Waste not, want not


I hate waste. Possibly because I was born in post-war Britain with a ration book and grew up with my mother telling me it was a sin to waste, and to finish my meal because of the starving millions who would be glad to eat it, this has stuck with me. I won’t say I am obsessive but I do cut open the fully squeezed tube of tomato puree and scrape the last vestiges into the soup or stew. And I’m mentally compiling a book of recipes for leftover bread and crumbs.

It was my father, a chef as well as a publican and transport café proprietor, who showed how waste not, want not could be turned into a profit.

At the Longe Arms, Spixworth, near Norwich, then a Bullards pub in the late Sixties, regulars would wax lyrical over his mild beer. But they didn’t see him pouring the contents from the bitter beer’s slop tray into the mild. It certainly improved it.

Much later, at the Tower transport cafe at Biggleswade the most popular, and profitable, order was Doug’s cottage pie. It was famed among the lorry driver fraternity along the whole of the A1. My father knew the mincer could work magic on food which failed to make the plates first time round: unwanted or broken fried eggs, unused cabbage, left-overs and the like. It was a great meat extender. He insisted he only used kitchen surplus, not leavings from customers’ plates but I was never that sure. His cottage pie was lovely, though.

So these days I save all my vegetable scraps (including onion skins which add a lovely colour) for stock, wash and re-use tinfoil, turn leftover bread into crumbs which keep well in the freezer, ready for the next dish of stuffed peppers or Glamorgan sausages. I neatly fold up butter wrappers and keep them in the fridge for the next time I want to grease a baking tray. And leftover kipper makes a very nifty fish paste if you’re careful with the bones.

Sometimes I’ll even crack plum stones to get at the kernels. They taste rather like almonds.

Rubber bands from bunches of spring onions get carefully draped over the mug tree, seeds from butternut squash are washed, dried and roasted then put in the seeds jar to be added to home made granola. If you think hard enough, everything can be re-used or recycled.

Sometimes I go over the top. No one really enjoyed the turkey rissoles I made one year which must have been something like a turkey twizzler, they contained so much fat and skin.

Waste not, want not is a philosophy I adopted from my parents early on. As a youngster I was made to bring them an early morning cup of tea in bed. One day I wondered whether I could reuse the water from our hot water bottles for making tea so did so. Unfortunately I had not heard about the First Law of Cooking – always taste first before sending something out. My father spluttered his rubbery Typhoo Tea back into the cup and I got a belt round the ear.


2 thoughts on “Waste not, want not

  1. Evocative, Martin … I recall being sent to the corner grocer as little more than a toddler with ma’s ration book (in force to 1954) … it was a bakery too and I still remember their wonderful crusty white loaves. I admire your attitude to avoiding waste, though I’m not a foodie. I apply careful recycling to clothes where possible … I was chuffed on Sunday when someone admired my ‘new’ winter overcoat and I confided to their genuine amazement that it was a £10 charity shop bargain. A designer label too … Weaver to Wearer, which disappeared as a brand about 50 years ago!


    • I discovered charity shops when I got fed up with work sports jackets being ruined by leaking Star pens and found nearly new or pristine ones cost less than a tenner in St Luke’s. I too have had a Weaver to Wearer moment. My proudest possession is an unworn Gannex field coat still with the dry cleaning instructions attached – basically send it back to the factory. There’s just one problem, it was blown up some yesrs ago.


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