If you want to know what the president's consumer affairs advisor really thinks, you have to read between the lines.
That's what press assistance, Midge Shubow, says about Esther Peterson's recent White House pamphlet, A Consumer's Shopping List of Inflation Fighting Ideas.
According to Shubow, the pamplet may not be as hard hitting as some would have liked because "Everyone and his grandfather had read it first."
Compare, for instance, what Peterson wrote about convenience foods and what she "really meant."
"Modern food technology has provided us with many convenience products that can save time, but consumers should consider the trade-offs. Many convenience foods cost more because the manufacture has simply collected the ingredients for you a few and put them together in one box. By taking a few extra minutes of your time, you can eliminate the need for this 'service'
"It some cases preparing foods from scratch can actually cost you more. For example when food companies prehap vegetables in cream sauce they may sustitute less expensive additives and flavourings for ingredients you would use yourself.
Shubow ssaid what the pamphlet really meant to say was the "less expensive" additives and flavorings are often less nutritious than "ingredients you would use yourself you have to read between the lines." She agreed that the wording was probably too subtle.
"Generally, convenience foods are an enormous ripoff," Shubow said. "The power of advertising seems to suggest that anything in a box is as nutritious as doing it from scratch, but if you read the ingredient labeling you will see that the more convenience there is the more additives there are and the fewer real foods and the higher the price."
Shubow said that many working women are willing to make the trade-offs, substituting what they perceive as convenience for good quality and nutrition. "It's unfortunate," she said, "because if they can find one night a week to do some cooking they would be doing their families a great nutritional favor and something for their pocketbooks, too."
Shubow said even if "it's a drain on a working woman's time to do that, I think it's worth it."
Shubow is only partly right. There are some convenience foods which aren't particularly convenient. There's a frozen scrambled egg breakfast which takes 20 minutes to cook. Scrambled eggs from scratch take only three minutes to mix and cook.
Preparing fruit gelatin from scratch takes the same amount of time as using the packaged fruit-flavored gelatin mix. Moreover, packaged fruit-flavored gelatin has no nutritional value. It provides only the calories found in sugar. It is made from additives, at least one of which many people would prefer not to eat: artificial color. But fruit-flavored gelatin made from scratch contains the nutrients found in the juice used to prepare it. In addition, eight 1/2-cup servings cost between 23 and 33 cents, depending on the fruit juice used; eight 1/2-cup servings of the leading brand of packaged gelatin cost 55 cents.
Not all comparisons are that clear. But people choose to cook from scratch instead of using factory-prepared products for other reasons as well.
Some wish to avoid certain additives unnecessary in home-prepared products. BHA and BHT are antioxidants used to prevent rancidity and insure very long shelf life. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer to which many people are allergic.
Others cook from scratch because they say it is always cheaper to do it at home, even when the packaged product appears to cost less. Furthermore, as the White House pamphlet hints, when you use more expensive ingredients at home, you are almost always providing better nutrition. Even when certain manufactured products are fortified with a few vitamins or minerals, they do not contain many of those found in natural foods. White bread is enriched with 8 vitamins and minerals, but 20 nutrients are removed when flour is refined.
Finally, there are those who prefer to cook themselves because taste is more important than any possible convenience.
These recipes are the latest in an occasional series which provide one of four things, and sometimes all four at the same time: economy, better taste, more nutrition and fewer additives
GINGERBREAD MIX (Makes about 14 cups)
Making your own mix allows you to control the type of shortening, free of BHA or BHT. You can also control the amount of salt. 3 cups unbleached flour 2 cups sugar 1/4 cup baking powder 1 tablespoon salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon cloves 3 tablespoons ginger 3 tablespoons cinnamon 2 1/4 cups solid vegetable shortening
In a large bow mix all dry ingredients together until well blended. Mix in the shortening using two knives, a pastry blender or your fingers until mixture resembles corn meal. Store in airtight container in cool, dry place. Will keep three months.
GINGERBREAD (Makes 9 square) 1 egg 1/2 cup boiling water 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses 2 1/4 cups gingerbread mix
In bowl combine egg with water and molasses, then stir in mix. Pour into greased and floured 9-by-9-by-2 inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; then turn out and cool on a wire rack.
Excellent served warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
GINGERBREAD BOYS (Makes 12 six-inch boys) 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses 1 egg 1/4 cup flour 3 cups gingerbread mix
Combined molasses, egg and flour; stir in mix and blend until soft dough is formed. Roll out on lightly floured surface to thickness between 1/8 and 1/4 inch. Use gingerbread-boy cutter and collect dough scraps to reroll and cut out. Place boys on lightly greased baking sheets. Make eyes, nose and buttons with raisins, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes, until edges brown. When cool remove from cookie sheets.
Note: Six cups of the mix can be combined with 2/3 cup unsulphured molasses, 2 eggs and 1 cup flour to make Gingerbread House. Follow any directions for making house to shape, bake and construct.
SPANISH RICE (3 cups mix)
Homemade Spanish rice is free of BHT and MSG, sugar, artificial color. It also cost less. A 1/2-cup serving of a commercial brand is almost 12 cents, 1/2-cup servings of homemade Spanish rice are 7 cents. 3 cups long grain rice 3 teaspoons dried parsley 1/2 cup dried sweet pepper flakes 1 tablespoon dried mince onion 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried minced garlic 1/2 teaspoon black pepper Salt to taste
Mix all ingredients together and store in plastic bags, tied so that most of the air has been removed, or in an airtight container.
To make 3 cups cooked Spanish Rice: Combine 1 cup mix with 2 cups water in heavy-bottomed pan and bring to boil over high heat. Stir once; add 3 tablespoon tomato paste, reduce heat to low, cover pot and cook, without stirring, until the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
If you prefer, season rice to taste after cooking and omit salt from the mix.
For a more liquid Spanish Rice, omit the tomato paste and, after the rice is cooked, stir in 1 cup of canned tomatoes.
SPICE TEA (3 cups plus)
A half pound of a commercial spiced tea costs $8.50; making it at home will cost $3.73 8 ounces orange pekoe tea 3 tablespoons dried orange peel, either ground or in very small pieces 6 tablespoons whole cloves, slightly crushed 2 cinnamon sticks, crushed (optional)
Combine ingredients and mix well. Store in airtight container and allow flavors to meld for a few days before using.
Use 1 teaspoon of tea to make a cup of tea.
LEMONADE CONCENTRATE (2 2/3 cups concentrate, enough for 10 servings) 1 tablespoon fresh grated lemon peel 1 1/4 to 1/2 cups sugar 1/2 cup boiling water 1 1/2 freshly squeezed lemon juice
In container with tight fitting lid combine the lemon peel, sugar and boiling water. Stir and shake until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon juice and store tightly covered in refrigerator until ready to use. Will last 3 weeks. Concentrate can be frozen, if desired. Freeze in portions suitable for family use.
To make lemonade, stir or shake concentrate before using. Use 1/4 cup concentrate with 3/4 cup cold water, stir and add ice cubes.
INSTANT BREAKFAST (1 serving)
This instant breakfast costs about 10 cents; the best known brand of powdered instant breakfast is twice the price. 1 cup milk 2 tablespoons peanut butter 1/2 banana or 2 to 3 teaspoons honey Place milk, peanut butter and banana or honey in blender and blend a few seconds. Serve.
COOKIE MIX (Makes about 19 cups mix) 9 cups unbleached flour 3 cups granulated sugar 3 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar 4 teaspoons salt 4 teaspoons baking soda 4 cups vegetable shortening.
Combine dry ingredients and blend well. Cut in shortening with two knives, pastry blender or use your fingers. The mixture will resemble cornmeal. Store in airtight container in cool, dry place.
Keeps about 3 months.
SPICE COOKIES (Makes about 2 dozen) 2 cups Cookie Mix 4 tablespoons molasses 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1 beaten egg 1/2 teaspoon each ginger, cinnamon and allspice Combine the mix with the other ingredients and stir well to blend. Drop on greased cookie sheets by the teaspoonful, about 2 inches apart. Flatten with bottom of a glass and bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges brown.
For a very small delicate crisp cookie, drop by 1/4 teaspoons onto greased cookie sheets and bake at 325 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes. Cool slightly on sheets until cookies firm up slightly, then remove and cool on wire racks.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE MIX (Makes about 30 cups mix)
In a informal taste test, no one had any problem picking out the homemade chocolate-chip cookies made with this mix, from the cookies made from the commercial mix (The homemade are so much more gooey and chocolate tasting, said one taster.) 9 cups unbleached flour 4 teaspoons baking soda 4 teaspoons salt 4 cups shortening 3 cups granulated sugar 3 cusp firmly packed brown sugar 4 cups chopped fruits 4 (12-ounce) packages semi-sweet chocolate morsels.
Combine dry ingredients. Cut in shortening with two knives, pastry blender or fingers, until well blended. Stir in nuts and morsels. Store in airtight container in cool dry place. Will keep 3 to 4 months, longer in refrigerator or freezer.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (Makes 2 dozen medium, about 2 inches in diameter) 2 1/4 cups mix 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon water 2 eggs, slightly beaten
Combine ingredients and mix with spoon until well blended. Drop by spoonsful onto greased baking sheets. For flatter cookies, pat down with back of spoon. Bake at 375 degrees about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool slightly on sheet, then remove.
CREAM CHEESE (Makes about 4 cups)
A fresh cream cheese, without vegetable gum, has an entirely different consistency than the commercial cream cheese. It is much creamier and also considerably less expensive 4 quarts whole or skim milk 1 quart buttermilk 1 teaspoon salt
Combine milk and buttermilk in heavy pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Test temperature of mixture with thermometer. When temperature reaches 170 degrees, reduce heat to low and keep temperature between 170 and 175.
Line a colander with 4 thicknesses of cheesecloth which has been rinsed in cold water and then rung out. Set colander in a bowl beside milk. When thick white curds separate from the whey, use a slotted spoon to scoop up the curds into the colander. Permit them to drain. When most of the curds have been removed, pour in remaining curds and discard remaining whey. Allow to drain for a couple of hours. Scrape cheese from cheesecloth into a bowl and mix in salt to taste. Blend well to make smooth.
Will keep in the refrigerator for a week. Use as you would any cream cheese.
To make Pepper Cheese, coarsely grind enough fresh pepper for desired taste, allow 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon or more per cup. Serve with coarsely ground pepper sprinkled on top.