Planting Asparagus

Spargelzeit

This will be the fourth time I’ve planted asparagus crowns, aka roots, and these are two years old, which will give us a good decade of Asparagus spears every spring. This year, however, I have the secret weapon that my family used when I was very young, and that would be well composted chicken manure. We had the finest patch of Asparagus in several counties.

As the temps are to be in the upper 50’s F this weekend, it will be a good time for a labor intensive project. The crowns need to be planted fairly deep, around six inches, and spread out properly. My garden is mostly sand, which means they need to be planted even a little deeper than usual.

I bought these crowns from Amazon for a ridiculously low price, and to my surprise, they shipped from Shanghai, China. Amazon has even outsourced vegetables. I was amused to learn this week that our corporate overlord Bezos had his phone hacked by the Saudi royal family. That will teach him about dealing with other royalty.

I’ll soak my crowns in water tomorrow, and plant on Saturday. To quote the great Wendell Berry,

“Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth.”

Then I will try to find out the Chinese term for Spargelzeit, which is German for Asparagus time.

Lodge Commemorative and Wildlife Pieces

More Cast Iron

A trip to the Lodge Factory Store in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is a dangerous thing, if you have more cast iron cookware than every other kind combined. My wife Melanie Jane and I went there in December with the purpose of buying Christmas presents for her family, and we came back with seven pieces of cookware, and only four of those were presents.

Pictured is a commemorative skillet for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s the most biodiverse park in the country, and the most biodiverse temperate area on the planet. It’s also surrounded by some of the worst tourist traps in the world.

We bought as presents some of the Wildlife Series skillets, which had Mallards on the back of them, some real cast iron ducks at that. The link will take you to a complete set of the most useful pieces.

I once ran into the top Lodge marketers, at of all places, Salt Lake City in Utah, at an outdoor trade show. In amongst all the ultra light weight camping equipment was a display of cast iron which probably came in at about a ton. I had to check out the Dutch ovens and skillets, which made up most of the display.

I identified myself as being a fellow Southerner, and asked them what the hell they were doing with all this cast iron at a high tech outdoor show. They laughed, and waited until every Western looking person was gone, and one of them said very quietly, “Half the people out here still think they’re cowboys, and have to have our skillets and Dutch ovens. It’s one of our biggest markets.” The new Lodge cast iron care brochure is in nine languages, by the way.

What did I buy in December? My fourth Dutch oven, and I have only had to chase cows on foot.

Seventy Degrees in January

Green Grass in the Middle of Winter
And Crocus

I have been writing about Global Warming since the 1990’s, but this year already looks like a real doozy. For four of the next seven days we have a forecast high in the seventies. And we are not coastal, but are in the Appalachian Mountains, where the normal highs are twenty degrees cooler than that.

Technically, Global Warming is called Anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) or Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW). I prefer the latter. I will not use the weasel term climate change, which was promoted by a right wing political consultant, who had the nickname of “Turd Blossom.” Appropriate. I would imagine the people of Australia are probably using the phrase hell on earth right now.

What will this do to the food supply? Probably nothing good. My family stopped farming row crops in the seventies, when the heat really began to increase, and the summer rain diminished. My conclusion is, invest in irrigation companies.

Making Stock, and Taking Stock

Duck! It’s Duck Stock!

We munched on our enormous Christmas duck for three days, and I turned the carcass into my favorite, duck stock. That made some serious Creole Onion Soup. Making stock, unlike pimping, is easy.

Ingredients

One dismembered Body, of Poultry or other Beast

One Onion, cut into quarters

Head of Garlic, halved crossways (kreuzweise)

One Carrot

One stem of Celery

Salt, Pepper, and Herbs

Water to cover

That’s it. I like to fry the Duck bits to start rendering out the fat, and to make the stock a little brown, before I add the other ingredients. I use even the onion and garlic skins, which is a crime to some people, but they add even more flavor, and make me feel even more like a skinflint. And with the Duck, there is also this–Duck fat skimmed off the top of the stock.

This is Fat

Though I am not a fat animal, I am a firm believer in animal fat, as it is usually wasted by most cooks. Duck fat is among the best, and most domestic ducks have plenty of it. It adds great flavor to any dish.

Cook the stock for as long as you want. I just put mine in a giant stockpot, and go off and do something else, and forget about it. Three hours later, the magic has happened–I have stock, which can be frozen or put in the fridge. It’s the best investment in stock you can make, with the exception of the time when I could have bought Apple stock for $1 a share. Now there is a sad story.

Lard Help Us, Part Three–Rendering Lard

Liquid Gold

We must have been particularly good last year, as we received $125 of gift cards for Christmas to our two best local meat producers, and then a real kicker, a giant cooler full of meat from cows and pigs grown by my brother and sister in law. We probably have about a six month supply of meats.

The first to go were some pork chops, which were the finest I’ve eaten since childhood. I made two into schnitzels (take that, Deutschland), and the other two are now marry-nating. And that was one fat hog, so I trimmed the chops and rendered down some lard from the fat.

Low and Slow

The key to proper rendering is to melt the fat at the lowest possible temperature, so I set my 6000 BTU burner at its bottom level. The lard is rendered when the fat turns into rinds, and stops sizzling.

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

After a night in the fridge, the lard congeals and is ready to use. Never make any beef dish without it, and never buy commercially produced lard, if possible.

Italian Food in a Tube

Pasta, Please

Having received three books on Tuscan cooking for Christmas, I am now even more against processed or imported food than before, and in favor of nothing but local food. However, there is always an exception to every rule, and these Italian ingredients in a tube are mine. The packaging is minimal, the product stays fresh forever, and these will turn any bland dish into something tasty.

The Pesto paste is basil, sunflower and olive oil, salt, pine nuts, and garlic. Having made pesto in the past with sunflower kernels instead of pine nuts, due to the cost of pine nuts, this is a winner. A small amount of this is all that’s needed in most pasta sauces.

The Garlic puree is, well, pureed garlic with oil. I grow garlic, but sometimes a tube snatched out of the fridge is much easier than chopping and smashing. It is also very inexpensive, and there is no jar to clutter up things.

My favorite, however, is the tomato paste in a tube. Even our local supermarket carries one brand of this. The triple concentrated version in the picture is a superb product. I use it to fortify sauces made from our sometimes watery local tomatoes, instead of cooking the sauce down for an inordinate amount of time. The double concentrated paste will work as well, but has less of a punch.

So there we have the Italian flag, which is often referred to as basil, garlic, and tomato, because of the colors of three favorite Italian ingredients (sometimes mozzarella is used instead of garlic). All this just makes me crave for a pizza margherita.

Optimus 45 Retrofit–Cobra Burner, Heater Dome, and Flame Spreader

The great things about decades old designs are that they work consistently, last forever, and acquire all manner of add ons. This seventies vintage Optimus 45 kerosene stove has any number of improvements and additions. I will go from the most complex to the simplest.

Cobra Burner

The Cobra Burner, aka the Silent Burner, was originally made for the Optimus 48 stove. It didn’t take long before campers found out it also fit the 45. Though no longer made in Sweden, these burners are widely available, as they are made in at least two south Asian countries, where these wonderful stoves are often the main cooking utensils used. Allegedly, they are widely used in Himalayan base camps–by the guides. I bought my parts from Julian Shaw in the UK, via fleaBay. He knows his stuff.

This was my first choice for a Christmas present. It turned out the complete assembly was comprised of eight parts, with no instructions for assembly. I suspect this burner was made in India, which is the primary source of reproduction stoves of this variety (the other is Malaysia). There are also very high quality versions of this stove made in Japan, at an also very high quality price.

After some research, I assembled the burner in the proper sequence. The jet was clogged, and needed a thorough cleaning to even operate. Then it still roared, though less than the original burner. On the sixth trial run, the magic happened–it began burning “silently,” which is actually a very quiet hissing sound.

After a few minutes of observation, I came up with what the American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce called an “abduction,” which was his term for the process that is used to create a hypothesis: The sound and heat level was determined by the amount of pressure in the stove tank. I tested it again, and was proven to be correct, as all it took was more pumping with the pump on the right side of the stove, to produce the classic blue flame.

Roasting Hot

Heater Dome

This simple device fits any stove with a ring, regardless of manufacturer, and produces prodigious amounts of heat. There are pictures on the internet of these glowing red. After reading Into the Wild, I am never going to use this inside a tent, which was its original purpose. It will make a great hand warmer in the outdoor kitchen during the winter.

Hot and Getting Hotter

Flame Spreader

I also upgraded the old Roarer Burner with a flame spreader. It really helps to intensify the heat from the original burner.

Red, not Blue, Flame
Brass Flame Spreader

This flame spreader just sits on the top ledge of the burner. The next addition is a companion brass windscreen.

My wife Melanie Jane thinks this thing looks like a baby Dalek, after the alien villains in the BBC show Doctor Who. However, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a gear head is a gear head, is a gear head, is a gear head.