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.

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.

One Weird Trick for Growing More Taters, Precious

A Weird Trick Tater

I really could not resist that clickbait headline, but, as usual, I have to de-bunk the gardening experts on the interwebs, who say that you absolutely have to buy certified seed taters, instead of supermarket ones. The trick is knowing what supermarket taters to buy.

It’s really only simple science. Standard commercially grown potatoes are sprayed with a growth retardant to prolong shelf life, namely isopropyl N-(3-chlorophenyl) carbamate (CIPC also referred as chlorpropham). It’s actually a herbicide that was introduced in 1951. Pass me the herbicide coated spuds, mom.

No thanks. Certified organic taters sprout like crazy, as in the one pictured above. I took that photo this morning. The only tricks are good soil, compost, and plenty of water–try 9.8″ of rain in the past ten days. In other words, good growing techniques.

You can also Save a Few of those Taters as Seed

This strapping young plant grew from a foot long sprout from a supermarket potato I planted last year. Eight plants came up from a single sprout. Nothing beats free organic taters.

Spargelzeit (Asparagus Time)

Maybe free Asparagus does. This one year plant came from some nice crowns I just bought. All it has to do is get fat and happy over the next couple of years.

I really should get rid of all those bi-colored wild violets in the patch, but they’re blooming now. I guess I’m just a sucker for a pretty flower, and possibly for a pretty face.

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?

First New Taters, Precious

Butter, Anyone?

Tater digging time has arrived down here, and there will be lots of them. The first few plants yielded four different taters.

There are two yellow varieties in the bucket, and they are Gold Rush, and the standby Yukon Gold. The reds are Norland Red, which is quite attractive, so much so that I think I will eat them. The classic Russet rounds out this group.

I did very little for these roots except treat them with soil sulphur, to keep them from rotting, and a handful of organic fertilizer. With that little effort, we will be in taters for the rest of the summer. That’s taters, not tatters, though I do a really great Mick Jagger imitation, singing “Shattered.”

Planting Taters, Precious

The Dutch have Invaded My Tater Patch

After almost three months of non-stop rain, it finally dried up enough for me to plant my taters. We already have had our yearly average rainfall total and it is only the end of March. At least all the moisture made it easy to dig the trenches with a real old style tool.

Scovil Pattern Hoe

That hoe is usually reserved for mixing concrete, but it will move some earth as well. I planted four varieties of taters.

Yukon Gold (Six Pounds)

Red Norland (Five pounds)

Gold Rush (A New Variety for me. One Pound)

Russet (One Pound)

That made two and a half rows. The delay in planting meant that all the taters had sprouted well, which made it easy to use the classic American method of cutting in half any tuber that had more than four eyes on it, and every Red Norland did. Every cut tater was dipped in agricultural lime.

After I aligned my trenches with my homemade garden string combo, I lined each one with crushed egg shells for calcium, and pelletized lime for more calcium and magnesium. The final touch will be to top dress them all with some composted chicken manure. That will be my only source for nitrogen, until they leaf out, and then they get some liquid Alaska fish fertilizer.

Hopefully, the taters will no longer smell of rotten fish when I dig them.

Beef Stew Al Fresco

Is Al Fresco related to Al Pacino?

This is nothing but a simple beef stew, but it was cooked in a cast iron camping Dutch Oven over an open fire, which always makes everything taste better. I will disclose the small wrinkles which add layers and layers to the dish. First, marry-nate some cubed up chuck roast, in red wine, salt, and pepper. I left mine in the fridge overnight, and then browned it in some home rendered lard, over some blazing heat.

The One Spoon

It helped that I had the One Spoon to cook with, which I got from a small fellow with furry feet. He told me it was the one spoon to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. Actually, I made that monstrosity out of some Carolina Buckthorn, a weed tree if there ever was one. It’s almost as long as my Amish made fireplace poker. It does keep your hands away from the fire.

Deglaze

I threw in a whole chopped onion, cooked it, and deglazed the whole thing with some apple wine that was mysteriously sitting next to my fire pit, and the red wine marinade. Who would have guessed?

Milled Tomatoes

The next step is to add milled tomatoes, and cook for an hour or two. Throw a lid on that thing, to conserve heat.

This is Merely Medium Sized

I’ve always thought of Dutch Ovens as something like primitive pressure cookers, because it takes some serious steam to leak through that massive lid. The last ingredients are salt, pepper, carrots, and naturally, taters, precious.

Ready to Stew

It would take another good hour to finish this, so I just went back to work on my great American novel, which is closing to a finish. If only it was as good as this stew turned out to be.

Creole Shrimp Boil

Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez!

This is something of an empty out the spice cabinet dish, and a boil can have everything from crayfish, shrimp and sausage, to artichokes and corn. Since this was for two, we stuck with the basics of shrimp, sweet corn, and new potatoes.

Shrimp Boil

Ingredients

For the Boil:

Water to cover the Ingredients (2 Quarts here)

1 teaspoon Thyme

1 teaspoon Oregano

Cayenne Pepper Flakes to taste

2 tablespoons Salt

6 Cloves

6 Allspice

2 Bay Leaves

1 teaspoon Dill Seed

1 teaspoon Fennel Seed

And anything else you like. Cover, and bring this mixture to a rolling boil. Turn it off, and let it steep for awhile. If you have a cold, stick your face down in the vapor. If it’s well seasoned, it will clear your head out.

For the Edibles:

4 new Potatoes (we have 2 Red and 2 Yukon Gold)

2 ears Sweet Corn (these are Silver Queen)

1/2 pound+ Shrimp, deveined (we usually use Gulf shrimp, but these are Florida Keys shrimp)

Boil the potatoes for 30-35 minutes, then add the corn. Cook for 8 more, and add the shrimp. In about a minute or two, the shrimp will curl up and turn opaque, which means they are done. Strain in a colander, and serve in a bowl with a rustic paper towel lining.

Have beaucoup amounts of butter for the corn and potatoes. Our favorite condiments are cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, and Chinese hot mustard. If the boil didn’t clear out your sinuses, a combination of hot mustard and cayenne flakes surely will.

Veg and Fruit

Farmers of the World Unite

 “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, & that, not as an aliment so much as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.”–Thomas Jefferson