive their inability to go on a family holiday abroad this year as a tragedy. It is what it is and we have to get on with it.

Beef & Vegetable Casserole

So recently when I bumped into Jan, I asked her straight out what her best money saving tips might be for families and households today. Her ideas were simple and within a few minutes the wisdom I received was enough to pass onto you today. Her first response was that we pay too high a price for convenience. Grated cheese, chopped vegetables, ready meals even sliced meat came under scrutiny. Of course there are times when convenience is worth it, but for a little extra effort doing your own preparation can make financial sense. One tip I particularly liked was that if she had the grandchildren coming for a few days she would buy a small turkey and ham, cook them both and use them for sliced cold meat. She would freeze some of the slices if necessary. This meant there was sandwich, snack, picnic and even salad meals ready to go at all times during the visitors’ stay. Jan also told me that in her younger days when the family was around at home, the chest freezer was possibly the best household investment ever made. Batch cooking and learning to freeze everything from buns and fruit to regular meat and meals became second nature. She said the key to that was proper labeling. She would take advantage of offers on chicken, mince and other meats and batch cook family favourites saving time and money. Another Jan tip was learning how to stretch food. Quality was never compromised although occasionally when things were a little tight, quantity may have been an issue. She would buy a little less of the more expensive and then stretch it with vegetables or pastry; she was quite the ‘en-croute’ expert; from fish to meat, a simple pate and pastry could transform meat for two into a family feast for four.

Long and slow cooked stews and casseroles using tougher more economical cuts, bulked out with vegetables and herbs were also popular and their rich hearty flavours belied their economy status. “Waste Not Want Not”, was also the mantra of the day. Black bananas, for example, would be frozen and used later for banana bread, buns or homemade ice cream. Stale bread became breadcrumbs, croutons or made its way into a comforting bread and butter pudding. Fruit on the turn was quickly salvaged into jam, preserves, cobblers or crumbles while vegetables in a similar state were transformed into delicious homemade soups or added to a tasty quiche. Leftovers were never confined to that no man’s land at the back of the fridge, but were quickly used up for suppers and even added to meals for the next day. It was all about thinking and planning ahead with a little creativity and imagination thrown in. It meant that there was always great food on the table and while the fancy holidays may not have been in great supply, no one ever went to school or bed hungry. There wasn’t a thing that Jan mentioned that couldn’t be adopted today. It is still good advice and common sense as relevant now as always.Ham with Marmalade and Ginger Glaze

I was telling my wife about the encounter and she added her own wisdom; clean out your cupboards! She made the very good point that modern kitchens (unlike the lovely shallow shelved larders of yesteryear) provide acres of space and dark corners to easily forget about what you have. Tins and store cupboard items get cast into this great abyss, sometimes never to see the light of day again. It may have been an unusual ingredient we bought for one recipe or something we were keen on once but have forgotten about as time went on. Most people would actually be amazed at the amount of food they have in their homes. And finally from a retailer’s point of view take advantage of everything we have to offer! At James Whelan Butchers for example, sign up for our loyalty card for great value offers or check out our website for recipes and tips.

There are plenty of ways to save money and stretch your food and your budget without ever compromising on quality, taste or nutrition and a huge thanks to Jan for her wisdom and insight.

This post was written by me, Pat Whelan, owner of James Whelan Butchers and a passionate advocate of local artisan food. My family have been producing quality Irish Angus beef for generations using a traditional dry aging process. This tradition is one that I continue to practice at our abattoir on our family farm in Garrentemple, Clonmel. These posts aim to impart some of the wisdom to readers and help them get the best out of the meat they eat! Our meat is available online here! I welcome your feedback to Pat@jwb.ie

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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