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America's Frugal Food Roots With Chris Kimball

Turn back the clock in your kitchen to cut back on your spending, advises Kimball of <em>America's Test Kitchen.</em>
William B.Plowman for NPR
Turn back the clock in your kitchen to cut back on your spending, advises Kimball of America's Test Kitchen.

Did you suffer American food overload during the holiday weekend? Unless you had a retro-themed celebration, you probably didn't have any of the truly traditional American foods that defined the nation's early days.

At one time, the American kitchen was by definition a frugal kitchen. Because ingredients were so expensive in the 1800s, a whole industry formed around "taking large pieces of food, breaking them down, preserving them and reusing them; and the food was really good," Chris Kimball, host of America's Test Kitchen, tells NPR's Renee Montagne.

Kimball took her on a journey to revisit standards like oatmeal, for which he advises toasting steel cut oats before boiling them.

And in the meat department, Kimball says meatloaf became a "dumping ground" for commercial products like powdered onion soup and ketchup. He says the key is veal because of its natural gelatin. Kimball also reminds Montagne that in the old days, there was no ground meat because of inconsistent refrigeration and the lack of grinders — that's why meatloaf was made with leftover meat.

Below, Kimball updates Kentucky Burgoo, which once would have been loaded with squirrel and mutton. Kimball's dish is bursting with lima beans and corn, in addition to chicken and lamb chop.

A key ingredient of dishes past was cornmeal. "It was the ingredient for about 200 years in America," says Kimball. The history of food in the 19th century, he says, "is going from the coarser, healthier foods to more refined foods, because more refined meant for most people more expensive, more desirable."

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