By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

April's former scarcity inspires kitchen frugality

April is not the cruelest month in the modern world — the one where we have gardens, greenhouses, supermarkets, and farmers markets — but in the past it has been known as the time of year you were most likely to be hungry.

Not January, because in January, you still have plenty left of all the food you stored last fall. By April, you’ve eaten most of it or it’s gone bad, and you can’t shoot wild animals to eat because they’re all having babies, and your garden, assuming in this mix of times and places that you have one, is not producing yet.

Plus, depending on where you live, it may still be under snow.

But for those trying to live out of the backyard, it can still be a challenging time. If you planned ahead well and actually followed through on said planning, you ought to have some overwintered greens available — all bolting, it’s true, but still edible. You might even have some early garden crops, if you cleverly created a garden that could be worked during a dry spell in January or February. They’re probably mostly greens, but if you planted the overwintering cauliflower and broccoli, they might be producing about now. Maybe.

There might be some leeks left in the garden, too.

Other things you could eat; I’ve read that maple blossoms are edible. I have not, frankly, been moved to try them, even though they do have a lovely fragrance — before opening, at least — like honey. Dandelion greens. Fir tip tea.

OK, so it’s still not a time of great abundance, and I’m grateful we’ve still got stored grains, and plenty of home-canned tomato sauce, tomatillo salsa, and so forth. Not to mention the grocery store and the farmers market, and local farmers, from whom, blessedly, you can buy things like eggs and potatoes.

We also have, in the stored-foods-still-on-hand department, winter squash, which badly needs to be used up immediately, even though there’s quite a bit of it, and a person can only eat so much squash at a time, and it’s in November, not April, that one craves foods like pumpkin risotto or squash enchiladas or pumpkin pie.

Not that pumpkin pie isn’t good anytime.

So what is a frugal-ish home cook to do?

This is where the freezer comes in handy. I will cook up that squash and freeze it, and then commence to bake some … um …

I know. Delicious squash rolls with cheese and sage, or maybe pumpkin cinnamon raisin bread. Maybe both.

Maybe a spoonful of squash puree in the mac and cheese sauce. Maybe some muffins. Maybe the dog would like a spoonful of squash puree on his dinner (silly question; he loves squash). Maybe a batch of those enchiladas, since we have tortillas that need using up, and the aforementioned tomatillo salsa.

My ongoing kitchen exercise for the last year has been using up odds and ends more consistently, rather than letting that last little bit of something go bad.

In recent attempts, the half-cup of roasted-tomato-sauce-relabled-cream-of-tomato-soup turned back into sauce for topping a pizza, since there wasn’t enough of it to make a whole serving of soup. The leftover refried beans became bean burritos. Et cetera.

On the whole, it’s been fairly successful. We won’t discuss the leftover pie crust dough wrapped in waxed paper and languishing in the fridge that almost certainly has lost all its goodness by now and may be unsalvageable. What? I can’t hear you.

Anyway. The squash is more than a little bit of something, but it does fall into the same category. We have it; it took resources to grow it and transport it to us; we must be grateful and make good use of this fine food.

I’m thinking of a recipe I saw somewhere for a tart in which eggs were mixed with squash puree and baked in a shell, rather like a quiche. Texture and flavor are hard to picture, but it’s well worth a try.

After all, it’s April, and a cook must make the most of what’s on hand.

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