Fans of English Hand Tools–Buy Now!

I just got this email from Classic Hand Tools, a great English tool seller–the crashing pound is going to mean large price increases. In their own words:

Our new mob in control in No.10 have tried something radical to boost the UK economy. Only time will tell whether their gamble will be justified. All we know is that the pound has tanked a massive amount and big price rises are now on the very near horizon for your premium hand tools. We will do our best to be as skinny with margins as possible but that won’t stop prices increasing soon. We have been saying this for a while but we didn’t expect the pound to be hammered so hard. Luckily we have got reasonable stock levels on many lines but that won’t last too long. 

Classic Hand Tools

I have an Ashley Isles turning tool on the way already, but I will scour the inter webs to see if I need anything else, although truthfully, I have almost reached the point of Maximum Tool. I suppose there is always good old fashioned hoarding.

Rhode Island White Chickens–A Threatened Heritage Breed

12 Week Old RI Whites

How we ended up with four Rhode Island White “Starter” chickens is the typical story of if your head is hard enough, beating it against the wall eventually works. After a few Google searches, I finally found four local sellers who hatched their own chickens. The first three I called didn’t answer, and had no voicemail. The fourth answered on the first ring, and promptly put me on a waiting list for chickens which would be ready for sale in a week. I made the cut, and drove up to the community of Battleground to pick them up.

Did he have the chickens! The first group I saw was a flock of a few hundred Rhode Island Whites, which were a special order from a hatchery. My chicks were part of an “overrun” set of hens, which were the result of an excess production of chickens, that the hatchery did not want. During my drive home, I had time to think about why chickens that look this fine are threatened as a breed. I came up with two good reasons.

The first is that correlation does not equal causation, a common mistake among our poorly educated population. Consider the following parody:

All Cats are Gray at Night

All White Chickens Look Alike

They don’t, except on a superficial level. Similarly, just because the words Rhode Island appear in Rhode Island Red chickens and Rhode Island White chickens, that the whites are only a white version of the reds. They aren’t. Whites are a well documented breed that is the result of crossing three different breeds that was introduced in 1888. Rhode Island Reds were developed by a number of breeders using a large range of different brown chicken breeds. The names are the result of geography, not merely genetics.

The larger issue is that Big Chicken, and Big Ag in general, ruins everything it touches. The myth that industrial production is more “efficient” than local food production finally took it on the nose this past summer, as even politicians are lamenting how expensive their crudité has gotten. Dudes, try shopping somewhere other than the supermarket–a farmer’s market, maybe.

At any rate, the big decline in Rhode Island White numbers in the 1960’s corresponds with the corporate takeover of food distribution that occurred at the same time. In this case, correlation can be proven to be causation as well, with independently verifiable evidence. Now that the system of Big Chicken is beginning to show its weaknesses, from Bird Flu caused by overcrowding and poor sanitation, to high prices brought on by equally greedy corporations, like Big Oil, will local production step in and fill the void? Is that flock of hundreds of Rhode Island Whites a sign or an aberration? History, in the long term, favors the sustainable, in whatever form it may take.

Making Tasso Ham


Tasso ham is not really ham, in the common sense of the word, as it is usually made with pork shoulder, aka Boston butt. Going back in time, this Louisiana seasoning product was made from any trimming leftover from a hog killing. The only constant is the combination of spices and smoke, that make this a red beans and rice all star.


Sliced Pork Shoulder Strips


Cayenne Pepper


Salt and Pepper

This constitutes the dry rub, and the amount of each spice depends on the quantity of pork strips. At this point the pork strips need to dry uncovered in the refriginator a minimum of three days. Then it’s time to crank up the smoke house.

More Smokin’

This old school smokehouse, right down to the hanging strip of fly paper, is now fully operational. The external smoke source is an old steel wood stove connected via a stove pipe. This Tasso was smoked for two and a half hours with green Maple at about 150 degrees F. The char patterns on the Tasso in the photo are from the smoke, not heat. The big piece of pork shoulder in the pic was destined to be barbecue.

After the Tasso has cooled, cut it into cubes and chunk it into a freezer bag. Like the frugal ant in the ant and grasshopper fable, we will have smokey dishes all winter, while the grasshoppers have to dine on McRib mystery meat barbecue sandwiches.

Local Brew: Goat Island Brewing Oktoberfest Lager

Oktoberfest South

Goat Island Brewing’s Oktoberfest beer is not actually made in the community of Berlin, Alabama–locals call it “Bur-lin”–but just a few miles to the west, in the town of Cullman. Cullman is in fact named after founder Johannes Gottfried Kullman, who was a “Colonel” in one of the many German revolts against royalty in 1848-1849. After revolt after revolt in Germany failed, Kullman thought it wise to relocate to the constitutional Republic of the USA.

Goat Island is becoming another craft brewery that is growing every year. The Oktoberfest is a well behaved lager, that could easily be drunk by the pint. It doesn’t hurt that they have beers with clever names, like Peace, Love and Hippieweisen, a wheat beer made with Alabama summer weather in mind. It also doesn’t hurt that their Duck River Dunkel won a silver medal at the Great American beer Festival in Denver in 2018. Not bad for a small Southern brewery.

Goat Island is an actual place, a small island just offshore in the Smith Lake impoundment. Legend has it that a single goat was marooned there as the waters rose, and spent a solitary life as the only one of his kind on the island. Someone could at least have taken him a beer.

Cyclamen September

A Time to Bloom

Having lain dormant all summer, the first late summer rains woke up the Cyclamen. Our middling sized rock garden is literally covered with them–they bloom where they were planted a couple of decades ago, and volunteers have spread as much as 50 feet away. As the seeds are believed to be spread by ants, uphill or downhill makes no difference. It’s just all as the ant walks.

A close examination of the lowest group of pink blooms reveals a glimpse of a dinner plate sized corm, which was the first Cyclamen I planted. It has offspring galore–blooming among rocks, under shrubs, and even out in our concrete path, where just a little soil has accumulated.

Here’s the plan–this fall I am going to transplant a few Cyclamen to the area around our outdoor kitchen. Then a whole new colony will have plenty of room to spread. Ants get ready, as acres of woods surround it.

I’itoi Onions at Ten Days

I’itoi’s Truckin’

I’itoi onions are the kind of vegetable that could make the owner of a Chia pet jealous.Brought to the desert Southwest by Jesuit missionaries around 1699 to 1700, the I’toi proved to be ideal for the type of agriculture practiced by the native Tohono O’odham peoples, known as Ak cin, which means watching for summertime monsoon rains. When rain was coming, crops such as these onions were planted, and the onions sprouted to edible size in a small number of days.

My two miniature Sonoran Deserts in a pot are a combination of well composted chicken manure with a couple of handfuls of masonry sand. Growing in containers will insure that the desert onions will have plenty of drainage when we receive one of our monsoon level rains. Having grown these before, I know it also won’t be long before these onions will be ready to be divided, and we will be in onions forever, unless we neglect them.

I’itoi onions can be used as something of a giant version of chives, by clipping just the green parts. They also can be used, Louisiana style, as a fast growing shallot. As a plant that has made it on this side of the pond for over three hundred years, it is an heirloom among heirlooms.


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