The Joy of Leftovers (or Pie for Breakfast!)


Many people are not overly fond of leftovers, for no apparent reason. I, on the other hand, am endlessly appreciative. Not only does eating them help make the most of the family food budget, honor the work that went into producing the meal in the first place and strike a blow against food waste but they are also enormously practical.

First, let us determine what we mean by the term: Leftovers are not some moldering bits of god-knows-what found loitering in one of the back recesses of the fridge. Leftovers are the unconsumed portion—not residue—of a delightful recent repast that might be resurrected to become another delightful dinner with just a little creative energy applied. Unless it is an un-finished pie, in which case no further artistry is required—only a fork.

Growing up on the family farm in Vermont in a household of boys, our dinners were often remarkably abundant—often times overly so because there were frequently expected drop-ins who failed to materialize, work ran later than expected, plans changed or simply bad planning. In such cases, my mom was far too frugal (having lived through the hard times following World War I and then the Depression) to jettison anything that looked like food. She was loathe to throw any food away for any reason. Mom saved the water left over from boiling or steaming vegetables and used it as base for soups or stews days later—we ate some kind of soup every day.

No one ever said we were going to have leftovers for dinner because, as often as not, whatever remained from a previous meal managed to arrive at the table at some later date disguised as something new, exciting and delicious. The only way to get what most people thought of as “leftovers” was to go in the fridge and scrounge something before it got a new life (which often elicited exclamations of dismay!).

The idea of leftovers, however, also played out in so many ways in our daily lives as kids growing up with few opportunities for playmates. There were a couple of kids up and down the road but the opportunity to do new things was extremely limited. We were forced, for want of going without, to be creative and to make up new games in new ways if we were to amuse ourselves as was expected. Often our baseball teams had, maybe, three or four kids total and base-runners were imaginary. To change it up we made the right-handed batters bat left, if they were any good.

More practically on the farm, we also learned that having a good leftover (aka junk) pile and an abundant bolt-bin somewhere was often the cure-all for the inevitable breakdown at a critical moment or the source of youthful inspiration that sometimes led to rather unfortunate outcomes and/or, perhaps, valuable engineering lessons. Our equipment in those days was quite rudimentary: There were no hydraulics; only the cutter bar ran off the PTO stub, so “fixing” things was often a matter of inspired good luck.

Leftovers and hand-me-downs presaged recycling, and on-the-farm worked no differently than in-the-kitchen or in the house. Almost everything lived to see another day in a different incarnation that made every day more remarkable, could smooth out the rough spots and was always an ineffable art form. Leftovers in any form brought joy to our spirits and left us intrigued or satisfied in ways too challenging to enumerate.