I’m starting my week with Fisher’s recipe for those truly desperate, hungry, and broke: Sludge.
“How to Keep Alive” is the chapter title, and it begins “There are times when helpful hints about turning off the gas when not in use are foolish, because the gas has been turned off permanently, or until you can pay the bill.
Let us take for granted that the situation, while uncomfortable, is definitely impermanent and can be coped with. The first thing to do, if you have absolutely no money, is to borrow some…As soon as you have procured fifty cents, find some kind soul who will let you use a stove…buy about fifteen cents’ worth ground beef from a reputable butcher…about ten cents’ worth of whole grain cereal…(and) spend the rest of your money on vegetables.
Get one bunch of carrots, two onions, some celery, and either a small head of cabbage or the coarse outer leaves from some heads that should be trimmed a bit anyway. It does not matter if they be slightly battered: you will wash them and grind them into an odorous but unrecognizable sludge.
Fisher recommends any remaining money be spent on additional vegetables, like squash and zucchini. This recipe, she says, will feed you for about four days once cooked into Sludge; I scaled down the proportions for one day’s worth.
From How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher (1942).
1 floppy carrot
1/2 small onion
2 sticks celery
1/4 small green cabbage
1/2 acorn squash
1 fistful ground beef chuck
1/2 cup steel cut oats
I sweated the onions, carrot, and celery in a little bit of oil, over medium heat for about five minutes. I seasoned with salt and pepper, then tossed in the meat, breaking it up with a spoon, until it browned: about seven minutes more. I added the cabbage and squash, and covered it all with what looked like “too much water.” I turned up the heat, brought it to a boil, then turned the heat down to low to let it simmer. I let it cook, covered, for 30 minutes on low. It looked like a sad soup, but it smelled fairly magnificent.
After thirty minutes had passed, I added 1/2 cup of steel cut oats. I left the temperature on low, and let it simmer uncovered for an hour. When it was done it looked, and smelled, like a very thick chicken and rice soup. At this point, Fisher recommends grinding the entirety of the dish in a food mill; I decided in advance to skip this step, and simpley dice all of the vegetables very fine. I let the sludge cool and stuck it in the refrigerator to await my breakfast.
I have to admit I wasn’t excited to get up today and try a bowl of sludge. When I pulled it out of the fridge, I was shocked to discover it had formed into a nearly solid mass. I scooped out a cupful and microwaved it.
I have to say, it’s not bad. I added a little extra salt, and it tastes pretty much like a bland chicken soup. I sincerely enjoyed the texture of the steel cut oats they were a little more firm than rice, which tends to get too squishy when left in a soup overnight.
Sludge is cheap as hell to make, and there’s a lot of healthy stuff in there: protein, whole grains, veggies. And it is really filling. I ate it three times today without complaint.