Little Old Lady Recipes: Classic Frugal Cooking

By Meg Favreau on 1 November 2011 23 comments

Today I'm thrilled to announce release of my new book — Little Old Lady Recipes: Comfort Food and Kitchen Table Wisdom, published by Quirk Books. It's a collection of simple comfort-food recipes; sassy advice; and photos (by the excellent Michael Reali) of wonderful women in their kitchens.

The recipes in the book came from several different sources, including my own grandmother, the women whose photographs are featured in the book, and bygone cookbooks like the 1921 Atlanta Women's Club Cook Book. But no matter what their source, one thing that I love about all of these these recipes (well, besides the fact that a lot them call for real butter) is that classic "little old lady" cooking is more than simple and tasty, it's also darn frugal. Recipes like chicken and dumplings aren't just aiming to pair delicious chicken soup with bready dumpling goodness, they're using those dumplings to stretch a little bit of meat into an inexpensive, filling meal. Vegetable scraps and leftover meat bones aren't trash, they're what you make fragrant soup stocks out of. And a good weekend pot roast, well — that will serve you convenient leftovers all week long. (See also: Stretch Your Food at Every Meal)

One of my favorite recipes that I had the pleasure of including in the book is my family's baked bean recipe, one of my personal favorite comfort foods. The beans can be made in a crock pot, or they can slowly cook over several hours in the oven (if you use your oven, make this recipe in the fall or winter and turn your house heat down accordingly while cooking so you're not wasting energy). In the evening, you're rewarded with rich, not-too-sweet beans that are great served with another money-saving powerhouse — coleslaw made from that super-cheap vegetable, the cabbage.

The beans are also fantastic served with Boston Brown Bread. I've included both recipes from the book below, and I very much hope you enjoy them.

Baked Beans Deluxe

  • 1 qt navy beans
  • 1/2 lb salt pork
  • 1/2 tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 onion, chopped

Baked beans are best served with brown bread; save your empty coffee cans to steam it in. Although thrift is always a virtue, do not skimp on the salt pork. It's what adds the majority of flavor.

Cover beans with cold water and soak overnight. Drain. Pour into a pot or casserole dish with the rest of the ingredients. Add enough water to cover the beans. Cover and bake in a 250°F oven [or crock pot] for 8 hours. Serves 4 to 6, and tastes great with coleslaw.

Boston Brown Bread

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 cup sour milk
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 3/4 cups graham flour

Between baked beans and this moist, molassesy bread, they're doing something right up in Boston.

Beat eggs, add sugar and molasses, and then the rest of the ingredients. Mix and place in 3 greased 1-pound cans. Cover tightly. Steam 1 to 2 hours by placing on a steamer over boiling water, letting the water go about halfway up the can. Basically, you just don't want the can touching the bottom of the pot you're boiling in. (You can also steam the bread in a deep oven-safe pan in the oven itself. Just make sure to replenish the water if needed.) Bread is done when a toothpick comes out clean. Makes enough to sop up a lot of delicious bean juice.

What are your favorite frugal "little old lady" recipes? Share in the comments!

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Guest's picture

I love this idea! One more thing added to my Christmas wishlist, that's for sure.

Just the other day I made a roasted chicken with root vegetables (very inexpensive meal when you consider that it fed us for almost a week) and saved aside the carcass and some of the meat to make chicken soup. Have to do something to use up the celery and carrots that are wilting in my fridge, and what better that chicken stock.

Looking forward to getting this book. Good think Christmas is less than two months away.

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks, Megan!

And that roasted chicken with root vegetables sounds great! I love roasting root vegs, especially parsnips and sweet potatoes.

Will Chen's picture

Congratulations Meg! I purchased a crock pot two months ago but haven't really used it that much. Can't wait to try out your recipe.

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks, Will! These beans are one of my favorite things to eat in fall; I really hope you like 'em.

Lynn Truong's picture

I can't wait to try those baked beans. I love them, but have never tried making them.

Guest's picture

Ok Meg,

Thank so much for the preview recipes. Good luck on the book. But on the boston brown bread where are you expecting your average suburbanite to get their sour milk from? Maybe you should consider offering a substitution. (That sort of thing might make some readers less confident that they should try the recipes.)


Meg Favreau's picture

Hey Mike!

Making your own sour milk is actually really easy -- to make a cup of sour milk, take a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice, and add enough milk (whatever fat percentage you prefer) to make a full cup. Stir and let sit for five minutes before using.


Will Chen's picture

TIL: Sour milk is not just milk you left on the counter overnight. Good to know Thanks Meg & Mike!

Guest's picture

Thank god. I'm so tired of the "gourmet" mac and cheese and biscuits that just don't have the right texture. I can't wait to dive in and make these!

Amy Lu's picture
Amy Lu

Congratulations, Meg! Your Boston Brown Bread recipe sounds delicious -- can't wait to try it!

Ashley Jacobs's picture

Congrats Meg! I think it's time we have another company lunch. You can be responsible for making food! :)

Guest's picture

This is awesome! I'm going to have to try that Boston Brown Bread recipe. It sounds super yummy!

Guest's picture

My mother makes Boston Brown Bread in large empty soup can(s) that is baked in the oven. The bread, when done, pops right out of the can and then is cut using the score marks from the can. Great kitchen wisdom!

Alex Lam's picture
Alex Lam

Congratulations on the book and thanks for sharing the recipes. It's about time I'll pull my crock pot out of storage, so the timing of the bean recipe is perfect.

Guest's picture

Since I loooove my crockpot AND baked beans, this is perfect! Thanks!

Guest's picture

A quart of dry beans is 2 lbs. I think that would be too much for a crockpot? And, it would feed quite a few people--definitely more than 4-6.

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks for the heads-up on the crockpot size, guest. I always cook these in the oven. The recipe can easily be halved for a crockpot if you feel like yours is too small.

As for the servings...I think it just depends on how much you like baked beans!

Guest's picture

I like making my own baked beans as well, and one other big advantage is that you can control the sodium if you make your own. My husband has high blood pressure, and canned baked beans have 1000 mg of sodium in a small can! I use a product called "No Salt" and low sodium turkey bacon instead of bacon or salt pork, so there's almost no sodium at all in it. I use my turkey roaster pan - the huge, once a year one - to make big batches once or twice a year, and we eat them with omelets, fried eggs, low-sodium hot dogs (surprisingly delicious, from my local kosher grocer), and more. Other frugal recipes I love are home-made macaroni & cheese (when I can get a really good deal on cheese), chicken-heart stew (delicious, iron rich, and dirt cheap - my family just ate for 2 days off $1 worth of chicken hearts), chicken-liver grillades (this feeds us for 2 days for about $1 too), stir fries, omelets, and casseroles. Crock pots are also great for making tough cuts of meat very tender. I have a barbecue-flavor pot roast recipe that involves vinegar, and it makes the cheapest meat come apart with a fork. I've even used it on meat that was almost, but not quite, freezer burned, and it worked. If anyone wants recipes, I'm happy to share.

Guest's picture

Rose, is it too late to get you to submit your recipe for barbeque-flavor pot roast?

Guest's picture

Happy to share. Barbecue Pot Roast:

Rub surface of any inexpensive roast with pepper and salt (or salt substitute). Brown slightly in large roasting pot. Add 1 c water, 8 oz tomato sauce, 1-3 medium chopped onions to taste. Add 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp dry mustard, 1/4 - 1/2 vinegar to taste, 1/2 c ketchup, 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce. Cook 2-3 hours, until done. I cook it at 350 in a covered roast pan. I also use unsalted tomato sauce & unsalted ketchup & low sodium Worcestershire nowadays, because my husband has high blood pressure. You can vary the spices anyway you like, or add others - what's really important is to include the dry mustard, vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, tomato sauce. Add anything else you like.

Guest's picture

I got this book for Christmas and WOW! These are real recipes with real ingredients. No fuss just delish!

Meg Favreau's picture

I'm so glad you enjoyed the book, Lorie!

Guest's picture
Adam S.

250 degree crock pot, is that high or low?