Making Tasso Ham

Smoking!

Tasso ham is not really ham, in the common sense of the word, as it is usually made with pork shoulder, aka Boston butt. Going back in time, this Louisiana seasoning product was made from any trimming leftover from a hog killing. The only constant is the combination of spices and smoke, that make this a red beans and rice all star.

Ingredients

Sliced Pork Shoulder Strips

Paprika

Cayenne Pepper

Cinnamon

Salt and Pepper

This constitutes the dry rub, and the amount of each spice depends on the quantity of pork strips. At this point the pork strips need to dry uncovered in the refriginator a minimum of three days. Then it’s time to crank up the smoke house.

More Smokin’

This old school smokehouse, right down to the hanging strip of fly paper, is now fully operational. The external smoke source is an old steel wood stove connected via a stove pipe. This Tasso was smoked for two and a half hours with green Maple at about 150 degrees F. The char patterns on the Tasso in the photo are from the smoke, not heat. The big piece of pork shoulder in the pic was destined to be barbecue.

After the Tasso has cooled, cut it into cubes and chunk it into a freezer bag. Like the frugal ant in the ant and grasshopper fable, we will have smokey dishes all winter, while the grasshoppers have to dine on McRib mystery meat barbecue sandwiches.

Cyclamen September

A Time to Bloom

Having lain dormant all summer, the first late summer rains woke up the Cyclamen. Our middling sized rock garden is literally covered with them–they bloom where they were planted a couple of decades ago, and volunteers have spread as much as 50 feet away. As the seeds are believed to be spread by ants, uphill or downhill makes no difference. It’s just all as the ant walks.

A close examination of the lowest group of pink blooms reveals a glimpse of a dinner plate sized corm, which was the first Cyclamen I planted. It has offspring galore–blooming among rocks, under shrubs, and even out in our concrete path, where just a little soil has accumulated.

Here’s the plan–this fall I am going to transplant a few Cyclamen to the area around our outdoor kitchen. Then a whole new colony will have plenty of room to spread. Ants get ready, as acres of woods surround it.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School–Parts One and Two, Oven and Stove

The Big Kahuna

The Freudian idea of the unconscious mind is a problem for speakers of English, and is probably the result of yet another weak translation concerning the difference between German and English. Unbewusst, usually translated as unconscious, could be better thought of as unaware, as unconscious is more often considered a medical state in English, like a blow to the head. So if we go back to Dr. Freud, unconscious, conscious (unbewusst, bewusst), are more understandable in English as unaware, aware. Because you are unaware of something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, and doesn’t involve any head banging.

This all may help to explain my realization that I have a final plan for a five part outdoor wood-fired kitchen. I realized this when I woke up from a dream this morning, and the discovery cost me nothing in psychiatric fees. At any rate, here are the five pieces/parts/cooking stations, though I am only going to discuss the first two. I’ll get to the others later.

Brick Oven

Brick Stove

Smoke House

Tuscan Grill

Fire Pit

The Cornerstone

The brick oven will get the most use of all of these, mainly because of its versatility. I should point out that a brick oven is not a pizza oven, but a pizza oven can be made of brick, and most are, but they can also be metal and a number of other materials, such as clay. Many people, myself included, will lapse into calling this a bread oven, as that may be their primary use (this was designed to be mostly a bakery oven). However, anything that can be baked or roasted can be cooked in one of these ovens, with the added advantage that the temperature can easily be raised to 1000 degrees F, or higher. When this oven gets very far above 1100 degrees, my digital thermometer just says “HI.”

Baking traditional bread (think round sourdough loaves) also requires a door for the oven. After a fire is hot enough, which can be used to roast meat, veg, etc, it is allowed to burn down into coals. Those are then spread over the entire surface of the oven, to further heat the surface of the firebricks. After those coals are burned down to ashes, the oven is cleaned out, and the loaves are placed in the oven–this size oven will hold a dozen loaves. The door is then closed, and used to maintain an even temperature of between 400 to 500 degrees, or thereabouts. Theoretically, 36 loaves could be cooked in this with one firing, which made this style of oven popular with large bakeries, or even as communal ovens. The most loaves I have cooked in mine is a grand total of two.

Potager

This particular masonry structure fits into the category of something you don’t see every day–a Potager, more commonly called a Stew Stove in English. These were particularly popular with the upper crust of the eighteenth century, and the most famous ones in the States are at Monticello in Virginia. My Potager is a copy of one rebuilt at Ham House, a British National Trust Elizabethan period property in Surrey. It is definitely a French influenced design.

The concept is elegantly simple. A masonry firebox leads to a chimney like opening (I used flue thimbles as openings). This concentrates all the heat and smoke down to a six inch area. In the case of this stove, just sit a cooking vessel over the opening. The temperature can be varied so that it can range from a sear, to a saute, to a long and slow stewing. In short, this is a half ton equivalence to a modern cooktop, with the exception in my case, that the fuel is free and one hundred percent renewable.

As an experiment, I first used this to roast some poblano peppers that I bought at the farmer’s market, on a grill. They smoked as well as roasted, and were jet black in no time. After I cleaned and sliced them, they went into the freezer for use this winter. For stewing, shovel coals into the firebox, and use a pair of bellows to control the temp. Extra fuel is literally at your feet.

Coals from the brick oven can be used for the Potager, and a busy cook can bake and saute at the same time. Alternately, coals from the smokehouse steel wood stove, pictured above, could be used to smoke something and stew at the same time. A cook with four arms could bake, sear, grill, stew, and smoke food simultaneously. Such a creature would end up with a powerful hunger in no time at all.

Optimus 45 New Tool–A Jet Cleaner Pricker from the UK!

More Solid Brass

Everyone who has an old Optimus stove complains about the pitiful disposable tin prickers based on the original Optimus model. Optimus is all about being on the opposite end of disposable. A kerosene stove jet is going to clog, and will have to be cleaned in order to function. Those clever Brits have an answer to that problem.

Above is a nice sold brass pricker with replaceable needles. Even better is the fact that the end that holds the needle in place is also machined out to serve as storage for spare needles, and this device comes with twenty. That’s probably enough for a pricking lifetime.

Anyone can buy these on fleabay, or at Tilleylampsandstoves.com. Julian Shaw, the owner (not the actor) sure knows his stuff. Just don’t order things during a heat wave in England, if you need your pricker ASAP.

Masonry Stove, aka Potager, Stew Stove

New, but not Improved

The old school outdoor kitchen just got even-older-school, as I just finished this potager, or French style masonry oven. It’s a simple enough device, with two fire chambers with holes at the far end, through which the heat escapes, and the food gets cooked. I call this French style because it most resembles existing ovens from the Continent. Check out the parody of the French cook in the English cartoon below.

English Satirical Cartoon, 1772

It is good to know that the severe case of cooking envy that afflicts the Brits is centuries old, but this cartoon’s claim to fame is the potager stove that the snuff snorting dandy is cooking on. The most efficient way to use one of these stoves is to shovel in hot coals from a fire, say, from a brick oven or fireplace. Snuff and a sword hanging on the wall are optional.

Brick Oven Rebuild, Part Five–Completed Masonry Work

Bigger is Better

The masonry work on the re-built brick oven is finito, and the oven has been getting a work out. We have cooked a few roasts, re-seasoned some cast iron, and churned out multiple pizzas, including six one day during the weekend of the fourth. And we still have that big stack of firewood on the west wall.

I haven’t shown all three walls, as the two side walls are identical, and the back wall is just a smaller version of the other two. The east side is an entirely different story. Here’s picture worthy of a contest.

A Brick Hutch for Giant Rabbits?

There are actually two projects going on over here. One is actually attached to the brick oven, but is not part of it. It is to serve an altogether different function. The old steel wood stove is soon to be attached to another part of the outdoor kitchen. Needless to say they all involve burning wood.

Anyone who can nail the purpose of each of these two units will be awarded an honorary certificate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Southern Using What You Got. I’ll add a heavy hint–think of something that Monticello and Mount Vernon have in common, and I don’t mean the Presidents.

Rain Lilies and Cyclamen

What a Summertime Downpour Can Do

June was a good month for rain, if you like it all at once. All but a fraction of our rain came in two days, followed by fryingly hot weeks of no rain at all. Near the first of the month we had a day of practically non-stop rain, with four+ inches recorded here (Birmingham had an all time record of seven+ inches that same day). Then we had two weeks without rain. Then one night after a day where every storm missed us by just a few miles, the rain came all at once, with .7″ in the space of thirty minutes or so.

Some sleepers awoke after that. Here are two who had a good drink at the same time–a Rain Lily and some Cyclamen. Both are my kind of bulbs, in that you plant them and then forget about them. No fertilizer needed, no irrigation needed. Just act surprised when they finally bloom.

Rain Lilies, members of the species Zephyranthes that bloom after a drenching, are all plants from the Americas. The pink variety is a native of Cuba, and thus benefits from a hurricane or two every summer, which as well benefits from our increasingly sub-tropical climate (nine months out of the year). We also grow the Southern native Atamasco Lily, a spring blooming plant that will naturalize in most areas of the South.

The Eurasian hardy Cyclamen is a whole other story. I planted the two most common species, along with some very fancy cultivars, beginning some twenty years ago, and they have surrounded two sides of our house. Technically they grow from plate-like corms, instead of scaly bulbs, and they grow larger and larger for upwards of a hundred years. In fact, just to the left of the pictured bloom, you can see the black surface of the corm, which appears to be at least eight inches wide. Their green leaves in the winter are an added benefit to the unexpected outbursts of blooms.

Another drenching is finally headed our way today, and besides the rain and cooler air, I have to guess what, when, and where, the next blooms will be.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

I Say Ha! to the Heat

Need a late spring/summer blooming temperate forest shrub? This native could be the ticket. Two varieties of this species spread out the bloom period for a potential month and a half, and the plant doesn’t care if the highs are in the seventies, or like today, in the nineties.

In the wild, Bottlebrush Buckeye is found primarily in Alabama and Georgia, but it is now grown in Zones 4-8. The plant pictured is the earlier blooming “species” variety that was at peak bloom last week, when it was pummeled by 4+inches of rain in one day, and it still looks as pictured. Soon the second variety, often sold as var. Serotina, will begin to bloom, and will continue blooming into July. We have one of those as well, and it will bloom into July. Northern gardeners have reported later periods of bloom stretching into August.

A huge population of wild var. Serotina plants are growing just about three miles from here, south of Garden City, right along the edges of US Highway 31. Every few years Alabama Power will cut them down to the ground under the power line that runs to Blount Springs, which somehow or other rejuvenates the plants. Within in a few years the blooms will be spectacular, with limestone boulders interspersed with hundred foot long colonies of plants, and blooms hanging out over the road from steep hillsides. Unfortunately this section of highway is known for some spectacular wrecks, though they have never been attributed to drivers rubbernecking the plants.

Brick Oven Rebuild, Part Four–Finished Front Masonry Work

Go Big or Go Home

My friend Torsten Fisch, who has been back in Deutschland for a good decade now, had a way with words, in multiple languages. A typically stiff Mercedes engineer who worked at their manufacturing facility in Vance, Alabama, after shots of Jägermeister he would cut loose with some epic rants, such as the following–

I don’t know what is wrong with you people in Alabama. As of the year 2000, the prostitutes in Germany have more rights than you do. They have social security, free healthcare, and a union.

Herr Fisch

Well said, with a German accent.

He also liked “Size matters. Bigger is better,” which perfectly sums up the Mercedes philosophy. If that is true, oven #2 is far better than oven #1. Here’s the pre-tornado version of the old oven–

The new oven is ornamented with Soldier (upright) and Sailor (ends facing forward) bricks, and a wider facade. The chimney is also taller, which should give me sufficient pitch to install a wood shingle shed roof. The walls of the yet to be constructed new enclosure will be wood shingles as well, which will require partial covering of some of the eye candy ornamentation of the chimney. At least it will then look less like a Mayan temple or a Ziggurat.

Plan for today was to grout the last section of Travertine tile that covers the front apron, but after two and a half inches of rain this morning, it’s off to plan B. Another new addition will be kitchen herbs for the outdoor kitchen, with some choice cultivars.

Roman Reference==see Coliseum

Today, besides transplants, I am sowing pots of Genovese basil and Italian parsley. Maybe I will be done with all the masonry work by the time they germinate.

Fledglings Are Us–Bluebirds, Flycatchers, Hummingbirds, and the King of the Birds

Emma the Aussie Photobombs the Wren’s Nest

Wild birds don’t get taken in by scares about bird flu or other corporate derived scams, such as inflated gasoline prices (see under the heading “Windfall Profits”). They just go about the business of being birds, and will take advantage of every structure we build, freeloaders that they are. I really can’t blame them, since we invaded their spaces.

First example has the be the earliest nesters, the Bluebirds. They regularly take advantage of the old Bluebird nesting box I made, at least when it is not inhabited by flying Squirrels, which actually prefer the Wren nesting box. Our new family fledged in April, which I know to be the month because one of the fledglings almost flew into the back of my head, while on one of its training flights. Never fear–father Bluebird was right behind him, teaching by example. Junior has now discovered our bird bath, and slings water out of it like an outboard motor.

A perennial spring inhabitant of our house are the Flycatchers, who prefer nesting in the structure under our deck. This year they changed from nesting under our porch, to nesting just outside and left of our door from our walkout basement, onto our patio. The nest was masterpiece of bird architecture, and before we knew it there were four bird sized fledglings staring down at us every time we walked out of our door. The last few days they would sit up on the edge of the nest, and examine us with a sour expression, while the mother chirped at them from understory bushes nearby. My translation was from Flycatcher to English: You fat kids get out of there, and come and learn how to catch your own food.

One day, the biggest kid was gone, and there were only three. The mother kept chirping at the others. By noon the next day, there were two. By sunset, there were none. Happy fly catching to all of them.

Hummingbirds are a whole different story. They nest here, but only a storm blown nest will give away the location. Their favorite appears to be a white Oak right outside of our house, which we saved from our dipstick fill dirt people who piled dirt up three feet around it. We excavated it from that, so we claim it as part of our structure. Multiple Hummers are now chasing each other all around our house, probably charges from a nest around there.

And then there is the king of the birds, the Wren. To my knowledge they have never nested in our wren box, preferring to go their own way. They normally nest in our hanging Boston Ferns on our porch, but a wren is going to wren. This year they nested in the regional flower of the rural South, a satellite dish. This deserves a great Irish song by The Chieftains, “The Wren in the Furze.”

The wren oh the wren he’s the king of all birds,

On St. Stevens day he got caught in the furze,

So its up with the kettle and its down with the pan

Won’t you give me a penny for to bury the wren.

The Chieftains

A Furze is a prickly gorse bush, akin to the native Hawthorne I grew from seed, which is 6′ and climbing. The Wrens are having better luck with the satellite deesh.

Which brings me to the problem with people. Like birds, we normally raise the alarm when danger is near–just think of Crows when a Hawk is around. According to our corporate media, I should instead be one of three things–exhausted, reeling, or broken, or a combination of all of them. The cliche department left off the ringer, which is pissed off, which I am regularly. Therefore I propose a new trans controversy, which is trans-species.

I am planning on identifying myself as a bird, since I don’t fit in to the current news industry narrative of what people should be feeling. With a few exceptions, such as cowbirds, birds are noble, useful, and incredibly resourceful creatures. They don’t contribute to anthropomorphic climate disturbance, or purchase weapons of mass destruction. They rarely utilize weapons of mass distraction, also.

I’ll be proud to be a bird. Like in the old Woody Allen joke, we need the eggs.

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