Thursday, September 22, 2011

Baked Beans and Porridge, Chestnut and Pear Forage: Every Penny Counts

Alright, so they don’t have pennies in NZ, but you know the saying. And when you’re jobless and struggling to pay your weekly rent without dipping into the savings account in your home country, you can get pretty resourceful!

When I moved to Wanaka, I completely cut out the purchase of any wine/alcohol or chocolate. I decided that these were two main things that were unnecessary indulgences I could live without. I also made every attempt not to spend money on activities or entertainment. I cut my grocery bill down to $20 a week and never ate out. I may not have had the most varied, well rounded, or interesting meals, but they were enough to sustain me. I also found plenty of free activities to entertain me. Job searching, blogging, climbing, wandering town, volunteering at the climbing gym, sitting on the lakefront, and reading all occupied my time.

I shopped around for the cheapest porridge for the quantity, and have eaten porridge for breakfast (with a banana and brown sugar if it fits in the budget) nearly every day since I moved to Wanaka. For lunches I have lived on either leftovers or peanut butter and jelly (jam, for all you non-Americans) and I have consumed more pasta dinners than I can count!

At one point, after researching some frugal cooking ideas online, I started a soup train. I made a basic chicken noodle soup one night, and every evening after would add different ingredients so I had enough for dinner and some leftovers to alter the next day. I edited the meal until I think the last day it turned into some sort of curry. Even though it’s not quite as exciting, I’m still not afraid to fall back on baked beans on toast! Where can you get a cheaper meal that’s still quite tasty? I will point out, however, that I have not once purchased prepackaged instant noodles!

In order to stretch my food a bit further, I also began looking into alternative methods of acquiring nourishment. No, I didn’t start stealing!

I found the perfect pear!

The Wanaka area is one that has some community-minded individuals who decided to plant some public fruit and nut trees in a local park. Apparently it is an area well known and sometimes picked over by locals, but there was still a bit of foraging to do when Doug and I set out on a Wanaka Station Park mission!

We first stopped one day after some climbing to suss out the area (forgive the Kiwi-ism) and see if there were any pears or chestnuts left. We gathered a handful of chestnuts and climbed a few pear trees searching for fruit. It was a bit hidden in the late afternoon light, but eventually we could see heaps of pears up there. Most of them were out of reach, but I climbed up as high as I could get to gather some.

Doug, catching my pears.

The next evening, after yet another great day of climbing, we headed back to the pear trees. This time we were slightly more prepared for the foraging mission. Doug had acquired a long pole with a grabber claw on the end of it from work (ah, the things you can accumulate while working at a recycling center!) He climbed up as high as he could, and proceeded to reach out with his Go-Go-Gadget arm and gently pluck the pears from their branches. Sometimes they fell, and promptly raced to the bottom of the hill with me chasing after them. After some time, however, Doug’s skill level increased and he was able to grab a pear as he plucked it, and then drop it into my hands waiting meters below! This method got us a lot further than the night before, and we left with a dozen or two pears, each!

Doug up a tree with his Go-Go-Gadget arm.

A couple loaves of pear bread, and some avocado and pear sandwiches later, I was enjoying the things I could make with what I had personally gathered! I think Doug made a few batches of pear chutney and the pears helped me go a bit further with the grocery budget for the next week or two! They tasted even better than anything you might buy in a grocery store too because our effort, sweat, and adventure went into foraging them for ourselves!

Our Bounty.

Between soup trains and baking pear bread, I tried to keep things interesting even when tightening the belt buckle a bit! It’s also good to know how far I can cut the food budget when it comes to it!


  1. Wow. We should all do that type of thing more, er, at least I should. should...


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