Great Food Poetry, Part II–“After Apple Picking”

We picked blueberries in the 85 degree F heat today for about thirty minutes, until we finally said, Fornicate It, the birds can have as many as they want. Then my favorite food poem came to mind, written by the magnificently wicked Robert Frost. Here it is, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation:

After Apple-Picking

BY ROBERT FROST

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

The bad news is we will have more blueberries in a few days.

Boeuf Maison

Winter in the Southern Appalachians

Though the Appalachians extend all the way up to the northern sections of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. and actually into the French territory of St. Pierre, off the Canadian coast, we are already seeing signs of spring down here on the distant southern end. High temperatures are in the sixties and seventies, and the wild blueberries are blooming along our riverfront. It’s time for some outdoor cooking.

Perhaps in honor of the French end of our mountains, I gave this dish the somewhat ridiculous name of Boeuf Maison, which is best translated as “Home Cooked Beef.” It is better when cooked outdoors. It is also ludicrously simple, which is why I gave it a fancy French name, to make it sound difficult.

Ingredients

Lard

Beef Roast (I always get local grass fed, when available), marinated in Salt and red Wine

Onion, chopped

28 ounces of whole canned Tomatoes (If I don’t have home canned, I use Cento Tomatoes from Italia)

Seasoning–Salt, Thyme, Oregano

That’s it. Here’s a perfect example of when the quality of ingredients and the cooking method make all the difference. It helps to have a really heavy Lodge camp dutch oven as well. The first step is probably the most important. PETA members, stop reading at this point. If you want to find some people who make PETA look rational, check out the website of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). They liberate things like pet bunnies.

Roasting Hot

The sear is the most important thing for me. I have a hot fire of hardwood and hardwood charcoal, and put the dutch oven directly above it. Add some home rendered lard, and sear away. Be brave with the brown of the sear.

Now We’re Cooking

Sear both sides of the roast nicely, and add the rough chopped onions. Rough chopped is fine, as this sauce will be strained after the dish is finished. When the onions begin to soften, add the marinade, and the tomatoes, and then the seasoning. Time for it to cook low and slow, for two or three hours.

Anticipation

Move the pot to a cooler spot in the fire, if cooking outdoors, or the lowest heat on a stove top. When the meat is completely tender, strain the sauce and nosh away. Mashed potatoes are the perfect sauce soaker.

On a serious note, and I am rarely serious, this fire pit survived the super tornado outbreak of 2011, though it was mashed completely down into the ground by a giant pine tree that fell and smashed into it. A larger pine tree was blown onto our house, and I cut it off using a German crosscut log saw. I lost a half of one roof shingle; 238 people in Alabama died, most in Tuscaloosa, the home of one of my Alma Maters.

Enterprise #34 Juicer

One Honking Big Piece of Cast Iron

Coming into the ring at over 10 pounds, this Enterprise Juicer can seriously crush some fruit or vegetable. It would probably also work as the world’s heaviest food mill, but it is something of a pain to clean. I have used it mostly to juice excess blueberries to make some pretty tasty blueberry wine. I have also juiced some key limes with it, like the one in the foreground (a Meyer lemon is behind it). I bottled and then pasteurized the juice.

Technically, the Enterprise Company called the #34 a “Combination Fruit Press.” I found this in the booklet they printed called The Enterprising Housekeeper, which I downloaded for free from one of my favorite websites, Project Gutenberg. Check it out, and download some Jane Austen novels as well, while you are there.

The screw at the pointy end is the adjustment for how fine you want the fruit pulp to be, which also determines how thoroughly crushed the fruit will be. That also determines how much juice will come from whatever you are running through this beast.

Now it is time to wander off into the weeds of food history, as these juicers were also used to produce “meat juice.” This came right along with the worldwide craze for a product known as Valentines Meat Juice, which was a huge seller from 1871 onwards, and naturally, it was a Southern product from Richmond, Virginia. Four pounds of heated (not cooked) raw beef produced just two ounces of meat juice, which is more accurately called myoglobin.

The Enterprise company especially recommended giving meat juice to invalids. Nothing like giving the remnants of raw squeezed beef to invalids. Food crazes never fail to entertain. I hope the Paleo crowd doesn’t find out about this.

Steamed Sponge Cake with Fresh Berries and Cream

That’s a Spring Dessert

We have wild blueberries in the woods, and fresh strawberries at the Festhalle, our local farmer’s market. How about a spring dessert?

Just cut up the strawberries, and add some sugar. The blueberries don’t need anything but their own fine selves. Whip up some heavy cream and steam a sponge cake.

Ingredients for the Sponge Cake

2 organic Eggs

1/2 cup organic Sugar

Vanilla

Meyer Lemon Juice

1/2 cup Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Separate the eggs, and turn the whites into a meringue with the sugar. I used our thirty year old Kitchen Aid, but a whisk will do as well. Add the yolks, vanilla, and lemon juice, beat for a minute or so, and then slowly fold in the flour and baking powder. Butter a baking dish, and get to steaming.

San Fran Wok with a Homemade Lid

I bought a USA made wok from the Wok Shop in San Fran, but made my own lid out of an old mixing bowl. The knob is dogwood that I turned on my lathe. The lid is exactly the right size. It accommodates a steaming rack and a cake pan.

Cake passing the Toothpick Test

The steamed cake has a wonderful texture and taste. It better, as it has all that juice to soak up. The last bite, which is nothing but cake mush and berry juice, is the best.

Wild Blueberries

The Caviar of Berries

The first wild blueberries are ripe here, which is the cause for some serious noshing (see the next post). These tiny buckshot sized berries have a mind blowing sharpness of taste.

Every other year I will spend an hour or so picking enough of these little devils to make one of my favorite sauces. Here it is: Wild Blueberry Sauce. Serve it on crepes or any pastry.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Butter

1 cup of Wild Blueberries

2 tablespoons of Honey

Juice of 1 Key Lime

2 drinks of Brandy (One for the dish, one for the cook)

Cook the blueberries in the butter, and then add the other ingredients. More or less honey may be needed depending on the tartness of the berries. Lemon juice can be substituted for the limes, but I always use what I have (my wife grows Key Limes and Meyer Lemons). A crepe is really just a thin pancake, but once again, everything sounds better in French. You could use cognac instead of brandy, but they’re just different priced versions of the same thing.

Honey Blueberry Glazed Ham

Easter Ham, which will be around a while

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).

The Glaze

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.

Juicer, Old School

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.

Blueberry Honey Pancakes

Wild Blueberries in Bloom

The wild blueberries are blooming here now, as well as the peach trees. Give it up, winter. Spring is ready to take over.

Siehe, der Lenz lacht in den Saal!

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre

Maybe spring isn’t exactly laughing in the hall, as Herr Wagner put it, but it is time to get ready for it.

Peach Blossoms

That means the cultivated blueberries are not far behind in blooming, but I STILL HAVE A FREEZER FULL OF BLUEBERRIES FROM LAST YEAR. In an amazing moment of insanity, I planted six nice cultivars of “Rabbiteye” blueberries, which means I have enough blueberries every year to feed a family of fifty. I’m tired of blueberry wine and blueberry jam. Let’s make some pancakes, about fourteen or sixteen.

Ingredients

1/2 cup All Purpose Flour

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

2 pinches salt

1 tablespoon Honey

1 Egg

Milk

60+ Blueberries

Butter for Cooking

Mix the dry ingredients first, then add the wet. How much milk? Enough to get the desired consistency. Less milk means more cake to the pancake, more means more crepe like pancakes. Do I really count the blueberries? No.

Frozen Blueberries

Blueberries are the easiest fruit to freeze, and about half of one of these handy little containers is about right. Add those last, and, and mix in with a tablespoon. That tablespoon is also used to measure out the pancakes.

Heat up a griddle to hot, and then add the butter. As soon as the butter melts to the foaming stage, turn the burner down to as low as it will go. Cast iron is the easiest thing to cook pancakes on, but for speed I use a carbon steel crepe pan–and yes, it is French, so give me a break.

A heaping tablespoon of the Berry/Batter mixture makes a nice small pancake. Serve with syrup if that’s what you like. Maple is traditional, but sorghum and cane (Alaga brand) is also popular around here. Tulip poplar and hickory are also available, so I may try those as well, as we have plenty of both trees on our property.