Free chairs, romance novels, fabric scraps, and sourdough starter

New Englanders are known for our thrift, which is sometimes an almost obsessive need to reuse and recycle. That’s a good thing!

I drove to the market recently and passed by a house with a chair on the lawn with a “FREE” sign sitting on its threadbare cushion. It was not an unusual site as these roadside giveaways are pretty common. On the way home, a half hour later, some lucky person had secured the chair and brought it home, leaving the sign on the side of the road. No doubt, it would be brought in the house to be used another time, for another item in need of a home. Some may think this a little lazy, just setting the unwanted item on the side of the road rather than bringing it to the recycling center, but it’s also quite efficient and works like a charm! You usually don’t even need the sign, it’s understood that a chair on the sidewalk is first-come, first-served.

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without!

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Those are words from the Great Depression, my mother’s childhood world. She was raised in the most frugal of times, and this stuck with her and her contemporaries all their lives. It was second nature. The lifestyle was frugal, it was thrifty, and it was sometimes downright cheap. It was also something passed on to most of us. Even the cheap part.

The romance novel circuit

When I was a kid, my mother was an avid reader of romance and historical romance novels. She read them every morning of her life when she rose, well ahead of anyone else in the house, probably the only time in the day she had to herself. There was a circuit of romance novel readers, and every couple of weeks, a grocery bag of books would appear at the house, traded for an equal bag of books from my mother. There were quite a few women she traded with, some she really didn’t even know! Those books got a lot of use moving from reader to reader until they fell apart.

It was also very much a tradition to save a week’s worth of newspapers to trade with a neighbor who subscribed to a different one! Yes, the news was a little stale, but there was always something to be gleaned. Mom subscribed to McCall’s, the Saturday Evening Post, and Reader’s Digest. Sometimes, Yankee Magazine and Good Housekeeping as well if she got a bargain. These were traded for other magazines we didn’t get, although I must confess that the McCall’s didn’t get recycled until I carefully tore out the page with the Betsy McCall paper dolls! I had a whole shoebox full of Besty and all her seasonal outfits, ready for tennis or skiing. My Aunt Mary, my Dad’s sister, had her own group of people she traded her newspapers and magazines with, but never my mom even though we lived right next door! They had issues.

At a flea market, I found a bag of tiny fabric scraps, many just thin little trimmings. It was labeled “Scraps too small to save.”

Fabric scraps and buttons were also popular to share, and still are. Scraps from old clothes were used in quilt making. As a quilter myself, fabric scraps are raw materials just begging to be transformed, given new life. I saved many pieces of my children’s clothes as they were growing up and put them in quilts for their wedding gifts, leaving bits of rick-rack or buttons making them even more recognizable. At a flea market, I once found a bag of tiny fabric scraps, many just thin little trimmings of selvage. It was labeled “Scraps too small to save.”

Buttons and snaps cut from shirts and skirts filled canning jars. I still have a jar of Mom’s, and once in a while I find just the right button tucked in among the rest. More often, they are used in little craft projects with the grandchildren. But some saved items are not recycled as far as I can tell. My mother-in-law had a giant ball of rubber bands and they were never used again. But, they were just too good to throw away.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

If I have furniture to get rid of, I can usually find someone I know to give it to, so I haven’t yet placed a chair at the side of my street to offer to the world. I give magazines away, but I’m afraid I recycle my newspapers at the center, along with anything else the center will take. I collect and give away fabric, and I offer sourdough starter to friends and strangers. Used clothing goes to a local charity that either sells the items in their thrift shop, or give them to those in need.

These kinds of recycling remain important to our way of life, I rarely have to throw anything away, and I know it spans far more than our little region. I was reminded the other day that the “three Rs” are reduce, reuse, and then recycle. This is the pecking order. It is better to reduce the amount of plastic we buy, then perhaps reuse it. If all else fails, recycle it, and hope it actually gets recycled.

Our gardens and the treasures created from them were also a source of great sharing. Drive-by zucchini drops are still common (I found several on the front seat of my car last summer), and during caning season, jars of pickles and jams are often handed to the casual visitor, postal carrier, and friends with a different type of pickle or jam. It’s not that we have a surplus we find ourselves having to give away, it’s more we grow the surplus to have something to give away.

Use that sourdough discard!

Sourdough starter is one of those things. In order to keep our starter active, we need to feed it occasionally, even if we don’t intend to make bread! I’ve given away more canning jars of starter than I can count; I just can’t bear to throw it out! Sometimes I end up with way too much starter waiting in my refrigerator, other times, I carefully weigh to the fraction of an ounce so I have enough to feed for the next time. “Ginny Junior” began her life almost 11 years ago, and I plan to keep her circulating!

This scone recipe uses that discard, unfed. The subtle sourness enhances the northern flavor combo of maple and walnut, and the texture is great. If you don’t have sourdough starter hanging around waiting to be fed, you can still make these scones. Just decrease the flour by a cup, or half cup of each flour. This would be a great Depression-era bread, it uses no eggs or fat and you can use any milk or cream you like. I’ve chosen light coconut milk, and there was just enough in the can for the recipe and to glaze the tops! Not a drop wasted, grandmother would be proud.

Sourdough Maple Walnut Scones

Makes 15 or so, Vegan

  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder, non-aluminum
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup dark maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. maple extract
  • 1 1/2 cup coconut milk (or any plant or dairy milk or cream)
  • 1 cup unfed sourdough discard

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet, or line with parchment.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. Add the walnuts and mix evenly.

Mix the syrup and extract into the cream, then add the starter. Add the liquid all at once to the dry with a wooden spoon or your fingers, pulling up the flour from the bottom and gently spreading on top of the liquid until just about mixed. The dough will be soft.

Pour out onto a floured surface and gently pull the sides of the dough up over on itself in a fold in one direction and then the next. A bench scraper works great here. You might have to sprinkle with a little more flour. You want to make a few layers, but don’t overwork. This is gentle hand work.

Decide on your shape. You can either divide into two flattened discs and cut each into six pie wedges, or cut out biscuit-like rounds. I do it both ways depending on my mood, but my mom always formed a disc, patted it down to an inch or so, and cut it into six wedges, no waste or reroll. She placed the whole disc on the sheet, but separated the wedges just a bit. They often cooked together, but easily pulled apart. I give them more space and bake the wedges individually. During this process, use only as much flour as possible to keep everything from sticking.

Whichever shape you pick, cut down quickly and vertically with a sharp bench scraper or biscuit cutter. You want nice crisp edges so as not to seal the layers of dough together which prevents a nice lift.

Brush the tops with a little more milk, and place in the center rack of the oven. Immediately turn the heat down to 400 degrees.

Bake for 20 minutes and check. They should be tall, with visible layers all around the cut sides, and browned on top. They may need a few more minutes, but keep your eye on them.

Note: If you don’t have any sourdough starter, you can still make these. Just decrease the flours to 1 ½ cups each.

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70 Comments Add yours

  1. That’s also a Midwestern trait – or at least it was among my family who were farmers. When it is a 9 mile drive into town, you repurpose anything you can. Though we now live in the city, we have a road running behind our house and we still do the same thing. I picked up a set of charming 1950s kitchen chairs for my son and his then fiancee that way.

    1. Wonderful! When I was a kid, there was also a spot in the “dump” where people would leave things that could be reused. Our recycling center has the same setup now, but the side of the road is usually a lot simpler!

      1. Nancy says:

        WOW 🤩 Betsy McCall paper dolls!! I had totally forgotten about those – I loved them! I don’t remember that my mom had a subscription to that magazine, but maybe I begged her to buy it because a friend had them? Anyway, fun memory! I also used to have a set of Mary Poppins paper dolls that I eventually gave to a babysitting charge. Also, your scraps too small to save remind me of Donald Hall’s wonderful book String Too Short to be Saved. I delighted in learning that I wasn’t the only one who saved scraps of stuff like bits of string;). OK, gotta ‘go’ to church- I play for the a small Episcopal church twice a month and even though I’ve pre-recorded the music I feel as though I should make an appearance on the Zoom venue – though today I’d rather indulge in reading your past posts and recipes! Be well.

      2. Thank you so much for stopping by and making time before Zoom church! I’m sure the woman who packed up “scraps too small to be saved,” must have read the Hall book. I wonder if she thought anyone would ever get her little joke!

  2. Suzassippi says:

    What a wonderful post, and recipe! I was introduced to the side of the road give-a-way when I moved to Mississippi. While we always reused, gave away, etc., (both my parents were Great Depression children), we did not do the road giveaways. I think it is a wonderful tradition. These scones sound great, and I would like to make them, with the alternate method, since I do not have sourdough starter.

    1. Thank you! i know they do the same street give-away in the cities as well. Most efficient! Enjoy the scones!

  3. bernlag says:

    That Betsy McCall brought back memories.

    1. It was the first thing I looked for, of course, when the magazine came in!

      1. Suzassippi says:

        Didn’t we all? 🙂

  4. chef mimi says:

    What a great post. makes me wish I grew up in New England!

    1. Thank you Mimi! I consider myself fortunate to have had a lovely childhood in a rural village with lots of family around and a lake, too!

  5. Same practice over here – set it by the road and it’s gone. I honestly think my car could drive to Goodwill all by itself. I hardly ever ‘throw’ something away. I find a way to donate it or use it in a different manner. My mother also read romance novels, but her time was in the evening after a long day in a factory. I read a lot and use the library or their online option. Some things don’t change, well, except the genre because I like mysteries. Those scones look yummy. I wish we lived closer because I’d barter some gardening work for some of those. 🙂

    1. I have a photo somewhere of my mom sitting by a large glass wall in the early morning when we visited Cape Cod. My husband and I had gone out for an early walk and we looked up and there was mom, reading her little book by a light, just as the sun was coming up. It was her time to herself, like your mother’s in the evenings. A little escape. I’m a mystery lover as well, and those are usually the books I pass on to others as well! Just finished Anne Cleeves new book, The Darkest Evening, and it was really good! I already know which friend will get it next!

  6. Sandhya says:

    I have been living in New England for over 38 years now and was chuckling as I read your post as it is so relatable. And yes I have a sourdough starter too 🙂

    1. It’s a way so many people in so many areas extend the life of something, with a lot less bother than any other method! I’m sure you are enjoying your sourdough during this time of sheltering! 🥖❤️

      1. Sandhya says:

        Yes I am enjoying the sourdough and exploring new recipes with it.

  7. Frugality can be so creative!
    Thanks for adding and option for making without the starter. 🙂

    1. Thank you Ronit! Actually, the recipe started out without the starter! But one day I was making the scones and had some discard to use so I tossed it in. Of course, because of the extra moisture, I had to add the extra flour! So, the variation came first!

      1. The best recipes come out of such improvisations. 🙂

      2. And we are always delighted by the surprise!

  8. Love it.! Paper dolls! Haha! Who would believe America’s earlier creativities?

    1. Inexpensive, and you only needed a scrap of paper to make your own “clothes”!

      1. True. Thank you for sharing a girly pastime. Paper dolls are the #1 pinup dolls.💓🍂🍮🍂🍮🔔

  9. CarolCooks2 says:

    I love this post, Dorothy..the scones sound delicious and here in Thailand we do the same anything we have no use for we put it outside and it is gone in minutes we don’t need a notice …Thais are the best recyclers I know my daughter in law will not me throw anything away unless she has checked it and doesn’t know anyone who would have use for it she even took my bras I no longer required when I lost weight for her sister in law after checking the straps and fastenings they were deemed ok…which they were but they were passed on…so any clothes now we run past her first…Nothing is scrapped… second-hand markets are all over here and she gets some bargains she loves a rummage…

    1. Rummage! We hardly hear that word any more. It seems every church used to have a rummage sale each year, but now it is just called a tag sale if it exists at all! I’m so glad your old bras got a new home! I think many of us have a whole drawer of bras that were mistakes, but we don’t think of recycling them!

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        A s I said Tik doesn’t let me just throw anything away she recycles/reuses everything…Yes, rummage is not so often used now…:) Have a great weekend 🙂 x

      2. You too Vatol!❤️

    2. CarolCooks2 says:

      Rummage…maybe not.. I am old fashioned and relage to that

  10. What a fascinating sour dough recipe!!! I bet they taste great!

    1. Thanks Diane! They are really delicious!

  11. I spent hours playing with paper dolls. Thanks for the memories! 🍃🌸

    1. Ah, you’re welcome. I loved my paper dolls, and i have a set that belonged to my mother when she was a child. Once in a blue moon, she would let me play with them.

      1. What a treasure! 🌟

  12. My mother in law saved rubberbands in a ball too, as well as old razor blades, I never could figure out why she saved the razor blades! Recycling and reusing is so important, the amount of trash we produce everyday is terrifying. I wish I had the patience for keeping a sour dough starter, but I don’t and am too lazy to bake bread…your scones sound wonderful!

    1. Thank you! The scones were delicious. Saved razor blades! I’m perplexed with that one!!!

      1. haha, me too!

  13. Ally Bean says:

    I was raised in a WASTE NOT, WANT NOT household so all that you mention here reminds me of my childhood. I’d forgotten about swapping newspapers, but that happened. I remember the drive-by zucchini [and tomato] drops. Different times.

    Your scone recipe looks delicious. I’ve never messed around with sourdough starter, but if I ever do I’ll remember this way to not waste.

    1. All those things become ingrained in us don’t they? Even little things like saving those last little shards of soap, or filling the “empty” shampoo bottle with water to get a few more uses!

  14. JOY journal says:

    These sound delicious. I’m not a New Englander, but my husband is. I’ve learned his thrifty ways. 🙂

  15. I had forgotten all about paper dolls until I read your post, Dorothy! We had them in Germany where I grew up. While living in California I had a great reduce-reuse- recycle system with all things baby and kids stuff, and also books. And those sourdough starters do create a lot of discard! I’ve given some away and have so far avoided throwing any away. The biscuit recipe gives me another option to use the discard. Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed it! 🙂

    1. Baby clothes! Yes, I had forgotten, and all other hand-me-down clothes! I was always excited to get a big box of clothes from my cousin! Usually I had to wait to fit into them though.
      I hope you enjoy the biscuits! I absolutely hate discarding the starter!

  16. Averyl says:

    One of my favorite topics, as you know! Great post. There are some people I’ve met who make money from picking up free roadside furnishings. They restore them and then sell them for a profit at a yard sale. A cautionary tale for anyone reading: Beware “free” boats! That’s not an uncommon site here and most of those free boats are not worth the exorbitant cost to repair them according to my boat-building now boat yard service manager husband. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the tip Avery! I have to confess to picking up one of those free boats many, many years ago in my youthful optimism. It did not end well…

  17. What a lovely post, Dorothy. 😍

  18. suzannesmom says:

    This is all so delightful. Thrifty New Englanders! When we first arrived in New England from the Mid-Atlantic states, we were amazed that a neighbor turned envelopes inside out to send us a note!

  19. nancyc says:

    I love sourdough bread–I’m sure I would love these scones too! 🙂

    1. Thank you! The maple and walnut were wonderful together!

  20. I love your shared memories. The cookie recipe is a great pull too!🍂🍮🍂🍮🔔💓

    1. Cooking always brings up memories! Usually good ones!

      1. A fun event for the stomach, memory and the heart! Thank you dearest Dorothy for sharing! 🍂🍮🍮💓🔔🍂

      2. You are very welcome my friend! ❤️

  21. what a lovely post! the cookie recipe sounds delicious!!

  22. Your recipe looks like it would be so good. The last time we were up north we cleaned out the little red house to make room for am Ikea bed we bought. Since we were getting rid of things I started finding more and more stuff to get rid of. Up north everything you bring in you have to drive out. The little thrift store in town was closed and we were headed out the next day which is a long rough drive up on a cliff. We put everything out front with a big sign that said free. We do the free yard sales here in the city too. People driving by look through and take what they want and anything they don’t we donate later. Great post, love sharing and thank your for the recipe.

    1. Thank you! It is so heartening to know that folks do this on all corners of the globe. What you no longer need, you put out for others to use, and it works so well.

  23. I really enjoyed reading your post. Where I live in the Bay Area, people are into recycling, upcycling and protecting the environment. I have had my shares of finding treasures that people do not want any more like a small table that I used for my photography. I found it on the sidewalk. I used it for about a year. When I got tired of it, I put it in front of my house. I saw a woman grab it just an hour after I put it out. LOL! This made me happy. I found fresh lemons, flower pots, plates, etc. 🙂

    1. It’s the best, and easiest way of recycling! A sort of offering to the Universe, and the Universe responds with someone looking for that exact treasure!

      1. I like how you put it, “An offering to the Universe and the Universe responds!” So true! It is our way of taking care of Mother Earth.

  24. Christy B says:

    I grew up understanding that even when we tire of our clothes and decor there are others who can still use those things so it’s good to donate. Great reading this post and hearing about the New England spirit!

    1. Thank you Christy! I grew up that way as well, getting hand-me-downs from cousins, which delighted me, and handing them to others after I outgrew them.

  25. Wow Dorothy! I was out of commission for 2 weeks and I missed quite a lot on your website. I will be checking all the posts today. Love the story about your mom, her novels and the newspapers. Never heard newspapers being exchanged even in good olden days. I wish I could be your neighbor to get the sourdough starter. I have been planning to start but never get to actually start the process. Sigh….one of these days.
    Those Scones look absolutely mouthwatering! Pretty sure they are terrific in taste too!

    1. Thank you so much! I’m actually working on a little project to dehydrate my starter so I can ship it out to folks. Got the instructions from Twice as Tasty!

      1. NancyNancy says:

        Hmm, for some reason what I just wrote appeared as a reply in the middle of this thread of replies- probably hit the wrong button again🙃 And one more thing about the dump- when I lived in Perkinsville my kids loved coming along to the dump each week to peruse the cast-offs. One of my daughter’s favorite ever coat was a purple velvet coat we dubbed “the dump coat” ; and I still have dump plates😂that one of t(em thought were beautiful…

      2. I love it Nancy, especially the dump coat! We name things like this as well! We used to have a store near us many years ago that was called The Jupiter Store. I bought this funny little clear plastic belt there and it was forever the Jupiter belt.

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