Canning Tomatoes

Maters Ready for Inspection, Sir!

Time for the yearly canning update. Get busy! Life is short and Tomatoes are sweet, so can ye tomatoes while ye may.

First note–last year’s crop of canning lids were mediocre, so we switched from the usual hot water bath canning method, to pressure canning. Zero failures since then. If you don’t have a pressure canner, just double the time the jars of maters swim in the hot water.

If you’re lucky, somebody gave you something like this, or you know someone you can borrow one from. Ours only comes out of hibernation a few times a year.

Old School

The Mirro-matic was designed to process enough food for an entire family, and this one did–just not for our family. A former co-worker of mine had all of his children grow up, and off to college, and he just wanted to get rid of this beast. As the only farm boy he knew, I was the obvious heir apparent.

We will probably can only quart jars tomorrow, to speed up things and conserve on the number of lids we have. US made lids are just now coming back on the market, and none are available locally. There is a good deal on Amazon for some, and an order is forthcoming. It should be just enough money to get space cadet Bezos an extra 1/4 inch into outer space.

Life in a Red State

Buried Counters

There was once a common saying in Mississippi, which was a simple “The richest land, and the poorest people.” That perfectly sums up the contradictions of living in a Red State.

Barbara Kingsolver discussed this dilemma quite perfectly in her essay of the same title, “Life in a Red State.” Naturally, she started with a discussion of how her kitchen was literally covered with tomatoes. Then she expanded from there. After today, I can definitely feel her pain.

The tomatoes and peas are only a fraction of the haul I made this morning at the Festhalle. Those two combined cost us the princely sum of $26, with the maters being the majority–$20. Preserving those this weekend will be a whole lot like work.

I once worked at a Southern public University where the faculty salaries were right at the lowest in the country, and the administrative salaries among the top ten percent. There is only one solution to a problem like that–leave. All that got us is a beautiful river front house, and tomatoes up to our necks. There’s nothing to not love about that.

May Day Breakfast with New Taters, Homegrown Eggs, and Leftovers

Let’s Eat!

We started off International Worker’s Day the right way, with our once every weekend Farmer’s Omelette. We had to celebrate the needs of workers to conserve every penny, so we made this partly with leftovers, although they were no ordinary leftovers. Having grown up on what we call a “dirt farm,” I know how to use a leftover.

The Base

Heaviest Skillet available

1 slice good Bacon (preferably organic)

New Taters, Precious

Just Enough Time to Wash off the Dirt

First, cook the slice of bacon. The real purpose of this is to render out the fat needed to fry the taters. I like to add some olive oil for extra flavor, if needed. These little gems didn’t need any. The Yukon Golds were so tender I didn’t even peel them. Naturally, I had planted them in composted chicken manure to begin with.

Fry the taters until practically done, and chop the bacon. Turn the oven on to 400 F. Time for the magic leftovers.

Leftovers

Grilled organic Onions

Grilled organic cherry Tomatoes

Chicken kabobs on Friday night, grilled over hardwood charcoal. It was all too good, and had those two left over. The Florida Maters were halved, and the onions diced. They just needed to be warmed, so I threw them in with the chopped bacon. Then came the money shot.

Eggs

Homegrown Eggs

Our chickens are getting fat and happy, and we had nine eggs on two days each last month–and we only have eight hens. Currently we are feeding about five families with our eggs. The birds will without doubt be demanding overtime feed soon.

Cook the eggs over-easy style in the oven, but without turning them over. Watch this like a chicken on lookout for a hawk, and take out while the yolk is still runny. This is more than enough to feed the two of us, plus a snack for our two dogs. They especially like the taters.

Cullman Strawberry Festival, 2021

We bought these last week, locally grown. Nothing better.

May 1, aka Mayday, is the beginning of the Cullman Strawberry Festival, at the Festhalle. There will be plenty of Chicken Dancing, and strawberries galore. Also, some lovely lass will be crowned Strawberry Queen. This schedule is courtesy of Cullman Parks and Rec.

Schedule of Events

7am

farmers market

festhalle

10am

kids carnival

museum gazebo

arts & crafts show

depot park

food vendors open

museum parking lot

dj laken pitts

main stage – between sets

cullman community band

main stage

magic show with brian reaves

First Avenue Stage

HISTORIC WALKING TOUR

UNITED WAY PARKING LOT

Lifesouth blood drive

depot park

bookmobile

museum

11am

cullman high school jazz band

main stage

cullman civic ballet – “Alice in Wonderland”

First Avenue Stage

11:45am

wallace state dancers

First Avenue Stage

12pm

the humdingers

main stage

strawberry soda throwdown

First Avenue stage

12:30pm

introduction of miss strawberry festival

main stage

12:50pm

the humdingers

main stage

1pm

cullman civic ballet – “Alice in Wonderland”

first avenue stage

1:40pm

the humdingers

main stage

1:45pm

wallace state dancers

first avenue stage

2pm

cullman middle school jazz band

main stage

strawberry eating contest

first avenue stage

2:30pm

strawberry festival baking competition

main stage

3pm

Doggie “Paw”geant

main stage

4pm

wallace state jazz band & Singers

main stage

Cullman ballet theatre school

first avenue stage

after “paw”ty

museum gazebo

5pm

cornhole tournament registration

festhalle

strawberry soda throwdown

main stage

5:30pm

strawberry bucket hoisting contest

main stage

6pm

lorirayne music

main stage

6:15pm

cornhole tournament

festhalle

7pm

avenue g band

main stage

9pm

after party with dj laken pitts

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.