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.

Sweet Pickle Relish

Meet the Family

Canning season is here, and we are serious enough to even buy new parts for the ancient Mirro-matic canner that we were given. Here’s a skeleton Sweet Pickle Relish recipe.

Ingredients

Cucumbers

Onion, preferably Vidalia Onions

Sweet Peppers

Vinegar

Sugar

Very little Salt

No quantities? If I could see what size cucumbers you have, I could give you the quantities–define what “large” cucumbers means, please. Otherwise, add as much as you like, and for god’s sake, taste the pickles and see if you like them. Also, you can chop these by hand, or use a food processor. These batches were made both ways.

We process our pickles for fifteen minutes in a pressure cooker. Using that method, our failure rate has been zero. The two jars on both ends are technically a chutney, which includes chopped tomatoes and curry powder. I cribbed this recipe from chef Marcus Samuelson, my favorite from the current batch of celebrity chefs. He could in fact be the GOAT (greatest of all time) fusion cook.

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.

Catfish Skinner

You Think You have Problems?

I probably gained my PhD by telling a story about catfish. This is a little convoluted, but it involves an organic farmer, an Auburn student, my dissertation director, who had not allowed any of her students to graduate in 23 years, and a galvanized tub full of catfish. I really like a good fried catfish.

So we found ourselves in central Illinois, at the beautiful University of Illinois, where we were surrounded by literally hundreds of thousands of acres of some of the finest farmland in the world. It really is farm heaven. UI paid me ten grand to go there, with a University fellowship, so there is that also. When MJ went to the financial aid office, they looked at her transcript, and said, “How many scholarships do you want?” She graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

My fellow grad students thought I was insane when I said I was asking Dean —- to be my Dissertation director. She was infamous for her denying student’s dissertations, and degrees. I just said that nothing can stop a charming Southern farm boy. It didn’t hurt that she was the general editor of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, which is something of a good thing to have on your CV..

At any rate, there was a good deal of tension between us, as I am something of a stubborn farm boy as well. I strategically decided to let her make all the big decisions about my dissertation, while I insisted on making the ones that actually mattered. Then I met the organic farmer, an old hippy, at the Urbana Farmer’s Market.

He was the coolest dude I had ever seen. He had the good fortune to inherit an enormous farm right out side of Urbana, and chose to turn the whole thing organic. His vegetables were some of the best I had ever eaten. We became friends as soon as he found out I had grown up on a farm. Then his brother came back for the summer, from Auburn U. in Alabama. Enter the catfish.

I asked the old hippy why his brother had gone to Auburn, instead of UI or Cornell, which are probably the best Ag schools in the country, and he said that he had gone there to study aquaculture. He wanted to introduce catfish farming to Illinois. I did my best to not laugh.

I didn’t know that the joke was going to be on me. One Saturday, right after the brother came back from Auburn, I found that they had a giant galvanized tub full of catfish–live catfish. Once again, I tried not to laugh, but the old hippy said he and his brother had to go do something, and left me to run the booth, and deal with the locals, as I had sold produce since the age of six. He told me to push the catfish.

The punters were fascinated by the tub of catfish, but none were ever going to buy any. One finally asked me:

Punter: “What are those?”

Me: “Catfish”

Punter: “What do you do with them?”

Me: “You could make them pets, but most people fry them and eat them.”

Punter: “How do you do that? Do you fry them whole?”

Me: “Well, you normally clean them, and then fry them.”

By now a crowd had assembled, to hear this combination interrogation/ lecture.

Punter: “How do you clean them?”

Me: “The best way is to cut through their spine right behind the head, and kill them. Then you nail them to a wall, like a barn wall, through the head, and skin them. You don’t scale them, you skin them with a pair of pliers. Don’t forget to take out the guts first.” The whole crowd went “ewwwww.”

Punter: “Can you just nail them to the barn while they are still alive?”

Me: “You can, but they’ll grunt at you while you’re doing it.” The crowd thought that was really funny.

We all had a good laugh, and as expected, nobody bought a live catfish.

Then I turned around, and there was my Dissertation Director, in her PJ’s, robe. and fuzzy slippers. She lived across the street from the farmer’s market. She had obviously heard my entire lecture, as she had an abject look of horror in her eyes. She had to be thinking, what kind of barbarian have they sent me? A guy who nails fish to a wall?

I just smiled at her, and kept selling veg.

After that, things were different. She took my side during the preliminary exams, after one of the members turned out to be a total hole. She also took my side during my dissertation defense after another prof questioned my main tenet. So after 25 years, she finally allowed someone to graduate.

Thank you, catfish.

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