Thomas Jefferson, Mary Randolph, James Hemings, and Curly Fries

That’s right, a founding Father, a founding Mother and Father of American cooking, and the venerable curly fries. Venerable? The recipe goes back to 1824, and helps to answer the vexing question that many parents with small children face–“Mommy, Daddy, where did curly fries come from?”

As usual, there is an easy answer, and a complicated one, which is partly an exercise in probability. The easy answer is that the first printed recipe for curly fries is from Mary Randolph, and her 1824 bestseller The Virginia Housewife. From the section, “To Fry Sliced Potatos.”

Peel large potatos, slice them about a quarter inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or drippings. Take care that your fat and frying-pan are quite clean. . .

Mary Randolph

Cooked in lard over a wood fire! Possibly the best of all time. I’ll try these in the event that our high temps ever drop below ninety.

Here’s a list of probable sources–Mary Randolph herself. She was a real business woman, and nothing creates more business than novelty. Alas, she was not a chef, but an owner and a writer. Probability–moderate.

Next source–Thomas Jefferson. He is regularly given credit for introducing French Fries to America, which at the time were widely known as “pommes de terre frites à cru en petites tranches.” Translation: small potato slices fried raw. In short, exactly like Mary Randolph’s first version of fried potatoes. Alas, Jefferson was no cook. One of his servants said that the only thing Jefferson could do in the kitchen was wind the clock. Probability–low.

The next candidate–James Hemings, the man who actually did the cooking for Jefferson. He studied with two French chefs while in Paris, served as Jefferson’s chef, and undoubtedly ran across pommes frites, as the potato was making its magnificent debut in French cuisine. James taught his brother Peter French cooking, and Peter moved to Richmond, which happened to be where Mary Randolph set up business, as he, like his enslaved brother, were freed by Mr. Jefferson. Probability James or Peter introduced the curly fries–high.

Let’s head to left field and the capital of Nerdlandia. Here’s a possible method of transmission. Jefferson and Franklin both attended elaborate potato themed dinners thrown by the guru of French potato cultivation, Monsieur Parmentier, of Potage Parmentier fame, aka, Leek and Potato soup. Parmentier was like the original potato apostle, and would serve seven consecutive courses, all of which featured potatoes. Did his chef invent curly fries, or even Parmentier himself? Probability–total speculation.

I’ll leave you with Mary Randolph’s final suggestion, which is a must–when you take the curly fries out of the lard, don’t forget the salt.

A Great French Style Salad Dressing

I bought a bottle of Walnut Oil to use as a food safe wood finish. The wonderful smell got to me, and I had to splurge and make some salad dressing with it. It will be difficult to use any other dressing, after tasting this.

Recipe

3 tablespoons Walnut Oil

1 tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard

Honey to taste

Salt and Pepper

Fresh Herbs–Basil, Parsley, and/or Oregano

Simply whisk all of these together, taste it, try not to salivate, and you’re done. This is plenty for two salads.

If you spill some Walnut oil on your cutting board, no worries–it’s the finest food safe finish around, and it will just make your kitchen small better. It is a bit pricey, and imagine this moocher’s reaction when he found the same amount of oil for $1 cheaper at–audible gasp–Whole Foods.

Crudité Dipping Sauce

World’s Smallest Crudite Platter

My lunches are minimal, as I can prove by this dish. I load up on the other two meals, and this is a chance to eat healthy. However, I still like a sauce that has a good amount of fat in it.

Sweet Sour Hot Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup Mayonnaise

1 tablespoon whole grain Mustard

1 tablespoon Honey

1 teaspoon white wine Vinegar

Pinch of Salt

Sriracha, or other hot sauce, to taste

You can up the quantities as much as you like. I make my own mustard, and should also make my own mayo, as I finally learned how. Creole mustard would be an excellent substitute for homemade, though the basic recipe for making it is readily available. This is also a choose your own veg deal.

MJ has been known to yell “vegetarian” at me when she sees this spread. Not likely–I’m the one who grinds the meat, and makes the burgers.

Four French Hens

Proper Eggs need a Proper Basket

I don’t know the name of the sadist who wrote that never-ending Christmas song, “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but I fixed it by buying four French hens. To be precise, four ISA Browns. They could easily bury any of us in an avalanche of eggs.

Ethel the Brown Guards the Mail

These birds are hybrids, and bred to lay more eggs than a large family can eat. We are currently supplying five families with eggs, with only eight chicks, four Browns and four Barred Rocks. Do the math.

Ethel: “This is my Best Side.”

They are also remarkably handsome birds. There must be a passage in the French constitution, after all that stuff about liberty and equality ( thank Mr. Jefferson and Monsieur Lafayette for that,) that all French exports must look great. I don’t have a problem with that.

Christmas advice: Buy American Cast Iron! Buy German Tools! Buy French anything that has to do with Food! Have a Joyous Noel!

Grillades with Mushroom Brown Sauce

Accidentally Making Great Food

If you do the right thing, Karma will treat you right. MJ and I have given away so many eggs that we are getting free food in return. Long live bartering.

Case in point was the cooler full of locally grown beef that one brother-in-law gave us, and the cow was grown by yet another brother-in-law. In the pile of meat were a couple of packs of cube steak, something I had never eaten before, and usually associated with greasy spoon diners. Then I read on the interwebs that good quality cube steak is really round steak that has been pounded flat for tenderizing. This was of the best quality, and I immediately thought: Grillades.

Turning round steak into a Grillade is the classic Southern way of turning inexpensive meat into a thing a beauty, and is sometimes referred to as fried meat a la Creole. I adapted the recipe for Grillades with Gravy from the latest reprint of the Picayune’s Creole Cook Book, and the result was unbelievably good.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Bacon Fat (Grandmother Lilian’s trick)

1/2 Onion, chopped

1 clove Garlic, diced

1 tablespoon Flour

4 inch squares of pounded Round Steak, seasoned highly with Salt and Pepper

6 large Mushrooms, sliced, and sauteed in Bacon Fat, Lard, Butter, or Oil

Water

The recipe in the cook book uses tomatoes instead of mushrooms, but we won’t have good fresh tomatoes here for a while, and I had bunches of shrooms. Begin by cooking the onion in the bacon fat for about a minute. When they begin to soften, add the garlic. Cook until you can smell the garlic but DO NOT burn it.

Add the flour, and begin the basis for a brown roux, aka a gravy. Stir regularly, as a roux is also known as “Creole Napalm.” When you get to a brown color to your liking, add the Grillades to the top of the roux, along with the mushrooms. Add the water and stir. Mine looked like this.

Simmer Time!

That’s my favorite heavy cast iron skillet. Close it about 7/8 of the way with an equally heavy cast iron lid. Stir regularly, because even with the stove set at the lowest setting, this sauce will stick and burn, and the dish is ruined. Add more water when the gravy begins to thicken excessively. Simmer a minimum of thirty minutes, though we just cook ours until it is completely tender. This cooked forty or forty five minutes.

Serve over Louisiana, or any other good, rice, and garnish with chopped parsley, unless you enjoy food that is just really brown. That was served on one of Grandmother Lilian’s Tennessee made plates. Leftovers made the best steak and biscuit with gravy, the next morning, in history.

Grillades. It’s what’s for supper.

The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, 1901 Edition Reprint

I love people who hate on Amazon and our corporate overlord Bezos, when I know that they are buying like crazy from them. Life these days would be nearly impossible without them.

I have been saving writing about this cookbook for a couple of years now, and this is only a teaser. I’ll begin with the modest assertion that this is the greatest cookbook ever written (or at least it’s my favorite). You are allowed to ask why.

First, thanks to archduke Bezos, I was able to purchase a mint quality hardback of the 1989 version of the book for $3 plus change. It is expertly edited by a great cookbook writer herself, Marcelle Bienvenu, who wrote the definitive cookbook on Cajun cooking, Who’s Your Mama…? And please don’t confuse Creole food with Cajun food, unless you want to get laughed at.

Then, the recipes are superb, especially the meat recipes for chicken, beef, and Gulf seafood, as well as every vegetable imaginable. There is even a suggestion about how to serve broiled Robins or Larks–this one is not suggested by me, but the recommendation is to serve your songbirds on buttered French toast, and garnish with parsley.

The last mystery was as to who wrote this mammoth book (this latest version is 629 pages). An intrepid young scholar at Tulane University named Rien Fertel has determined that the author was one Marie Louise Points, a writer for the Picayune, who was “from a white, French-Creole family in New Orleans; her ancestors were from Virginia and around the Gulf Coast.” This is a common enough history, as my two favorite “Louisiana” writers came from Missouri and Alabama, respectively.

Bienvenu took the interesting approach of using the recipes from the second edition, but the introduction to the first edition. Anyone who has a copy of the second edition knows why. The second edition has an introduction that contains every racist stereotype that one would expect from the city that brought us legalized segregation with the case of Plessy v Ferguson in 1896–only four years before this book was first published. Fortunately, when it comes to the kitchen, all women and men are created equal.

Spinach Quiche, and Hoya!

Stop Making so much Noise in the Bedroom

Siegfried the dog up there is as tired of Hoya! as I am. Don’t inject yourself with Lysol, eat Tide Pods, drink bleach, or try to pour Clorox into your butt. Clorox won’t run uphill anyway. There is this thing called gravity, that Sir Isaac explained to us all.

Hoya! is the term popularized by the great congress person Mo Udall from Arizona, who allegedly had it yelled at him every time he made a promise to his Native American constituents. Then he learned that Hoya! was the stuff you didn’t want to step in inside the horse pen. At least they didn’t call him Walking Eagle, which is a bird so full of stuff that it can’t fly. Only it’s not stuff. It’s more like Hoya!

So I will bore you with another quiche recipe, after that rant, just because I read someone on the interwebs who described herself as a “classically trained chef,” making a Spinach Quiche with a frozen supermarket crust, and a package of frozen spinach. My classical training came from my grandmother Lily, and she would have beaten the Hoya! out of me if I had suggested such a thing. Her specialties were wild rabbit and dumplings, fried rabbit with gravy, fried chicken, any greens (collards, turnip, mustard), and cinnamon rolls. She also made pancakes without a pan.

The last one was the money shot. She would crank up her potbellied coal stove, and wipe off the top with one of her flour sack towels (which she made with her foot powered Singer sewing machine). Then the butter went on, directly on the top, and then the batter she kept in her 1940’s era GE fridge, which she had painted multiple times. The pancakes were always superb, served with Alaga syrup, on Blue Ridge plates. She never bought anything she couldn’t make herself. Old school reigns supreme.

At any rate, here is my completely homemade Spinach Quiche. It’s a springtime thing around here.

Crust that isn’t full of Hoya!

Ingredients

Creole Pie Crust

8 ounces Swiss Cheese, cubed, plus some Pecorino Romano

1 cup cooked local FRESH Spinach

4 Eggs, grown by yours truly (actually, my chickens)

Heavy Cream (Enough to fill the crust)

Salt and Pepper

Nutmeg

The spinach is cooked in butter. I could only find King Arthur bread flour, and Gazunga, it made the best crust I have ever eaten. Lily would have been quite proud. And one of my uncles once ate an entire pan of her cinnamon rolls, in one sitting. They were that good. He had to take a nap afterward.

By the way, I bought all of her Blue Ridge plates, made in Tennessee, after she died. I have added to the collection. Here’s my latest addition.

That divided bowl is a beauty. It’s Stanhome Ivy pattern. I made the candlesticks, and the students at Berea College in Kentucky hand wove the placemats. Now it’s time to crack some nuts. Literally.

Florida Possum Outdoes both Florida Man and Florida Woman

You can't stop the party possum because the party possum don't stop.
I just wanna go home

This Fort Walton Beach possum allegedly stole a $30 bottle of good French Cognac from a liquor store, and drank it all. It was given fluids (?), and relocated to a wildlife refuge. Whether or not it went through rehab is not reported.

Making Mayo

The Good Stuff

After putting it off for years, I finally learned how to make mayo. It turned out to be very simple, IF you have fresh eggs, and a stand mixer. I am being slowly covered by an avalanche of eggs, coming from our chicks, and I have a 30+ year old Kitchenaid, so it was time for this confluence to happen. This recipe also let me get rid of three eggs. Read some of Julia Child’s thoughts and experiences making mayo, for pointers.

Ingredients (all should be at room temperature)

3 Eggs (not just yolks)

Salt to Taste

Juice of half a Lemon

1 and 1/2 cups of Vegetable Oil (I used Peanut)

Most recipes call for a mild olive oil, but I live in peanut, not olive, country, so I went local. It worked well–the best supermarket brand of mayo uses soybean oil!

Grab the wire whisk attachment for the stand mixer, and beat the hell out of the eggs, at highest speed, for a couple of minutes. Add the lemon juice and salt, and then SLOWLY add the oil, a drop at a time at first. The more oil you add, the thicker the mayo will get, until you add too much, which apparently causes the mayo to break. If it does, throw in another egg, and slog on.

This process takes some time, but the result is this-3/4 of a quart of mayo.

Now I have another processed food to take off my grocery list. The chickens get an extra treat today.

Uncured Bacon in a Saumure Anglaise

That’s an English Pickle, for the Francophobes

Joel Salatin, aka “The world’s most famous farmer,” up there in Virginia, wrote an entire book about “the pigness of pigs.” Yesterday at the Festhalle farmer’s market I ran across one of my favorite sellers, a young woman who usually has one of her five children with her (this is Alabama). Instead, she had a big cooler full of fresh local pork that she had grown. Here was some real pigness of the best kind.

When she said she had fresh uncured bacon, I nearly had an infarction. I bought a pound, and she instructed me about how to cure it. My response was I always use a Saumure Anglaise when I cured pork like that.

Now, everyone usually looks at you like you are a snake with two heads when you use French in this part of the South, as opposed to New Orleans or Mobile, the two oldest French cities in the region. However, she looked impressed, and said I obviously knew what I was doing. I told her this wasn’t my first rodeo.

Here’s my version of this Saumure, adapted from Jane Grigson’s monumental book on French charcuterie.

Ingredients

Water

Handful of Salt

Handful of Brown Sugar

One Bay Leaf

Sprigs of Fresh Thyme

Peppercorns

Four Cloves

Fragment of whole Nutmeg

I omitted the nitrates (pink salt) from this recipe, as this is going to be eaten in short order. Boil this combo, and then let it steep until cool. Pour it over the bacon or other fresh pork you have, and throw it into the fridge.

For how long? That depends on how brave you are. I let mine go for at least a couple of days, and thicker pieces, like fresh ham slices, for around six. Sugar and salt are decent preservatives on their own, and I’m still kicking, so there’s anecdotal evidence to prove it’s not deadly to avoid the nitrates. Just check out some of the furry Italian sausages sometimes to see if nitrates have to be used.

The bacon will not be furry, but it will be tasty. And it will be cured the natural way.