Taters in the Ground, Precious

Taters Planted, now Grow, Little Taters

In true Appalachian fashion, we have gone from temps in the high teens last week, to approaching eighty this week. Time to get those taters in the ground.

Something of a note on climate here, and global warming (anthropogenic climate disturbance), in general. The USDA keeps moving us back and forth among hardiness zones, depending on which way the political winds are blowing. Therefore, I follow the thermometer, instead of the bureaucrats.

With the exception of one night, we have had a zone 9 winter, even though we are up in the mountains. Even that night was marginally zone 8, at 18 degrees F. We haven’t seen Zone 7 weather for 15 or 20 years.

The lowest forecast night time temp for the next week is more than ten degrees above freezing, so these jokers should get a good start. I have one row of sprouted tubers that we grew last year, some had sprouts that were a good foot long.

The other row is sprouted organic potatoes that I bought at our best supermarket. I was going to buy real seed potatoes, but no one here had them yet. WHAT! This is the South, dopesticks.

I buried them all in composted chicken manure. I’m going to try a new fertilizer this year, just because I love the name of it–Moorganite. It’s a combo of composted cow and chicken stuff. Strong to quite strong. That’s 45 garlic plants on the left of the pic. Taters and garlic, anyone?

Rejuvenating Cast Iron Cookware

Back in Action Again

Even someone as OC as myself occasionally slacks off. I pulled out a dutch oven that had this skillet lid sitting upon it, and there were spots of surface rust on the inside of the lid. Time for some rejuvy-nation.

Lard to the Rescue

This was a simple fix–lard and paper towels, plus some heat. This is a stove top treatment, so it does require some adult supervision.

Start with a practically invisible layer of melted lard. Heat until it smokes, wipe it out, and repeat the step until you get tired or fall asleep. After a few rounds, the rust disappears. Magic!

A Stovetop Skillet

It finally dawned on me why I like this skillet lid so much. It’s the handles. There isn’t a long skillet handle to get in the way of all the other things on the stove. This now is no longer a lid for a dutch oven. It’s a permanent resident on the stovetop, where it is used at least a couple of times a day.

Now I have to get MJ the 2020 Rosie the Riveter skillet. This is seriously a 19th amendment year.

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.

Italians and Their Egg Yolk Rules

Some of These Eggs will have Orange Yolks

Italians buy their eggs according to the color of the yolks. Yellow yolked eggs are labeled giallo dell’uovo, and the prized orange yolked egg is called (actually) red yolked egg, rosso d’uovo. I’ll do chemistry first, and then the backstory.

Since Dr. Leroy Palmer first published his research in 1915, it has been known that yolk color is caused by the chicken’s diet. Different carotenoids called xanthophylls are the determinants. More recent research has narrowed down the two main chemicals to Lutein and Zeaxanthin, and one scientist has determined the first is the source of the yellow yolked egg coloring, and the latter for the orange color. That led me on the search for the second one.

Veg! Feed the birds leafy greens, corn, wheat and carrots, as all are good supplements to the diet. This supports my observation that their favorite food is Dandelion greens. I can start a chicken riot with those every time.

Now to the backstory. I was fascinated by the great food book by Bill Buford called Heat. He became so fascinated with Italian food that he goes to Italy regularly to learn from the best of the best cooks. Even though he was the fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine, he was born in Mississippi, and knows his eggs. Hence his experience with a woman who is a legendary pasta maker in Italy.

Bill describes the master of pasta, and why he went to study with her:

It was also why I’d got so interested in the egg, because on my first morning, watching Betta prepare the dough, I saw that an egg was a modern pasta’s most important ingredient, provided that it is a very good egg, which was evident (or not) the moment you cracked it open. If the white was runny, you knew the egg had come from a battery-farmed animal , cooped up in a cage, and the pasta you made from it would be sticky and difficult to work with, exactly like the unhappy batch that Betta produced one evening after Gianni fell asleep, having had too much wine at lunch, and failed to buy eggs from the good shop before it closed and had to drive to the next town to the cattivo alimentarii, the nasty store, and pick up a dozen of its mass-produced product. The yolk was also illuminating. The nasty store’s were pale yellow, like those most of us have been scrambling for our urban lives. But a proper yolk is a different color and, in Italian, is still called il rosso, the red bit …

Heat, Bill Buford

Poor urban folk, deprived of all the goodies. I have a mixture I now feed my birds. The basic bit is as follows:

16% Protein Organic Chicken Crumbles

Corn and Wheat Scratch

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

Carrots

Various Greens in Season

Maters, Precious

Other Fruit and Veg that are left over (Squash and Pumpkin are especially good)

Ours yolks just keep getting more and more orange. I may one day even get one of the legendary red tinged yolks.

ORANGE Tabasco Pepper

Peppers Galore. The View from our Deck. Sage in the background

Everyone who has used the Southern classic Tabasco Sauce knows that it is dark red. Imagine my surprise when I went to our local vegetable plant seller in the spring, and found that he was selling orange Tabasco pepper plants. I can never resist growing strange new crops–I also have a row of red broom corn, which is actually a plant from the sorghum family.

This was the result.

Future Pepper Flakes

That little reddish orange pepper is the first ripe Tabasco. It’s probably as hot as that whole Serrano that is right below it. I don’t know how this will work, but my goal is to dry all these, and make multi-colored pepper flakes with them. Then I can make some psychedelic sausages.

Summer’s First Vegetable Soup

Let’s Eat!

We jumped ahead of schedule, or maybe just jumped the shark, making this soup, as we had to work with a bunch of non-ordinary ingredient sources. In about a couple of more weeks, we will be able to make this with all fresh local ingredients. But sometimes you just can’t wait.

Ingredients

Chicken Stock

Crowder Peas

3 Ears of Fresh Corn

A small Onion

Butter Beans

Large can of Tomatoes

Salt and Pepper

Half of our ingredients were local, but the rest were scrounged for. We did have stock made from a locally grown chicken, which is unusual. The corn was fresh from the Festhalle, and the butter beans were from there as well, but they were hiding in the dim reaches of our freezer. The okra was really excellent and fresh, again from the Festhalle market. Here’s where we go worldwide.

Crowder peas are not yet in season, and hard to find fresh anyway, so we used dried peas from the famous Camellia brand from New Orleans. New Orleans folks consume as many Fagioli (beans) as Tuscany, and this brand controlled 95% of the market. They are that good. Cook these first.

The onion was an organic onion from California, and the big can of tomatoes was organic as well, but they were San Marzanos from Italy. I just happened to have some cans of them in my pantry.

MJ and I enjoyed this with some fresh corn muffins, made with McEwen cornmeal.The leftover soup will be frozen for the winter. The left over muffins were devoured by our chickens.

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.

Chickens and Brooder Design

Ready for Birds–Almost

Even though we are down to four hens, after two of ours were killed by the neighborhood Bloodhound, we still can’t eat all the eggs they produce. At last count we had 27 eggs, and the number expands daily. So naturally, we are going to buy more baby chicks, four Rhode Island Reds, as an insurance policy against any more dog attacks. Excess is the American way.

My brooder design is the product of some research. It consists of a plastic storage container, a lid made of scrap wood and chicken wire, a couple of commercial feeder/waterer devices, some perches, and a heat lamp. Each was chosen for a reason.

After I stopped laughing at all the experts on the internet who said that plastic boxes were more of a fire hazard than cardboard boxes, I quickly decided the real fire hazard was the heat source, which is usually an infrared heat lamp bulb. I went instead with a ceramic “lizard light,” which is a standby for reptile owners. Mine has both a heat control and a digital thermometer, and it emits no light, so the chickens do not lose their ever important circadian rhythm. The ceramic socket on the lamp is also a must, as those lamps get roasting hot, and melted plastic socket is a disaster. The chicks stay plenty warm with this lamp.

Warm and Safe

The waterer and feeder are both Little Giant brand, made by Miller in the US. They are superb, and all you need are some mason jars to go with them.

The last part of the chick’s crib are the two perches. The long one is some drift wood of Mountain Laurel. The big practice one I made from scrap trim. Waste not, want not.

The bottom will be lined with newsprint, then paper towels, then pine shavings. The chicks will be able to scratch, perch, eat, and drink. Kind of like me. And then I had a McGyver moment.

Extra Insulation

If it gets really cold, I just pull out this old countertop piece to keep the heat in. Now Melanie Jane and I can sit in the basement and watch Law and Order, while the chicks grow up next to books such as History and Class Consciousness, A Southern Renaissance, and The Savage Mind. That last one was written in French, and the title is possibly the greatest pun in history. La Pensée Sauvage can mean either The Savage Mind, or Pansies for Thought.

So we will have chicks chirping behind us, while we are entertained by the semi-fictional mayhem of NYC. Another favorite book of mine is The Country and the City. I’ll take the country, and the city can remain an image on the TV.

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.

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.