The single mother who turned 9p meals into a publishing deal with A Girl Called Jack blog

Amateur cook’s blog about feeding her family on £10 a week attracted huge online audience
  • @kevinJrawlinson

Her carrot, cumin and kidney beanburgers might sound like an extravagant offering at a gastropub. But Jack Monroe, a blogger who specialises in “austerity food”, can make them for just 9p.

Now the single mother from Southend is to produce a book filled with more of her budget recipes after being handed a deal by Penguin. The offer came after her blog, on which she documented her attempts to feed herself and her son on £10 per week, attracted a huge online audience.

While her ingredients may come from the value range, that doesn’t mean her food can’t be haute cuisine. With recipes like jardaloo ma murghi (curry with apricots), they are not exactly microwaveable-ready meals. But at only 22p each, they are meals which, she believes, reflect a more austere time.

“I have friends who have complained about not having enough money for food but then they spend £5 on a convenience meal each night,” she said. She described going to the shop with £6.20 to buy whatever she could from the reduced and value ranges. Her shopping bill for the week came to £4.40. She laid out the food on a bench before coming up with meals she could make with it.

The first, she said, is still one of her most popular recipes: a simple chilli that costs only pennies. “I put some pasta and some tomato sauce together with some onion I had bought. Then, I thought I’d add some beans and make a chilli,” she said. Since then, the recipes have become somewhat more gourmet, but the prices have stayed low. “Posh mushroom, spinach and walnut pasta” costs just 34p, for example.

Ms Monroe, 24, started the blog after a local councillor was quoted attacking single mothers. She wrote a letter to the newspaper, which has since taken her on as a trainee reporter, and started attending council meetings. The blog was originally about politics and surviving on benefits, she said. “It was when I started writing about food that it really took off,” she added.

She also attacked the Government, which she said does not understand the difficulties facing people who find themselves having to rely on benefits.

“It can happen to anyone,” Ms Monroe said. “People quote Iain Duncan Smith’s claim about being able to live on £53 a week all of the time, but they don’t realise that when get that payment you have to cover everything with it. You are not exempt from bills all of a sudden.

“People [who read the blog] think ‘thank God there is someone who is showing us that, while it is not ideal, you can survive’. The blog was just a bit of an outcry, I thought, ‘surely, I can’t be the only one going through this’.”

Lindsey Evans, the cookery publisher at Penguin, said: “Jack Monroe is a fresh new voice for our times and I am so pleased that Penguin will be publishing her first cookbook. Not only has she managed to feed herself and her son on just £10 a week but she has done so by coming up with delicious and nutritious recipes, all within that budget. More importantly, she can now show us how we can do  the same.”

The book is due to be published in March next year and will include more than 100 recipes.

The blog: A recipe for success

Carrot & Coriander Falafels (23p)

Ingredients: 3tbsp vegetable oil, 1 onion, 1 can chickpeas, shake of cumin,  1 carrot, parsley, coriander, 1tbsp flour

1. Peel and finely chop onion; grate carrot. Fry in tablespoon of oil over low heat till softened.

2. Tip into mixing bowl with chickpeas; add chopped parsley, coriander and cumin.

3. Mash till chickpeas have broken down. Oil from carrots and onion will help, but you may need more.

4. Mould into golf ball shapes with floured hands. Fry with a little more oil till golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside.