I’m a BPK, which some readers will know means “Baptist Preacher’s Kids.” There are two kinds of Baptist preachers: those asked to pastor huge churches with fundraising out the kazoo, and those who work for smaller churches whose deacons quarrel over every penny in the budget, most of all the ministers’ salaries. Especially churches who decide to support music, youth and education ministers.
My senior year in high school I overheard my mother tell a friend my father was finally making five figures. This was 1972. I realized that after twenty years in the ministry my father was finally earning ten thousand dollars to feed three kids. In 1972, ten thousand dollars was five thousand above the poverty line for a family of four.
I finally understood why our standard menu was:
Monday: welsch rarebit, e.g. canned cheese soup with one strip of bacon on toast.
Tuesday: ground egg yolk over toast with a sauce made from the whites. (This, too, had a name, but damned if I can remember it.)
Wednesday: Hamburger helper with canned biscuits on top.
Thursday: Tuna fish sandwiches. Recipe = one small can of Tuna, four eggs, lots of mayo, lots of bread.
Friday: chicken in mushroom soup over rice. Corn or green beans.
Saturday: Hot dogs or hamburgers.
Sunday: The good meal. Roast beef with mash potatoes and carrots.
That’s a lot of bread, and I paid for it with pounds I carried my entire life.
He learned from my grandmother who fried pork fat and baked biscuits in bacon grease to hold cost down.
Lunch: A sandwich with iceberg lettuce, one thin deli slice of meat (shipped a dozen slices to a fifty cent bag), one piece of cheese. If we were really hungry, use three pieces of bread. A bag of fritos. My father tried to convince my mother to split one bag between us, but she wouldn’t.
The real treat was pea soup with ham. Then my father got it into his head that mom could stretch the soup with rice. Once, when I came home from college (paid for entirely with grants, work-study and scholarships), he changed the recipe to replace expensive ham with cheap tuna fish. I wouldn't eat it. I made fun of it. Now my mother denies she ever served it.
On my own, and also broke because I worked in community organizing, I learned to make delicious meals with brown rice, lentils and sautéed fresh vegetables. Parmesan cheese added to the flavor. I made it for the family to show how they could eat healthy on a limited budget. With a salad I had a healthy balanced meal.
My father switched the fresh vegetables with cheap canned ones. I learned that trying to contain costs can become a mindset.