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.

Local Brew: Goat Island Brewing Oktoberfest Lager

Oktoberfest South

Goat Island Brewing’s Oktoberfest beer is not actually made in the community of Berlin, Alabama–locals call it “Bur-lin”–but just a few miles to the west, in the town of Cullman. Cullman is in fact named after founder Johannes Gottfried Kullman, who was a “Colonel” in one of the many German revolts against royalty in 1848-1849. After revolt after revolt in Germany failed, Kullman thought it wise to relocate to the constitutional Republic of the USA.

Goat Island is becoming another craft brewery that is growing every year. The Oktoberfest is a well behaved lager, that could easily be drunk by the pint. It doesn’t hurt that they have beers with clever names, like Peace, Love and Hippieweisen, a wheat beer made with Alabama summer weather in mind. It also doesn’t hurt that their Duck River Dunkel won a silver medal at the Great American beer Festival in Denver in 2018. Not bad for a small Southern brewery.

Goat Island is an actual place, a small island just offshore in the Smith Lake impoundment. Legend has it that a single goat was marooned there as the waters rose, and spent a solitary life as the only one of his kind on the island. Someone could at least have taken him a beer.

Monaco Italian Bread

Grab the Butter

This bread is definitely Southern, although more Southern France than Southern US. Strangely enough, it is only a couple of ingredients away from being identical to Creole French bread, which, as I have noted, is more Italian than French.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Olive Oil

1/2 teaspoon Salt

1 1/2 cup Flour

1 tablespoon non-fat dry Milk

3/4 cup warm Water

Mix these by hand or with a stand mixer. Also mix together in a measuring cup-

2 teaspoons dry Yeast

1 tablespoon warm Water

1 tablespoon Maple Syrup (this is a substitute for Malt Syrup)

Let the yeast mixture rise in a measuring cup, until it reaches a volume of about one cup , then mix thoroughly with the flour mixture. Knead by hand or with a stand mixer. When the dough stops sticking to your oiled fingers, transfer to a bowl to rise–a wooden dough bowl is traditional in the South. After an hour or more of rising, form the loaves into the shape of your choosing–I like baguettes. Lately I have been cooking mine at 450 degrees F.

The recipe comes from the The Breads af France by Bernard Clayton Jr, and it has replaced the Picayune Creole Cookbook on my kitchen cookbook stand. It’s that good. As Clayton notes, Monaco, all 400+ acres of it, is highly influenced by its proximity to Italy, and thus we have the addition of oil to the bread, which fortifies it. Take away that and the milk powder, and you have Creole bread. However, when it comes to this style of French/Italian/New Orleans bread, there is only one thing to say about it–it’s all good.

1963–Three Reverends Walk into a Restaurant in Georgia

Wait–Those are anti-war Russian Kids who were Sent to the Slammer this Week–see the NPR Story about Them

There were no midgets in this group of clergy–alphabetically, they were Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr, and Fred Shuttlesworth. I learned about this incident reading the brilliant book Carry Me Home by Diane McWhorter. Here’s the cover.

Looks Familiar–Birmingham Kids Headed to the Slammer in 1963

The brains of the group, Shuttlesworth of Birmingham, had gone to Georgia to propose a protest, that was to become one of the most famous in world history, which he called Project C. It involved occupying the lunch counters in Birmingham, using his trademark tactic of “direct action.” Neither of the other two had ever participated in a direct action protest. Unfortunately, Shuttlesworth missed his plane back to Alabama.

I’ll quote McWhorter from this point:

Chafing to catch his flight back to Birmingham, Shuttlesworth asked King and Abernathy to drive him to Savannah. Arriving at the airport just as the plane for Birmingham was taking off, King said with humorous sympathy, “Ralph, I believe Fred has missed his plane.” Inside the terminal, Shuttlesworth said, “Gentlemen, I’m powerful hungry,” and led them into the all-white lunch room, instructing them, “Leave some stools between us. Some white folks may want to sit down.” To the waitress who was sullenly ignoring the leaders of the civil rights movement, Shuttlesworth called, “Little lady, if you don’t want your airport to make the history books, you better serve me.” But the only record for posterity was the rolls of surveillance film that the FBI shot of the SCLC member’s coming and goings at the airport, assuming the revolutionary plot being hatched at Dorchester to be Marxist-Leninist.

Carry Me Home

J. Edgar Hoover was something like the Putin of American history–that is, when he wasn’t playing dress up with his boyfriend. The line between the Klan, the FBI, and the police was practically invisible in Birmingham in the early 60’s, which was often compared to Berlin in the late 1930’s. All wanted to portray the civil rights movement as being communists, who wanted to take away white people’s places at the lunch counter. Thus few of the fifty bombings that happened there were ever solved, the last notable one claiming the life of Federal Judge Robert Vance. His daughter in law Joyce is now a news analyst for MSNBC.

I have to admire all the kids in those two pictures, but my favorite is the girl wearing the toboggan. She looks like she is mad enough to eat Putin’s lunch. I hope she does.

Smokehouse, Part Three–It Takes a Village, or a Family, to Frame a Smokehouse

Moochers R Us

This project began with the gift of a bunch of cinder blocks, and a couple of wooden pallets–all unsolicited, naturally (I should add that cinder blocks are known as “see-mint” blocks locally). These came from BIL (brother in law) #1, who then added a few pressure treated 2x4s as well, which you can see as the sill boards on the smokehouse.

Not long thereafter BIL #2 got in on the action, giving us the lumber for the front and back walls, as well as the rafters, and some tin roofing. He really really wants this thing to be finished, as he has a whole list of meat smoking projects. We (gasp) actually bought the lumber for the two side walls. I have plans for a fancy door as well.

No Door Yet

I did all the work myself, with the exception of Melanie Jane helping me hoist up the first rafter. But, as my labor is free, as always, I did all the rest of it by my lonesome. That is, if you don’t count my actual supervisor on this project.

Get Back to Work

That’s Siegfried, more commonly known as Ziggy D. Dog. A finer nor a lazier Aussie has ever been birthed. The combination of the two traits makes him perfect for a middle management position.

MJ says that 16 square feet, the size of this structure, is big enough to sit in and smoke a couple of packs. My counter was that I would rather puff on a Bob Marley sized fattie (that’s a joint of Mary Jane, in case you just fell off the turnip truck). Truthfully, neither of us has ever smoked vegetable matter of any kind. I suppose we will have to stick with smoking meat instead.

Smokehouse, Part 1–The Cold Smoke Machine

The Things You Find in the Scrap Pile

The game is afoot, as Sherlock liked to say to Watson. I am finally finishing off my brick oven, AND building a smokehouse to go along with it. There’s some history to go along with this plan.

Back in the day, every farmer in our area had a smokehouse. MJ’s grandfather’s was a beauty. He built a fire right in the middle of it, but only smoked meat during “hog killing weather,” which began in November when it formerly became very cold.. In short, cold smoking was the only smoking he did, which meant that the temps inside the smokehouse never topped ninety degrees.

I’m going for one that will cold smoke and hot smoke. I will be able to build a fire in the smoke house, and one outside of the smoke house, thanks to the steel wood stove that was buried under my scrap pile. Moving it also helped clean out my workroom.

Be that as it may, the foundation is also completed now, and I am ready to frame this thing. Check back in another week or two, as we are about to have some very good weather for working outdoors.

Creole Grillades and Fresh Peas

Before the Swallowtails Eat All the Parsley

This is a close copy of the Grillade recipe in The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook. As I cannot follow any instructions, I added one ingredient.

Ingredients

One cube Steak, cut into small pieces

Bacon Fat

1/2 Onion, Diced

1 clove Garlic

1 tablespoon Flour

2 medium Tomatoes, milled

Chicken Stock

Salt and Pepper

Chopped Parsley

To start, cook the onions in the bacon fat. Add the garlic, and cook for a few seconds. The addition of the flour makes the roux–brown it properly. Add the steak, and cook for about a minute. Finally add the tomatoes and chicken stock for something of a creole sauce. The parsley is garnish.

We use LA rice to go with this, and we just bought a basket of perfectly fresh pink eye purple hull peas. What we didn’t eat went into the frizzer for the winter. We are the ants in the Ant and Grasshopper fable, as we also buy twenty pounds of rice at a time. We just about need a bigger frizzer.

Crayfish Tails in Creole Sauce

Also Known as Mudbugs

A good Crayfish, like an honest man, can be hard to find. We had some decent ones from Spain, and then I was wandering through a big box store trying to find some edible seafood, and I saw a big bag of crayfish in the freezer section, festooned with a giant gold fleur-de-lis, so I thought, here are some real Louisiana crayfish. I picked up a bag, and the back had printed on it, “Product of China.” Puke. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been there.

I finally found good pre-cooked crayfish from LA in our southern based supermarket chain. Here’s my favorite recipe.

Ingredients

12+ Crayfish Tails, shelled and de-veined

1 Tablespoon Butter

1 Tablespoon Flour

The last two are for the roux. This needs a blonde, aka un-browned, roux, so don’t cook it too long. Then add the following.

1/2 chopped Onion

1/2 chopped sweet Pepper

Saute these together. If it’s summer, add–

2 fresh Tomatoes (I mill mine)

Chicken Stock

Salt and Pepper

Cook these until they are right tasty. Then add the no longer secret ingredients

Garlic Paste

Hot Sauce (I like Tabasco Cayenne and Garlic here)

Because the tails are already cooked, they only need to be re-heated. This dish takes about as much time as it does to make the rice to go with. Naturally, we use Louisiana rice. About six mudbugs per person is a decent serving. Now if only Santa Clause can bring the Saints a spot in the Super Bowl.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Five–Parawood Jelly Cabinet

Ignore the Dirt

The takeover continues, despite constitutional promises that the Kitchen cannot over rule the entire House. In this case it is even a kitchen cabinet in the dining room, though it was not confirmed by the Senate–and it’s from Vietnam.

We were sold on this Parawood cabinet when we read that it was made from old farmed rubber trees from defunct rubber plantations. Apparently rubber trees only produce latex for seventy some odd years, at which point they are cut down and made into some quality lumber. in short, this wood supply will last as long as the rubber meets the road somewhere.

We needed the storage space.

Just the Beginning

This also brought to mind one of my favorite students, who convinced me that the Vietnam war was really about control of the world rubber supply, and all the patriotic balloon about communism was just a bunch of hoya. How did he know? He volunteered for three tours of duty in ‘Nam as a medic for the Green Berets.

He was on paid leave from the Chicago Fire Department, and the union was paying his tuition. He was a conspicuous thirty years older than any of the students at UI, and had a wicked sense of humor. One male student asked him the following:

Student: Why did you volunteer for that many tours in Vietnam?

Beret: Because it was better than Chicago.

That shut the kid up. In a later class another one really stepped in it. He asked the following:

Student: Did you learn anything in Vietnam?

Beret: Yea, I learned not to shoot into Michelin’s rubber plantations.

As a theorist that just about all imperialist wars are fought over control of commodities, I had to get in on this conversation.

Me: Explain that.

Beret: We Green Berets could do almost anything we wanted. Burn villages, shoot civilians, and kill women and children. But, one shot into a Michelin rubber plantation, and your ass sat in the brig forever. And you think the Viet Cong didn’t know that?

That really got me thinking. The Greek empire, especially Athens, controlled the wheat supply. The Romans controlled wine, olive oil, and the famous fish sauce. We are aiming for an empire of canned goods.

Ok, not much of a start on an empire. The only place we’ve invaded has been the farmer’s market.

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.

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