A Frugal Farewell

Although our country is not fighting a world war and none of us are begging on the streets of a poverty-stricken and diseased Dickensian London, being a student can often be tough! There is little money to spare once expenses like tuition fees, rent and bills are extracted from your struggling student account. So students need to start thinking outside of the box if they want to keep themselves full, healthy and warm. There is no benefit to fast or frozen food, we just need to follow these 5 basic guidelines that I’ve really learnt from writing this blog:

5) Always keep tabs on the use-by dates on your items. If your vegetables are starting to go off, never throw them out! Throw them all into a blender with some boiling water and stock and make yourself a warming soup.

4) Always work out what you can make from the food already in your cupboard before you head out to buy anything more.

3) Delay your supermarket shop to post 8pm; meat, as well as other items, is discounted greatly at this time and can always be frozen for use later in the week.

2) Get creative with cooking – find a nutritious recipe and challenge yourself to find all the items for under the price of a meal from the frozen aisle.

1) Do one big shopping trip weekly rather than popping into a smaller shop every few days. But when you do, make a shopping list of what you NEED, and stick to it!

Make Tea Not War

Anyone ever walked into a house after a long day and not heard “shall I put the kettle on?” ….no? Me neither. And clearly the Monty Python boys agree. Whether we are in Dickens’ bleak Britain or the more recent war-torn 1940s, a cup of tea always seems like a good solution. As part of his All The Year Round periodical, Dickens writes comically about the comfort of tea “So I says ‘My dear if you could give me a cup of tea to clear my muddle of a head I should better understand your affairs.’ And we had the tea and the affairs too….” This illustrates that no matter the era, tea is always used to soothe; after lengthy lectures or long stints at the library, I know that tea is always the first thing on the agenda for my housemates and I. Of course along with its popularity comes controversy; black tea, milky tea, strong tea, Earl Grey tea, ‘Builder’s tea’ or sugary tea? It seems the list is endless but clearly important, as George Orwell discusses in an article from 1946;

“I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water”

The sacredness of tea is clearly not something Orwell is willing to compromise and I for one am not going to argue with him. Earl Grey tea with milk and no sugar if you’re offering!

Perhaps to avoid a caffeine overdose on a daily basis however, it is important to make sure as students we eat foods that are going to keep us full of beans (no pun intended). Here is an abridged list I’ve put together of energising food that will appeal more to the average student:

  1. Dark Chocolate
  2. Yoghurt
  3. Eggs
  4. Nuts
  5. Fresh Fruits e.g. blueberries, bananas...

Work Cited

Dickens, Charles. ‘Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy’ Extra Christmas Number, All The Year Round. 1 December 1864.

Orwell, George. ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’, Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.

Drinking With Dickens

If student loan isn’t being spent on fresh food then what is it being spent on? Alcohol might be one intelligent suggestion, a suggestion that Dickens wasn’t opposed to either. Alcohol is prevalent in various forms throughout Dickens’ novels, from his characters’ moderate (but recurrent) visits to public houses to the suggestion of Bill Sikes’ more concerning alcoholism; “he had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke" (Oliver Twist 1838).

Bill Sikes, Oliver Twist

David Perdue’s ‘Charles Dickens Page’ suggests that Dickens had little time for the Temperance Movement and gives us a quotation from a letter Dickens wrote in reply to an “irate advocate of abstinence” in 1847:

"I have no doubt whatever that the warm stuff in the jug at Bob Cratchit's Christmas dinner had a very pleasant effect on the simple party. I am certain that if i had been at Mr. Fezziwig's ball, I should have take a little negus - and possibly not a little beer - and been none the worse for it, in heart or head. I am very sure that the working people of this country have not too many household enjoyments, and I could not, in my fancy or in actual deed, deprive them of this one when it is so innocently shared."

Dickens indicates here that he sees nothing wrong with the inclusion of alcohol in everyday situations. Although it may be bleakly represented in characters like Bill Sikes, Dickens also offers it to us comically in the Pickwick Papers; "it wasn't the wine,' murmered Mr Snodgrass, in a broken voice, 'It was the salmon.' (Somehow or other, it never is the wine, in these cases)". (1836)

Dickens of course lived in a time where alcohol was often considered safer to drink than water - an excuse that many students would love to try i'm sure! Similar to Dickens, alcohol is considered by the majority of my peers to be a large focus of student life... alongside tea and coffee of course. Without caffeine i'm not sure how any of us would survive!

Work Cited

Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. London: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1993

Perdue, David. ‘Charles Dickens Page’. 1997-2014. Web. 3 March 2014.

Really Useful Ultimate Meals for Under £5

In an attempt to relinquish the student from their reputation for fast and frozen food I thought I’d have a go at making a meal that both costs less than a McDonald's meal and includes fresh and healthy produce. With a strong combination of the Really Useful Ultimate Student Cookbook that I was given when I left for university and my own supermarket savvy, I aim to make something both nutritious and delicious.

The best way to save money is to always look at what food you have available to you before you head out and buy anything new. With an onion, 2 eggs and a bag of potatoes already to hand, I began to think of what I fancied for dinner. Considering the end of term is drawing near, I thought some brain food wouldn't go a miss and decided perhaps fish was a good idea. Borrowing the idea of tinned tuna and dried parsley from Silvana Franco’s the Really Useful Ultimate Student Cookbook as well as some of my own common sense; I managed to combine a basic recipe:

  • Onion - 25p
  • Oil for frying
  • Tinned Tuna – 74p
  • 2 Potatoes – 69p (1K bag)
  • Breadcrumbs from loaf of bread – 47p
  • Dried Parsley – 74p
  • 1 egg – 16p (97p per pack)

Total Cost: £3.05

1)    Finely chop 1 small onion and cook in oil until soft.
2)    Boil and mash 2 potatoes and add to pan with onions.
3)    Whisk 1 egg and split into two halves (half to add to mix and half to dip the fishcakes in later).
4)    Add half egg, tuna, parsley and salt and pepper seasoning if wanted into the pan.
5)    Mould cakes into desired shape and dip into the remainder of the egg.
6)    Cover cakes in homemade breadcrumbs from the loaf.
7)    Fry fishcakes in remaining oil until golden brown. 

With the leftover items covered in the overall cost, you not only are able to serve your fishcakes with some mashed potato, you even have some bread left over for breakfast the rest of the week!

The fishcakes were not only fast and tasty to eat; they are also as healthy as they can be for the budget available. Of course the prices are based on supermarket’s own brand items, but slightly cheaper tuna is still going to be more nutritious, if cooked amongst the right items, than a burger and fries. Not to mention cheaper and more filling!! It seems it is a combination of laziness and ignorance that holds us students back from our culinary potential.

Work Cited

Franco, Silvana. The Really Useful Ultimate Student Cookbook. London: Murdoch Books UK Limited, 2008

Epic Meal Time

On the topic of bulk buying, nothing screams excess more than the food at the Epic Meal Time HQ.

Starting out as a group of students who love eating, the men have created their own brand by piling together all their favourite foods, mainly meat, and creating meals both fascinating and grotesque in equal measure. Here, in one of their first videos, the men create a pizza covered in as many different fast food meals as they can fit on:

Watching the boys at work instantly reminds me of many a slightly hung-over Saturday where the boys in my flat would hopelessly shuffle their way to the nearest McDonald’s, dehydrated and sleep deprived. Stepping through the grease-smeared glass doors there would be an instant change in demeanour. It would become a race to the counter and they’d straight away opt for the wildly competitive 40 nugget challenge (+ giant milkshake of course!).

My hungover friend Toby attempting the 40 nugget challenge (+chips+milkshake)

Upon impressive completion 

Of course my experience of witnessing an ‘epic meal time’ is on a much smaller, and less concerning scale but there are definitely similarities in male ego and food excess. Worryingly, many items on the McDonald’s menu are less than £1 meaning that theoretically it would be cheaper for a student to buy a 99p Saver Burger and fries everyday than it would be to buy fresh fruit and veg, (that’s not even counting the purchasing of any meat to accompany it). It is clearly a lot easier to save money by sticking to fast food and frozen items unless the student cares enough to be canny with their food shop.

Well Fed Soldiers Will Win The War

Continuing the spirit of Mr Bumble’s Workhouse frugality, throughout both World War 1 and 2, Britain was forced to make even the leanest of leftovers last and be clever with their culinary creations. Patriotism stretched to the kitchens as government propaganda proposed that everyone should be part of the war effort.

Posters like this made the people left at home feel like they could contribute to the war effort by efficiently using their rations and limiting their wastage; thus establishing a solid link between food and patriotism.
   Cookbooks were also produced and spoke directly to those battling what seemed to be a food battle on the home-front. The Win-the-War Cookery Book was designed to help people recreate traditional recipes using waste-reducing shortcuts.

The introduction is of course addressed to women and acts similarly to what one may assume a World War 1 pep talk on the Front line might consist of. The tone is meant to inspire the women of Britain; “The struggle is not only on land and sea; it is in your larder, your kitchen, and your dining room”. This direct address, although slightly sexist and coercive in my opinion, clearly intends on making the female left at home feel part of the war effort by giving her an official role. Although this might appear patronising in this day and age, I suppose it is important to consider that throughout both wars, there was very little the female was able to contribute that would be deemed socially appropriate. Because it is written for the female audience, the blackmail centres around children; suggesting one might “fail the children” should they not pull their weight within the growing “food-fight”.

The Victory Garden was also introduced, with similar positive and winning intonation, in an attempt to convince people to transform their own gardens into plots to grow their own produce. The campaign proved to be very useful,  “the goal was to replace imported food, thus freeing up shipping space for more valuable war materials, and to make up for food that was sunk in transit. By the end of 1940, 728,000 tons of food making its way to Britain had been lost, sunk by German submarine activity.

As a struggling student I fully appreciate and often replicate the ‘Don’t Waste Food’ message. I will hold my hands up and say that in my younger days, spoilt by the luxury of home cooking and a full fridge, I would often be wasteful or unappreciative of all things abundant. Leaving behind the loveliness of never-ending milk cartons and a bountiful breadbin however, I began to see the importance of stretching every penny and getting creative with any leftovers.
   I feel like there is much to be said for the Victory Garden campaign also; given the plot I would grow my own vegetables in a heartbeat! Maintaining a fridge of fresh fruit and vegetables on such a low budget is often impossible and I know many of my friends have turned to the slightly less nutritious option of bulk frozen veg. This is of course slightly better than the bulk buying of frozen chicken nuggets…

Work Cited


Food Glorious Food

Flicking through Dickens’ most famous work, it suddenly dawned on me that his representation of food is not unlike the tempestuous relationship between the student and their budget meal. Unlike the typical 20 year old however, Dickens' possesses the ability to make even the most meagre dish sound sumptuous.
Often referred to as a Victorian foodie; Dickens’ culinary interest most likely stemmed from his relatively humble beginnings. This resulted in an overriding compassion for the poor, championing the overworked and the underpaid. 
Dickens’ first taste of success came with Oliver Twist:

The master, in his cook's uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity: "Please, sir, I want some more."

                                                                      - Charles Dickens 'Oliver Twist' (1838)

Gruel is clearly not a particularly appetising meal for the orphans yet Dickens finds a way of treasuring the importance of food and making do with what you've got.

Gruel Recipe
This recipe is based on the ingredients used in an 18th Century workhouse. Gruel would have been one of the main meals provided.

Preparation time: 2 mins
Cooking time: 10 mins

- 3 tablespoons of oatmeal
- 1 pint of water
- a little salt

- spoon
- measuring jug
- pan
- wooden spoon

1) Mix the oatmeal with cold water to make a paste

2) Put the rest of the water in a pan
3) Add the mixture and boil for 10 mins
4)Add the salt

The line "Please, Sir, I want some more", the emphasis lying on the 'want', seems odd in connection to the thinned-down porridge recipe. Dickens' truly illustrates Oliver's state of neglect through his plead for more food and his compliance in eating it in the first place.

     It strikes me that the modern day student might financially benefit from such a dish, especially as a breakfast option. (Maybe with a little added honey and/or banana to take away the workhouse vibe).

Work Cited

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. London: Penguin Books, 1994.

Student Living

Perusing through classic literature of the last few centuries, it seems Britain and its authors have a volatile relationship with food. Whether one is looking at Nineteenth century Dickens or Twentieth Century wartime literature, it seems that British writing likes to emphasise both poverty and excess throughout both periods, with little in between. It occurred to me that student living isn’t too dissimilar. Whilst I know some students who heavily tightrope the breadline trying to make their final porridge oat last, I also know some, ostensibly male, who will eat fifty chicken nuggets in one sitting as if trying to emulate King Henry VIII in his prime.
   Quality is clearly far more of an issue than quantity when it comes to a student’s frugal food shop and therefore I believe 20 year olds might be able to relate to a Dickens’ description of gruel or benefit from a war time ration recipe.

Weekly rations consisted of:

40z. Butter 2 oz Preserves

8oz. Sugar 2pt. Milk
4oz. Bacon/Ham 2oz. Cooking Fat
2oz. Tea 4oz. Cheese
1 egg 3oz. Sweets
14oz. Meat

Weekly war rations - 1941

With the money left over from a student’s allocated loan (after rent is paid and alcohol money is set aside of course), my cupboard doesn't look too dissimilar to the collection of food pictured above. It seems that if a student prefers to buy fresh produce, the helpings get a lot smaller – of course it is very easy to head to the frozen section of any supermarket and buy obscene amounts of anything bread crumbed if preferable.

My cupboard this week - 2014

Pictured abovet is the contents of my fridge and cupboard. As you can see, there is little that can be created just from these products alone. Unlike some of my student friends, I like to stay away from frozen items where possible. This does however come at a cost, meat will often have to be forgone and vegetarian recipes, as well as countless omelettes, will have to be made and eventually exhausted. All this food photography has made me hungry, may treat myself to a bacon omelette while I have the meat available...