Waste Not, Want Not

Aunt Noreen’s bread machine

Every fall in the 1920s, pioneer woman Noreen Catt set out from Victoria, British Columbia for the wilderness of northern B.C. where she cooked at a remote fish camp. Once the snows came, the access route became impassible. She and the work crew were stranded in isolation until the following spring.

Before she left civilization, she had to estimate how many tons of flour, sugar, coffee, bacon, and other food staples were needed to cook three meals a day for the workers for the next six to seven months. If she forgot the ketchup, she couldn’t just run down to the corner store.

Noreen didn’t have the luxury of wasting food. If there was leftover oatmeal and bacon grease from breakfast, it went into that day’s batch of bread. The pickles are gone but there’s still juice  in the jar? Toss it in, too.

She couldn’t throw out her recipe fails–she figured out imaginative ways to make the goof edible. If she ran short of ingredients, she had to think outside the box to substitute something different.

“Waste not, want not” were the words she lived by every single day.

Noreen was my great aunt. While she taught me how to bake bread, she’d tell stories about fish camp and a wondrous machine she’d used that made up to a dozen loaves at a time. It was a metal bucket that clamped on a table. A dough hook fitted through the lid and a hand crank mixed the ingredients. The dough rose in the bucket in a warm place near the wood stove for an hour or two. Then she cranked it down, shaped it into loaves, let it rise again, and baked it.

After she no longer cooked for big crews at fish camp, she gave away the bread machine.

When my husband and I were getting married in 1972, Noreen knew how much he loved my homemade bread. She went on a quest to find a special wedding present for us: a bread machine like the one she’d used. She advertised for months across Canada and finally found one for sale. When the package arrived, the metal bucket had dents in it that looked familiar. Upon examination, she realized she’d bought the same machine she’d given away decades before!

The engraving reads: Universal Breadmaker, Awarded Gold Medal St. Louis Exposition 1904, Made by Landers Frary & Clark.

Needless to say, that bread maker was our most memorable wedding gift.

In these times of shelter-in-place directives, empty supermarket shelves, and only essential travel allowed, dear Aunt Noreen often comes to my mind. While at fish camp, she used resourcefulness, imagination, and thriftiness to carry her through many months of isolation cut off from supplies.

Her lessons:

Never throw away food. Use it in a soup or casserole or even a batch of homemade bread.

Be inventive and creative. If you’re out of an ingredient, use your imagination to find a substitute.

Be resourceful. Don’t let shortages stop you. Discover workarounds.

Aunt Noreen’s spirit is helping me through these troubled days and I want to share her legacy to help you, too.





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4 Responses to Waste Not, Want Not

  1. Mary Ellen Gosman says:

    Love your Aunt Noreen!Reminds me of my parents and that Greatest Generation.They’re always an inspiration and even more so in times of trouble.Thank you,Debbie!

    • Debbie Burke says:

      She was independent (back then, people said “eccentric”), wise, down to earth, and wonderfully witty. Many good memories with her over a batch of bread dough.

  2. Wonderful story. Sounds like your Aunt Noreen was (as my Nanny used to say) a woman of substance. And having known you for 25 years, I can testify that the acorn didn’t fall far from the tree.

    I imagine many of us are taking this time to reflect on how much so many of what we’ve come to think of as our “must haves” are not as imperative an item or service that we’d believed. We’ve have by necessity, had to reflect on what is truly important and that is that family, friends, neighbors and all those we love and hold dear are safe and well. While we’ve always known this, sometimes in the hustle and bustle of our “old normal” busy lives, it might not of always stayed top of mind.

    Faith, ingenuity, perseverance, common-sense, and gosh-darn stubbornness have seen us through many trials and tribulations in the past and I trust they will do so again.

    • DABadmin says:

      Deb, you’re singing my song. You’re so right that the truly important values got lost in busyness. Good health, family, and good friends like you.

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