Going Fruity While Rusticated

Not Just Another Evergreen Azalea

Being rusticated has its perquisites. In my case, its twenty less hours travel time a week, to do what I will. I have been buying fruit trees, and turning a good part of our garden into a mini-orchard.

New Plants–

Apple “Honey Crisp.” I love these apples, so I bought two. They are about to break dormancy now, as they came from the frozen northland of Michigan.

Cherry “Dwarf Lapin.” We had a great cherry tree when I was a child, and there is nothing better than a fresh cherry–except for good cherry preserves. I bought two, and wish I had bought more. Bring out the biscuits!

Fig “Olympia.” Either a fig from Washington state, or a plant named after one of my favorite opera characters, Olympia, from Les Contes d’Hoffman, or The Tales of Hoffman. Olympia is an automata, or really a life sized wind up doll, but Hoffman falls in love with her anyway, as he is wearing rose colored glasses. The youtube video of the soprano Natalie Dessay singing this role is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. I bought one, fig, that is, not a Natalie.

Fig “Violette de Bordeaux.” One of these also. Alleged to be the best tasting fig. It will have to fight it out with the cherries, as to which one makes the best preserves. Bring out more biscuits! Melanie Jane made me stop calling this violette de bordello.

Olive “Arbequina.” Crossing the border into Spain now, this cold hardy olive has become a hot item in this part of the South. A local nursery has a grove of them, and gives classes about their cultivation. These will stay in containers for at least a year. We have three.

The random evergreen azalea in the picture is not a hybrid, but a species plant from Taiwan. All our other azaleas are native species.

We also have three Hass avocado seedlings, and three Meyer lemon cuttings. Those will have to remain in containers for the rest of their natural lives.

Being fruity has its own benefits.

Good Friday Citrus Duck with Orange Wine Sauce

Unlucky Ducky, Lucky Us

I have been working on this recipe for years, and I finally have it where I want it. It’s go to on Christmas and Good Friday now.

Duck

Simple enough. Dry the duck, salt the cavity, and then stuff it up the butt with a quartered naval orange and a quartered Meyer lemon. Cook for thirty minutes at 425 degrees F, and another ninety minutes at 375 degrees F. Before cooking, cut another orange in half, and squeeze the juice of one half of over the bird. After an hour, do the same thing with the other half. A roasting rack helps. Give it the thigh joint prick test after two hours, but it should be done by then.

Orange Wine Sauce

Thicker is Better

The key to this sauce is to reduce it down to a syrup, or even a jelly. Think lamb with mint jelly, and you have the idea.

Ingredients

Juice of two Naval Oranges

Red Wine to taste

1 tablespoon of Honey

1 teaspoon of Sugar

1 teaspoon of Red Wine Vinegar

1/2 cup Chicken Stock

Naturally, you can make this as sweet and sour as you want, with more sugar and more vinegar. Our menu for today is brick oven pizza, and for Easter Sunday, ham and macs and cheese, naturally. It doesn’t get much more Southern than that.

Lemon Chicken

Where’s the Chicken?

My main man HD Thoreau wrote, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.” I have done this with my lemon chicken recipe, which I have been obsessed with for years.

Sauce

Juice of one large Meyer Lemon (or two smaller other lemons)

Sugar

That’s it. MJ and I ate this dish a hundred times at a Chinese restaurant in Tuscaloosa, and it took me years to realize the Zen truth of simplicity.

Chicken

Cubed Chicken Breast

Cornstarch

Salt and Pepper

Peanut Oil

The last is for deep frying, and an inch and a half is enough. Serve with rice and green peas. Nosh away, as this is fantastic.

Blooming Today. Where Baby Lemons Come from.

Just writing this makes me hungry again.

Peas, Collards, Ham: Happy New Year

“Pass the damn ham”– Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird

We have plenty of dope sticks in the South, like our new US Senator from Alabama, a former Auburn football coach named Tupperware (I think that’s right,) so take our new Senator, PLEASE. This dude was fired by Cincinnati–the college team. I would say we really need Chairman Mao and some re-education camps, but that would be too tough on people who never got an education to begin with (Tupperware could not name the three branches of the US Government, when asked.).

I’m Talking about Sides

So let’s get off the train to Crazytown, and have a real Southern New Year’s meal. You also have my permission to make this any time of the year. The ham is the star, but the sides are the supporting actors. MJ came up with yet another new ham glaze this year. Superb is only the beginning.

Ingredients

Juice of 4 Oranges

Juice of 1 Lime

Maple Syrup

Honey

Mustard

Make this as rich as you want. I like lots of Mustard, MJ lots of sweet, so split it down the middle. She did grow all the citrus.

I accidentally found a sustainably grown ham. Seek, and ye shall find.

The sides? Collards are a classic. Serve with pepper sauce. I have some high octane made.

Welcome to our Southern Table, Metaphorically

You get one dollar for every cowpea you eat (seriously). All you get with macs and cheese are extra calories. Thanks, James Hemings. He was the chef for Long Tom Jefferson.

Rolls finish this off. We will be eating leftovers for the indefinite future.

Avocado Plants

Seedlings!

We try to never throw any food away. First there are leftovers, then dog treats, and cooked grains go to the chickens. Everything else gets composted.

We have random compost piles throughout our garden, though I did recently complete what I have been calling a “Moocher’s Compost Bin,” because my total outlay for the bin was three deck screws–everything else was mooched. Our reward for chunking all sorts of stuff into our garden was completely unexpected. We now have two nice Avocado plants.

These weren’t planted, but in the gardening lingo, were “volunteers.” We ate more than a few Hass avocados over the summer, and in true frugal fashion, composted the pits, aka seeds. Strangely enough, Mr. Hass, from just outside of Pasadena, CA, began with just three seeds that he planted. One turned out to be the parent of the now famous Hass avocado. They are tasty.

Apparently the Hass does not come true from seed, but people who get free plants can hardly complain. We will grow these in containers, where they are said to reach no more than seven feet tall.

Can you grow tender fruits in containers? Here are our first free falling Key Limes. As soon as they are ripe, they fall off, and go boink boink boink across the floor, usually in the middle of the night. No dead cat bounce here.

Key Lime Daiquiri, Anyone?

My favorite are the Meyer Lemons.

Pie on the Menu

If you want the world’s longest Christmas song, finish “On the Twentieth Day of Christmas my True Love gave to Me, Twenty Meyer Lemons….” I’ll have a drink instead.

Citrus in Bloom

“The Murmuring of Innumerable Bees”

MJ’s mastery of citrus continues, as we have two Meyer lemons that are completely covered in blooms, at least three hundred to five hundred blooms or so. People don’t associate the Appalachians with citrus, but just bring them indoors in containers in the winter (Goethe wrote that they did the same thing in Germany, and that was over two hundred years ago). We’ll end up with only a few lemons, but we usually have enough to last us most of one year, until the next crop comes in. We freeze the surplus.

Key Lime Pie Waiting to Happen

The Key Lime is our most reliable producer of fruit, and we have had over 150 limes in one year, from just his one plant. We still have a bag full of these in the freezer. Beer with lime, anyone?

Orange Blossom Special

The Satsuma Mandarin Orange is the least productive of the plants, but the smell of the blooms is spectacular. This is grown widely on the Gulf Coast, as it is quite hardy for a citrus. There is even a town called Satsuma in south AL. The best Satsumas come from Plaquemines Parish in LA, which is just south of New Orleans. They even have their own Orange Festival.

Finally, MJ has some cuttings of Meyer Lemon started, and she doles those out to her family. All I can say is that growing citrus from cuttings is not for people with short attention spans. MJ has a waiting list of more than one year.

Peach Bourbon Glaze

Peach Glazed Galette

This is more of a cooking exercise than anything else, as this glaze has only three ingredients. They happen to be two of the South’s finest products, which make this a perfect match for the apples and pecans in the galette. It’s all about the process.

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons Peach Preserves

2 Tablespoons Bourbon

Water

The key to this glaze is choosing a happy medium. Cook the glaze long enough to get rid of the alcohol in the bourbon, and to partly liquefy the peaches, but not so long that it dries out or turns into peach brittle.

The other key is to find a really high quality Peach Preserve. I just made my own last summer, using local peaches, organic sugar, and lemon juice (we grew the lemons). This was a fitting way to say goodbye to the last two tablespoons.

I always get this too thick, so a kettle of water is nearby, to help get the glaze to the proper consistency. Once it’s done, you just need some pastry to glaze.

Just Right

I should say that the citrus master, my wife Melanie Jane, has been “rusticated” by the giant corporation she works for, and is currently working from home, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. She had to bring all her tech with her. We now have a home office consisting of three computers, four monitors, and two iPads. It’s a great sacrifice to live as primitively as this. We have had to make up for it by cooking up a storm.

Cranberry Sauce with Pumpkin Pie Spice

How it Starts

Here’s what you do with that pumpkin pie spice that’s been in the spice cabinet for two years, other than poisoning a good cup of coffee with it. Cranberries make a formidable opponent for any seasoning mix, but it turns out to be a fair and delicious fight. Above is how it starts.

Ingredients

12 ounces fresh Cranberries

1 cup Water

Juice and pulp of one Lemon (we use Meyer lemons)

1 cup organic Sugar

Pumpkin Pie Spice

There’s not much to cooking this other than not letting it burn. Boil for 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick you want the sauce. After ten, it will look like this:

Moderately Thick

I wait until mine jells. Here’s the final result.

Be careful with the spice, as it becomes stronger after the sauce chills in the fridge. As a point of reference, cranberries actually grow in the South, in West Virginia, in the famous Cranberry Glades botanical area. Unfortunately, most of those berries are eaten by bears. I’ve been within ten feet of one there.

Remoulade Sauce, Two Ways

Remoulade sauce in the South is used on everything from salads to shrimp. I make two versions, one for salads, and one for mostly seafood dishes, including the fabulous fried catfish po boy. We’ll start with the simple version.

Ingredients

Mayonnaise

Dijon Mustard

Ketchup

Lemon Juice

Salt

I usually only make enough of this for one meal at a time, so I stick to a ratio of four parts of mayo to one part each of mustard, ketchup, and lemon, and then salt to taste. A sweet Bavarian mustard is also excellent in this, if you can find it. You can also add sweet pickle relish.

And then there is the savory version:

Ingredients

Mayonnaise

Creole Mustard

Ketchup

Lemon Juice

Salt

Dill Pickle, chopped finely

Scallions, chopped finely

Parsley, chopped

Capers, chopped

Tabasco Sauce, to taste

This one is more traditionally Southern, as it has some kick to it, hot, salty, and sour. I just made some fermented Garlic Dill Pickles, and I can’t wait to add some of those to this recipe. Proportions of the four main ingredients should be roughly the same as the first version, and the others are a matter of taste. I go light on the pickles and capers.

I have all the makings for a fried catfish po boy for this upcoming holiday weekend, except for some good Carolina Classic catfish. Time for a run to the market.

Pear Honey

Great Pear

As far as is known, the Roman writer Pliny the Elder published the first pear recipe, where he stated that they should be stewed with honey. Modern pear honey recipes omit the honey, but I’m going old school all the way back to the Roman Empire. I’m bringing back the honey.

Ingredients

6 Bartlett Pears, peeled, cored, and sliced

1 Meyer Lemon

1/4 cup Honey

2 cups Sugar

My six pears cost a whopping two bucks at the Festhalle Farmer’s market, and the honey was local as well. My wife Melanie Jane grew that enormous Meyer lemon, and the sugar came from Sugarland, Texas: old school and down home.

I began with cooking the honey, sliced pears, and the complete interior of the Meyer lemon, minus the seeds. Hint: if you freeze the lemon first, and then cut it in half, the peel comes off all in one piece. Add the sugar, and get ready to go do something else.

A Saucier full of Pears

Cooking Time

2 1/2 Days (Correction: 2 1/2 Hours)

This would be an excellent time to go and write some on that novel that you have been putting off, which is something of a shameless plug, as I am half way through writing a novel that deals with food and mental therapy. To me, good food is the best therapy around.

Don’t forget to stir this occasionally, especially toward the end of the cooking, as it turns into pear syrup. After two and a half hours I brought out our most medieval potato masher, and turned this into the consistency of a really thick honey. All that was left was three half pints, processed in a hot water bath.

The Color You should Look for

It appears those Romans were pretty smart after all.