It's cheaper to make your own bread -- but buy the butter!
A new book lifts the lid on the true economy of the kitchen, writes Gillian Orr
During tough economic times we are often advised to adopt a do-it-yourself attitude. Whether it's our clothes, beauty treatments or entertainment, the golden rule is: don't pay for something that you can make or do yourself. But it is during mealtimes that most of us really look to penny-pinch.
This was at the forefront of Jennifer Reese's mind when she lost her job three years ago. But after vowing to start making pantry staples from scratch herself, the San Franciscan mother-of-two quickly wondered if doing her best Martha Stewart impression in the kitchen was really going to save her cash.
"I thought that I'd have lots of time to do all these things I've always wanted to do, like bake bread, make my own jam and get some chickens," explains Reese. "Then I began to wonder whether I would actually save money by doing any of those things or whether it was a self-indulgent hobby. So I started pricing everything out and studying the cost benefit analysis of all those different domestic activities."
The result is her new book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, a helpful guide to which homemade goods really work and which you should just buy at the shops, as well as what makes financial sense.
She began with some kitchen staples such as jam, yoghurt and bagels, weighing everything to figure out how much each ingredient cost and working out the cost of the electricity and water used for each dish. Before long she moved on to more exotic produce, such as prosciutto, camembert and vermouth, but her biggest challenge was when she decided to take in some goats, chickens and bees, with a view to getting milk, eggs and honey.
"The day we brought home an adult goat she yelled non-stop really loudly like an elephant," recalls Reese. "The only way to keep her quiet was to hold her collar and pet her and talk to her. I ended up spending the night out in the goat shed so she wouldn't disturb the neighbours. It was awful."
It hasn't been an entirely cost-effective exercise either, despite getting a decent range of produce.
"In my view it's more expensive to do it this way than buy them at the store," warns Reese.
But the animals were not the only trying part of Reese's experiments and she encountered her fair share of culinary calamities as well.
"I was trying to make a batch of camembert and I left it uncovered on the counter for a few hours and I guess a fly got in there and laid eggs," sighs Reese. "When I looked at it a few weeks later, in the basement, it was crawling with maggots."
However, don't let that put you off making your own cheese: it was one of Reese's biggest surprises. "I was truly shocked at how easy it was to make cheese. I thought that it would just end up being this funny story but it was better than stuff I'd bought."
While Reese's journey wasn't a total victory, she was surprised at just how simple it was to create a lot of the goods. She was equally impressed with how much cheaper it was to cook at home. What it will cost you, though, is time.
"Anyone can do this," Reese insists.
"But it depends on whether or not you want to spend the time doing it. A lot of us have jobs and other demands. I think we feel like we're more helpless than we actually are but you can do any of these things if you want to. There's no mystique to it."
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese (Free Press £15)