Speckled Lima Beans

AKA, Butterbeans

Lima Beans, known as butterbeans in the South, are one of our most prized fresh summertime vegetables, partly because they are less common than other goodies, like really fresh ripe tomatoes. They are less productive and more labor intensive than many other legumes, even though it is yet another crop native to the Americas.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we were roaming the Festhalle Farmer’s Market yesterday morning, to see market baskets full of butterbeans being sold by one of our favorite farmers. Note: a standard farmer’s market basket is four quarts, or roughly 1/10 of a peck. We swooped in like a chicken on a June bug, only to be told these were a special speckled variety of butterbean. Naturally, that made them more expensive. Nevertheless, we paid up, and bought a basket.

They turned out to not only be a wild range of different psychedelic speckled colors, but also included some funky solid colored beans. They are butterbeans tripping on LSD, and almost too pretty to eat, but eat them we will. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups fresh Butterbeans–any variety. (Frozen will do if fresh are not available)

Water

Seasoning Meat (in order of preference–Tasso, Smoked Ham Hock, Smoked Bacon, Country Ham)

Salt and Pepper

Tasso, in the South, is a Cajun/Creole invention made of heavily spiced strips of pork shoulder, which are then hot smoked, which means smoked and cooked at the same time. It’s easy enough to make yourself. Tasso adds more flavor than other kinds of smoked pork.

The cooking process is simple enough: simmer the beans until they are tender. Removing the seasoning meat when serving is optional. I like my butterbeans to fly solo. These will work great that way, especially considering that they are already on a trip.

Brick Oven Tools–Mop and Fireplace Poker

Keeping It Clean and Hot

These are the last two tools in the catalog of devices needed to cook in a brick oven. One is the first tool needed, the other one of the last, but also one of the most important. We’ll begin with my trusty industrial sized mop.

My wife eventually gifted this mop to me after she found it to be too big and bulky to use in our house. I immediately drilled a hole through the handle, tied a piece of accessory cord threaded through the hole into a loop, and hung it on the rafters on the oven. It’s been there ever since.

The mop is the final cleaning tool used before baking either bread or pizza in a brick oven, as the baking is done directly on the brick surface of the oven. The brush takes away the larger bits and pieces, and the mop finishes the job. Usually two passes with the mop is necessary to provide a surface suitable and clean enough for cooking. Some dispensation must be made to provide a way to rinse the mop off between passes-I have a lawn hydrant adjacent to my oven.

Hydrant, Camellia, and Mop Remains

This mop occasionally gets set on fire while making pizza in a 900 degree F oven, but the cotton part can be replaced, and has been. I think these are still made in the US, and can be found fairly easily. I also use it for mopping the slate top on my Rustic Cabinet, which is connected to my brick oven. Would also be great swabbing the deck of an eighteenth century frigate.

The first tool anyone starting a fire in a brick oven is going to resort to is a fireplace poker. This one was made by an Amish blacksmith in Ohio. It’s the best I have ever seen, as it can multitask. It’s thick steel and hook end make it perfect for lifting the lids on cast iron Dutch/Camping ovens. Best used with a pair of welding gloves, as it’s only drawback is that it can only reach so far into a brick oven. That’s when the scraper comes in handy.

So gear up and get to cooking. We plan on doing just that again this weekend, unless we get walloped by the tropical storm that is currently lurking on the Gulf Coast. Our current forecast is for two to four inches of rain. Guess that’s why I put a roof over my oven.

Biergarten Tomorrow, July 11, 2019, in Alabama’s Rocket City of Huntsville!

Huntsville, soon to be home to a minor league baseball team named the Rocket City Trash Pandas, has it’s very own Biergarten tomorrow. Best of all, it’s being held at the U. S. Space and Rocket Center there–hence the name “Rocket City.”

Admission is free, so get out your Dirndls and Lederhosen and bring money, because you have to pay for the food and drink. Maybe the Lederhosen is not a great idea at 95 degrees F, but a nice Dirndl is really really nice, any time of the year.

Doors open at 4:30 in the afternoon, and close at 7:30 at night. Prost!

If you miss this one, there will be another July 18, in honor of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The Saturn rocket was a Huntsville product.

Brick Oven Tools–Scraper/Brush Combo

A Multi-Tasking Tool

Two essential tools for the efficient use of a Brick Oven are a scraper and a brush. Many people buy them separately, but why? This old US made scraper/brush combo is over fifteen years old, and has years of use left. And I leave it outside hanging on the oven.

Just last weekend I cooked pizza for nine people on the hottest day of the year, with a blazing hot oak/pine fire, and never even broke a sweat. I could do that because of the efficiency of the scraper/brush. Let’s begin with the most useful side–the scraper.

Scraper and Bulldozer

The scraper side serves two important functions, which are scraping, and bulldozing. As a scraper it performs both maintenance and cooking functions. The long handle allows its use as an ash remover, as it reaches all the way to the back of even a large oven. Many modern ovens, like mine, have an ash slot where the remains of yesterday’s fire can be easily scraped away.

Secondly, if you’re making bread or even just baking, the scraper allows one to reposition the fire and/or coals easily, which is a skill that I will address in a later post.

If you’re into pizza or baking, this thing can bulldoze any fire into the back of the oven, which is a necessity when making pizza. Once that is done, it’s time to put the brush to work.

Don’t Brush Your Hair with it

That rather dangerous looking wire brush is really a preliminary clean up tool. It removes most of the ashes from a working fire, as well as small embers and stray pieces of wood. It prepares the surface of the brick oven for the final tool that is needed for the cooking of a pizza–a mop. That will be one of the last two tools I will discuss, but that is a whole another post.

Brick Oven Tools–Welding Gloves

Out with the Old, in with the New

When I first bought my copy of The Bread Builders, from which I took the design for my brick oven, I loved the cover. It was a picture of a hippy looking dude with tattoos all over his arms, taking a round loaf out of a bread oven. Only most of his arms were covered up by a whacking big pair of welding gloves. Why welding gloves?

Check out the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the official group that lays out the rules for traditional pizza. First, it can only be cooked in a wood burning oven. Second, it has to be cooked in a temperature range of between 806-896 degrees F. 900 degrees F is also a common metric. That’s hot enough to burn the soot off of the interior of the bread oven. And in fact, it does. Hence the need for welding gloves.

My new pair of gloves are identical to what my original pair looked like, though they are still blue (they won’t stay that way long). I left my old pair outside on the oven one night, and a varmint, probably a raccoon, absconded with the right one. The bad news is that I am right handed.

So it was time for Amazon once again. Fifteen years later, they were still the same price. Our corporate overlord Bezos comes through again.

Morel Omelette

Breakfast is Served

I may be the only person in North America who puts dried mushrooms on my Christmas list every year. First on the list are Morels, as they are something of an extravagance, and are five times more expensive than dried Porcini mushrooms.

I always get Morels from the Left Coast, from Pistol River Mushrooms in Oregon, and the quality is always superb. My two favorite Morel dishes are Turkey Breasts in Morel Cream Sauce, and this Morel Omelette. As it was a holiday this July 4th, why not go for the gold?

Ingredients

2-3 large Morels, rehydrated and chopped

Morel Water

1 sweet Pepper, chopped

3 Scallions, chopped

3 Eggs

1/4 cup diced Ham

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese

Parsley

Salt and Pepper

Diced tomatoes are also great in this, but I forgot to add them. Begin by cooking the pepper and the white part of the chopped scallion in olive oil. Then add the morels. In the meantime, mix the rest of the ingredients together, including the green parts of the scallion. When the veg is cooked, pour in the egg mixture, and have a 400 degree F oven ready. No omelette folding or flipping here.

After the egg mixture has started to set up, throw the whole thing in the oven. Have a cup of coffee and chicory, and listen to Beethoven or Wagner. Then take it out when it’s firm, and serve a couple of people with this. An English muffin goes well with it.

I never use all of the Morel water, as it is always full of grit from the wild harvested fungi. I should start using the method described by Marcella Hazan in the priceless Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. There she describes how Italians will filter dirty mushroom soaking water through paper towels or a fine strainer, and save it for soups and stocks. Now that’s what you call a food culture.

Sigg Bottles

Sigg Test Bottle, been through the Wars with Me

If you want a metal bottle, buy a Swiss made Sigg. I was a bottle tester for Sigg once, and I beat the ever loving hell out of the test bottle. All I could do was dent it a little.

The story: When I was in the outdoor recreation industry, our rep for the North Face picked up Sigg as a new product line. I was already on the pro staff for US made Ross Reels (a fly reel company), so he wanted me to try them out. I didn’t tell him I had had a Sigg bike bottle for years.

Rep: “Would you like a free Sigg bottle to test?”

Swag city.

Me: “Sure, but you should know that I can tear up an anvil.”

Rep: “You will love these. They are as close to bombproof as they come.”

Was he ever right. I still have the test bottle in the picture, and have worn some paint off it, but it will probably last longer than I will. At least it will keep me from being thirsty for many years to come.