Orts and Leavings and Remembering Peg Bracken

If you do crossword puzzles, the word ort, like erne or oast, is familiar. To the question, “What’s for dinner?” my response was frequently, “Orts and leavings.” Which is to say, scraps. And scraps can be the basis of awfully good food. I enjoy a meal of orts. It forces me to clean out my refrigerator, makes me feel a little smug about saving money, and keeps me from making a trip to the store.

I also feel I’ve paid respect to the food huddled on the refrigerator shelves. I like to think those withered lettuce leaves and leathery squash enjoy this treatment. “No trash can for you, my pretties!”

Let’s explore this path. To begin, examine the terrain. What happens to be in my refrigerator right now is the following: a handful of celery leaves, a wilting head of lettuce, a piece of cooked chicken, 2 strips of bacon, 2 leeks, a half dozen eggs, a cupful of rice, and some very smelly cheese. These orts shall start with salad.

My Salad of Orts

For 2 or 3 servings. Can be easily doubled.

Wilted lettuce can be revived by pulling off and discarding the outer leaves and then soaking the whole head in a sinkful of cold water for 20 or 30 minutes. The sand and dirt will drop to the bottom. Separate the leaves and then lift them out and dry them in a salad spinner. Refrigerate about a half hour and the lettuce should be crisp and fresh.

  1. In a salad bowl, combine lettuce and other greens you may have hanging around such as, several sprigs of parsley, mint, basil, celery leaves.
  2. Shred the cooked chicken breast. Fry the bacon slices and crumble.
  3. Hard-boil 2 eggs. Cut in halves.
  4. Prepare a vinaigrette. I use some Dijon mustard, one part red wine vinegar and 2-3 parts olive oil. Toss the greens with the vinaigrette, saving a few spoonfuls.
  5. Toss the chicken with the remaining vinaigrette and some salt and pepper. This seasons the chicken, which may have become dry.
  6. Divide the greens between 2 plates and put the chicken, crumbled bacon and egg on top.

Your Salad of Orts

Composed salads, as the cookbooks are fond of calling them, can be custom fit to your orts and provide you with a meal in one dish. The basic components are:

protein, crunch, and greens.

The protein: nearly any bit of cooked meat, fish, ham, cheese, or tofu cut in strips, cubes, or shredded is useful in salads. Plan on about ¼ cup per serving. I added the hardboiled eggs because I didn’t have quite enough shredded chicken.

Crunch in my salad comes from the bacon but you could use chopped nuts or croutons instead. About a tablespoon per serving. The fat in the crunch adds flavor but to keep a salad lean, you might choose chopped celery, carrots, or sprouts.

Adding a few leaves of herbs such as basil, mint, or parsley makes for very interesting and tasty salads. Just try to balance bitter or tough greens with enough lettuce so that eating the salad doesn’t sound like dinner in the horse barn.

Serve your salad with French bread, pita, whole-wheat toast, Swedish crispbread or whatever you have on hand.

Just how smelly is that cheese?

Leftover cheese can be the basis for many a meal of orts and leavings. A good way to deal with it, especially if you have several small pieces of different types, is to make a quiche. For interesting reading about quiches, what they are and where they come from, read Julia Child’s discussion about them in the Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. She has a nifty method for the basic custard mixture to which she adds all sorts of ingredients.

Quiche de Fromage Scraps

About 8 slices

If you like so doing so, make your own pie dough, otherwise buy a rolled out commercial one.

  • 1 sheet of pie dough
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • pepper, nutmeg
  • 2 cups shredded or crumbled mixed cheeses
  • Optional: 2 slices bacon, fried and crumbled or ¼ cup chopped ham

Press the dough in a pie pan and pre-bake the shell according to package instructions. Set the oven to 375 degrees.In a bowl, whisk the eggs, milk or cream, several grindings of pepper and a few dashes of nutmeg until light. Put the optional ham or bacon in the bottom of the pie shell and cover with the shredded cheeses. Pour the egg mixture over top.Bake for about 30 minutes. It should be puffed and browned on top.

Your Quiche de Scraps

About 8 slices

The orts in the recipe above were cheese and bacon. Root through your refrigerator to see what you have. Quiche does not need to contain cheese. The custard is the important part to which many other ingredients may be added. A cup of chopped cooked vegetables (such as spinach, onions, red peppers, asparagus, zucchini, or a mixture), or cooked chopped chicken, salmon, or shrimp make fine quiches.

  • 1 – 1 ½ cups cooked chopped vegetables and/or meats or fish
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk or cream
  • pepper and nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded, grated or crumbled cheese (optional)

Following the above method, pre-bake the pie shell and prepare the egg and milk (or cream) custard. Spread the cooked and chopped vegetable or meat mixture in the pie shell and pour the egg mixture over the top.Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes.Serve quiche hot or cold.

Remembering Peg

Last week, Peg Bracken, author of the I Hate to Cookbook died at her home in Portland, Oregon at the age of 89. In the 1950s and early 60s, a full-time working mother was not the norm. ‘Participating’ dads were not either so after a day’s work, women had to get something on the table. The way Peg tells it, she and her friends pooled recipes that were fast, easy, and edible. This was the basis of her book and it was an instant success. Published in 1960, it sold 3 million copies.Here’s how it starts:

Some women, it is said, like to cook.

This book is not for them.

This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.

Peg has been one of my all-time heroes (and I love to cook.). What appealed to me was her humor, lack of pretension, and love of life. Read a book! Have a cocktail! See friends! Eat something tasty! She didn’t hate food and she didn’t mind cooking. She just hated being thrust into a role where daily cooking was somehow sacred. That thinking became obsolete but Peg was ahead of her time.

From my perspective (as a fierce advocate of home cooking), I think Peg was onto something. You don’t need to adore cooking to get a good meal on the table.

When I first moved to Portland, I found out that Peg lived there. Through her stepson, Jack Ohmans (the cartoonist for the Oregonian), I got in touch with her. She invited me to her home and the minute I got there, she offered me a spice cookie.

“Elevator Lady Spice Cookies!” I nearly shouted.

“Nope, but those were really good too.” she replied.

We had a great afternoon. She was as candid, funny, and warmhearted as I figured she would be. Her books are still around, canned soups and all. Peg loved what passed for convenience foods in the ‘60s but don’t be put off. She had some terrific recipes and that’s why my copies are falling apart. She wrote many books but my favorite is The I Hate to Housekeep Book (which tells you something).

Here’s one of Peg Bracken’s recipes that uses up the final ort in my refrigerator: the cupful of rice. It’s a large recipe but can be divided easily and is a meal in itself.

Hellzapoppin’ Cheese Rice

4 cups cooked rice
4 eggs
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound grated sharp Cheddar
small pinch each of thyme and marjoram
1 package chopped frozen spinach
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons melted butter

This is copied verbatim from Bracken’s book. She is referring to Sugar Belle, (possibly a fictional character) who gave her the recipe.

She beats the eggs till they’re light. Then she adds the milk and all the seasonings. Finally, she folds in the cheese, spinach and rice and pours the whole works into a greased casserole. After she pours the melted butter over it, she sets it in a 375 degree oven to bake for thirty-five minutes and she takes off her apron.

That’s all, friends!

xoxo, Mary

One comment on “Orts and Leavings and Remembering Peg Bracken

  1. John Whiting says:

    At home we have our own Frenchified designation of these incomparably unique delicacies: l’Effe d’Ouvres.

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