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.

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.

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.

Lard Help Us–Again

Everyone should read the article from the website Raw Story with the following link, about how hydrogenated cottonseed oil replaced good old lard. It’s a perfect story about the decline of American food, funded by the industrial food industry.

How Crisco toppled lard – and made Americans believers in industrial food