Inspired by one of my all time favorite television shows, Shaun the Sheep, I put my very own mini-junkyard in my new chicken fortress (the sheep flock in the show spend hours jimmying with the discards in their junkyard) . It’s only an old wheelbarrow, but the chicks can run for cover under it whenever they get buzzed by a hawk. Just today, the entire flock was snoozing under it.
The old fellow lost its wheel while getting dragged up there to the fortress. I hand mixed tons of concrete in this thing, and the dents prove it. No worries, however–I have a new red wheelbarrow.
The Gumbo Gala began with a disaster and ended up as a celebration. Some families who lost houses during Hurricane Katrina arrived in Birmingham looking for shelter, and ended up at the worthy non-profit Episcopal House. The resulting synergy led to the creation of the Gumbo Gala, a combination cooking-Cajun Music party. It’s now the largest Gumbo cooking competition in the Southeast.
Held at historic Sloss Furnaces, the competition will have almost forty teams competing this year.
Schedule–Saturday, May 4, 2019
11:00 AM-2:00 PM
This is a fundraiser for the Episcopal House, so show some love. Tickets are $20 a head for adults, but kids are admitted free.
Thanks to our corporate overlord, Jeff Bezos, and his minions at Whole Foods, we actually had a decent ham for Easter. Still staring at a freezer full of blueberries, we decided to make a new and different glaze for the spiral sliced ham (pre-cooked. Thanks, Mr. Bezos).
Honey to taste
1 tablespoon Sorghum Molasses
The Juice of four cups of Blueberries
Juice of one Lemon
Mix these together, and boil until the glaze thickens slightly. Stud the ham with cloves, glaze, and cook until the ham is warmed through, and the glaze is shiny.
Don’t have a couple of cups of blueberry juice handy? Then whip out your Enterprise #34 cast iron juicer.
Weighing in at a mere 14 pounds, this thing has never met a berry it couldn’t juice. These are readily available on eBay. A food processor and a strainer will work as well, but don’t really make a statement like this beast does.
As the talented James Hemings and the fastidious Thomas Jefferson brought this dish from France to the brand new USA, I make this Frenchified Macs and Cheese regularly. It’s especially good with Easter Ham, or any other ham. Or anything else.
The plan here is to start with a béchamel sauce, turn it into a variety of mornay sauce, and then add the cooked macaroni, which in Jefferson’s day was just a generic term for pasta. Then it can all sit until it’s time to warm it in the oven.
For the Béchamel Sauce
2 tablespoons Organic Butter
2 tablespoons Flour
Salt and Pepper
For the Mornay Sauce
1/3 cup each of grated Colby and Cheddar Cheese
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan Cheese
For the Finishing Touch
1 cup Macaroni, cooked in salted water
Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the flour, and cook while stirring for a minute or two. This is a blonde roux, so don’t let it darken. Add enough milk to make a fairly thin sauce, as the cheese is the main thickener. A thorough whisking will be required to remove all the lumps. Season, and taste.
The next step is crucial. Add the cheese, and heat to the point of melting. DO NOT let the sauce boil at this point. The cheese will separate into its various components if exposed to an excessive temperature. After the cheese has melted, add the strained macs. I use one of those Chinese spider strainer thingys to scoop them out of the pot. All that’s left to do at this point is to put the macs in a casserole, and heat them in the oven at suppertime, or any time.
Mr. Jefferson was often derided for being “more French than American” by his political enemies, despite the fact that he wrote The Declaration of Independence. The farmers knew better. Not long after his inauguration, a group of dairy farmers began making him what was billed as “A Mammoth Cheese.” The finished wheel of cheese was engraved with the words, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” The cheese weighed 1230 pounds when it reached Washington. How many servings of macs and cheese this made is not recorded.
Dwarf Gray Sugar is the best edible podded pea for this part of the South, the lower Southern Appalachians. First introduced in 1881, this has heirloom strength combined with vigorous growth. It also has ornamental bicolor pink and purple blossoms.
Early spring or early fall. Spring is the best time for planting here, on the border between USDA hardiness zones 7 & 8. Global warming (ACD-Anthropogenic Climate Disruption) has made the timing a crap shoot, and I now bet on mid-February. A few years ago our last freeze date was February 9; this year, March 30. Roll the dice, and be ready to re-plant.
1″, as with most peas.
For reasons explained below, I don’t plant rows, but arrange the peas a couple of inches apart around my tomato cage trellis, which is tomato cages arranged in a zig zag pattern. I hang garden twine off the tops to provide more support for the vines.
Dwarf, you say? Here’s where I get to quote Stanley Kowalski telling off Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire: “And do you know what I say? Ha ha! Do you hear me? Ha ha ha!” The first time I planted these I believed the “doesn’t need a trellis” bit, and they fell over at about four feet tall. I would write off this year’s growth to the 19″ of rain we’ve had since February 1, but they grow like this every year.
Still tender at 3″; also stringless.
Time to Harvest
Depending on weather, anywhere from 70 to 100 days in our climate.
There really aren’t any fertilization requirements, as peas are nitrogen setting. A fertile soil never hurts, however.
The most famous Southern pea eater was Thomas Jefferson, who participated in a pea growing competition every year in his part of Albemarle County, Virginia. The winner was the farmer who could produce the earliest crop. However, even then, Jefferson noted that green peas were being replaced by the African crop field peas, because of their heat tolerance.
For the record, our terminology is as follows: Pisum sativum varieties are known here as English peas or green peas; the more common Vigna unguiculata are known as field peas and cowpeas, though usually just peas. Most modern Southerners have probably never seen a fresh English pea.
Pepper sauce is the stuff that legends are made of. I have heard and read stories of pepper sauce that is twenty five years old, and of a bottle of it that was included in a will. It is as Southern as it gets, and like all things Southern, it is complex in its simplicity.
Vinegar (White is traditional)
Hot Peppers (Cayenne in our area)
The last ingredient is the most difficult one. Find a nice container (I especially like these decorative Italian wine/oil/limoncello bottles), and fill it with the hot pepper of your choice. Pour in some hot vinegar, cork it, and wait. And wait. And wait.
There are any number of optional ingredients, like salt and garlic, but I never mess with a good thing. As the peppers lose their capsaicin over time, remove and replace them with fresh ones. This sauce is used on just about everything edible or semi-edible, but I reserve mine for greens. This and some collards stewed with seasoning meat is just about as good as it gets.
“If chickens were rare, it would be the most expensive meat in the world.” So said one of the real estate barons in Birmingham. No dish is more Southern than chicken, but instead of fried chicken, let’s go with roasted. Marinate overnight, then roast with the vegetables, and make a gravy with the pan juices–called “drippings”in the South.
For the Saumure (That just means marinade, but everything sounds better in French)
Two quarts Water
Two Tablespoons Sea Salt
Spices-Cloves and Allspice
Herbs-Thyme and Bay Leaves
Boil this, let it cool, and give the bird an overnight bath in the fridge.
For the Herb Butter
Softened Organic Butter (Quantity depends on the size of the bird)
Fresh Thyme and Parsley
Scallions (I grew those)
Grab your favorite roasting pan/pot (mine is cast iron), and put the thoroughly dried chicken right in the middle. Arrange the vegetables around it. Massage the bird with the herb butter, and put it in a 375 degree F oven. Most birds will be done in an hour, or a little more. Then comes the fun part.
After testing for doneness with the old thigh prick method, set the bird on a platter to rest. If the potatoes are not done, put them on to boil. Strain the pan juices and make an old fashioned gravy with a butter and flour roux, milk, and the strained drippings. The gravy will definitely need pepper, and possibly salt as well. The potatoes can be served whole or mashed. Add a vegetable side dish or two, and become the happiest eater that you have been in a while. So much for fried chicken.
Having scored a pillow sized bag of greens and some fresh pasture-raised eggs from our local farmer’s market, at the Festhalle, we decided it was quiche time again. We had our own fresh herbs to add to the mix. This is my old recipe, with a fresh local twist.
One handful of Greens, shredded (We bought Collards)
4 organic Eggs
Heavy Cream (Enough to fill the Crust)
Fresh Herbs, chopped (We had Chervil and Parsley)
Salt and Pepper
Again, crank your oven up to 400 degrees F, as this pie crust goes in uncooked. Add the chopped pieces of the cheese into the uncooked pie shell, and then the ham. Saute the greens in butter until soft (my wife prefers collards to be boiled, but I was cooking). Mix the cream and egg mixture together, with the sauteed greens and chopped herbs, and season. Pour that over the filling in the pie shell, season with nutmeg, and bake. Ours cooked for 65 minutes. The result is as close to edible green eggs and ham as you will ever get, and will even make you feel good about eating all that cheese and cream.