Peter Hemings, Y’all

As this is Juneteenth, we should celebrate someone who was freed from slavery–Peter Hemings, head chef at Monticello. He learned to cook from his famous older brother James, and was such a master that President Thomas Jefferson would write from the White House for his recipes. Despite being enslaved, he was the half-brother of Jefferson’s wife. History is complicated.

Not satisfied with just that, Peter taught himself brewing, and became the head brewer at Monticello. He was so good at that that he was recommended to be an instructor for the brewer for President James Madison. Jefferson wrote Madison that Peter was “uncommonly intelligent and capable of teaching.” Apparently he could make great beer as well.

After he finally gained his freedom, Peter took up yet another trade–being a tailor in Richmond. It appears that the people of Virginia were both well fed and well clothed, because of people like Peter. My guess is he was the source of many of Mary Randolph’s recipes, from the famous 1824 cookbook The Virginia Housewife.

Fresh Maters, Precious

Noshing Time

Whenever the fresh tomatoes start rolling in, I always think about the great book by Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the chapter that she titled, “Life in a Red State: August.” The title is overdetermined, as she was referring to the circumstance that she was living in Virginia at a time when it was run by right wingers, and the fact that she had so many tomatoes that she could not even see the surface of her countertops. That’s a serious canning job.

We timed using our last quart of MJ’s home canned tomatoes perfectly, as we used them last weekend to make sauce for our brick oven pizza. Then guess what, the new fresh tomatoes start rolling in. These are all local, and some came from around ten feet from our front door. The light colored ones are Bella Rosa, that we grew on our deck.

The purple ones we bought at the Festhalle Farmer’s Market, from the same farmer who grew that crate of tomatoes that are my logo. I suspect that they are Cherokee Purple, a great tasting tomato, as his daughter, who handled the sale, had dyed her hair purple. A farm girl has to do what a farm girl has to do.

Barbara Kingsolver writes that most farmer’s vote conservative because of the risk involved in farming–one bad crop or bad season, and you’re toast. I would add a lack of decent education in rural areas is a great contributor. After spending twenty nine years in the education system which is now the worst in the US, I can say that we have worked hard to become last overall. Irony alert.

I will instead concentrate on maters, having given up on learnin’, except for my own. We have a state run by looney tunes characters, except that they have no humor, which is not a good combination.

Eleven Tomatoes, Six Peppers

Bella, Bella Rosa

When you have nothing else to do, you tend to indulge in excess. Being rusticated for an indeterminate length of time, MJ and myself have gone narting futs with planting our veg. All these plants are just in containers: we haven’t even made it out to our garden yet. How about eleven varieties of tomatoes?

Maters, Precious

Plants in the ground–We found a great seller only about four miles away. These are all new varieties to us.

Bella Rosa–A hybrid that already has a tomato on it, and is blooming like crazy

Atkinson–Developed at Aw-burn U, the bitter rival of my Crimson Tide

Roma III–Had to buy three of these hybrid Romas, because it is Roma III

Juliet–“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” A mini San Marzano! Will buy a couple more of these

Seeds in the ground–Some are our saved seeds, including a couple of chance hybrids. We have grown all of these before.

Purple Calabash–The cabernet wine of tomatoes. Ugly and exquisite

Rio Grande–Why an Italian tomato is named Rio Grande, I have no clue

Creole–From LSU, and this is one Ragin’ Cajun, for hot weather. LSU has the craziest fans in college football. They came to T-town one year, their team beat the hide off the Tide, and then one sorority stole most of the furniture out of their sorority sisters’ house on sorority row, and carried it all back to Louisiana with them.. They eventually returned it.

Black Truffle–We love dark colored tomatoes

Amish Paste–Same with the paste tomatoes

Red Cherry–Saved seed, probably Matt’s Wild Cherry, which grows wild in Texas and Mexico.

Hard Round Red Tomato-More than likely a chance hybrid, this plant has some seriously tasty tomatoes

I have two Alma Maters, and now eleven Maters. I also never apologize for a bad pun.

Peppers, Dude

Sweet Banana–We freeze these by the dozen, if they survive our devouring them fresh

Cayenne–No Southern kitchen is complete without a bottle of Cayenne pepper sauce

Poblano–The best mildly hot pepper. Dried when ripe, it makes Ancho powder

Royal Black–A new one, said to be really hot. It goes in the pepper sauce

Early Jalapeno–Early is good

Jalapeno M–A mild Jalapeno. Why did I buy these? They must have been cheap

As the great Neil Young wrote, “Homegrown is the way it should be.” Amen from this corner.

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.

Vidalia Onions are Here!

No Onion will be Left Behind

The calendar may say it is still winter, but when Vidalia onions hit the shelves in the South, you know it is really spring, or Früling, or printemps, depending on your language. These things are delicious no matter how you pronounce it.

The Real Thing

These can legally only be grown in a few counties in Georgia, where the low sulphur soil is ideal for producing perfectly sweet onions. They are eevn protected by the “Vidalia Onion Act of 1986,”which was passed by the Georgia legislature. This is a rare example of a Southern legislature doing something useful.

Use the whole plant, including the green leaves, as it is all superb. These are great raw in a salad, or sliced onto a pizza. Or any other way you want to use them.

There should be more food designations like this in the U.S. Otherwise, we will all end up eating the generic fast food “Fish Sandwich.” What fish that is on the sandwich, we probably don’t want to know.

Seventy Degrees in January

Green Grass in the Middle of Winter
And Crocus

I have been writing about Global Warming since the 1990’s, but this year already looks like a real doozy. For four of the next seven days we have a forecast high in the seventies. And we are not coastal, but are in the Appalachian Mountains, where the normal highs are twenty degrees cooler than that.

Technically, Global Warming is called Anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) or Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW). I prefer the latter. I will not use the weasel term climate change, which was promoted by a right wing political consultant, who had the nickname of “Turd Blossom.” Appropriate. I would imagine the people of Australia are probably using the phrase hell on earth right now.

What will this do to the food supply? Probably nothing good. My family stopped farming row crops in the seventies, when the heat really began to increase, and the summer rain diminished. My conclusion is, invest in irrigation companies.

Lard Help Us, Part Three–Rendering Lard

Liquid Gold

We must have been particularly good last year, as we received $125 of gift cards for Christmas to our two best local meat producers, and then a real kicker, a giant cooler full of meat from cows and pigs grown by my brother and sister in law. We probably have about a six month supply of meats.

The first to go were some pork chops, which were the finest I’ve eaten since childhood. I made two into schnitzels (take that, Deutschland), and the other two are now marry-nating. And that was one fat hog, so I trimmed the chops and rendered down some lard from the fat.

Low and Slow

The key to proper rendering is to melt the fat at the lowest possible temperature, so I set my 6000 BTU burner at its bottom level. The lard is rendered when the fat turns into rinds, and stops sizzling.

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

After a night in the fridge, the lard congeals and is ready to use. Never make any beef dish without it, and never buy commercially produced lard, if possible.

Great Southern Cookbooks, Part Two–Real Cajun, by Donald Link (2009)

Real Food for Real People

There is only one thing to not like about this book, and that is I wish it was ten times longer. When you keep going back to the same cookbook over and over, you know it’s good. The “home cooking” part is the key here–these are recipes to use everyday.

Link has won a James Beard award, so home cooking may sound like an odd subject for such an accomplished chef. However, that is his strong suit, in that he cooks real authentic Louisiana food. He grew up in the region where people are comically referred to as “Coonasses,” as he notes in the book, which is a regional term for Cajuns.

The recipes? My favorites are the Chicken and Rice Soup, the Hush Puppies, the Hot Pepper Jelly, and the classic Cajun sausage, the Boudin. Cajun Boudin is mostly rice with liver and pork, but it is incredibly tasty. A Cajun seven course meal is said to consist of a Boudin, and a six pack of beer.

Strangely enough, Link is not of mainly French descent, but from German and regular Southern folks. That there are Cajuns of German descent is a surprise to many people from outside the South. And yes, those are the classic Cajun spices of Paprika and Cayenne pepper in the picture.

Sauerkraut Season

The Beginning, and the End Result

What with the fall cabbage harvest coming in, it’s time to turn that surplus into a German, and German-American, specialty. Namely, fermented sliced cabbage, better known as Sauerkraut.

Pictured above is a first day ferment, complete with fermentation lids, made by yours truly for next to nothing, and a nice quart I made last spring. My mother in law Agnes Olga would fiddle around with giant crocks full of cabbage, but not me. Give me a lid and an airlock any day.

Ingredients

One medium Cabbage, sliced

Salt

Caraway Seeds

Apple Wine (substitute any white wine)

This not exactly traditional recipe is kicked up by the addition of the wine. Among other things, it insures the fermenting cabbage will not be exposed to the air. Also, a bludgeoning tool is most efficacious when it comes to stomping down some fresh cabbage.

Stompers

The sliced cabbage needs to be crushed to release the water contained in the leaves. The big one does that, and the small one is used to pack the jars. A medium cabbage only makes two pints of kraut, if they are properly stomped on. Ferment for three to six weeks, depending on how sauer you like your kraut.

This is a great first fermentation project. That, and the final product tastes great on a good bratwurst.

Festhalle Farmer’s Market

What a Market Should Look Like

While the farmer’s market season is technically over for the year at the Festhalle in Cullman, Alabama, the authorities at Parks and Rec have been convinced to let farmer’s still sell after the official end of the season–for free. The strange thing about this early closure is that anyone who has ever grown any greens, knows this is the prime season for them in this area. Cool weather and abundant moisture make for the best greens, especially collards.

Case in point. This past Saturday was both cold and windy, but our favorite seller was there early in the morning with an assortment of greens. It had been so warm up to this point that he even had tomatoes! Best of all he had what is said to be the largest timber framed structure in the Southeast all to himself.

We loaded up on tomatoes, as we have greens left over from the week before. Then, right behind us, was the brand new tribute to our German roots. A Weihnachtspyramide, and a big one at that.

That’s a Christmas Pyramid

Not satisfied with having the largest timber framed building around, the Mayor and Parks and Rec went straight to the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) in Deutschland, and commissioned this gigantic ornament. It even has a carved replica of Colonel Cullman on the second level from the top. Not only does it dwarf the gazebo behind it, it is documented to be the largest Christmas Pyramid in the US.

Three big guys actually came over from the Erzgebirger to assemble this thing, although while I was reading a version of this story in German, Google translate kicked in, and said there were “woodpeckers” coming over to assemble it. If the woodpeckers looked across the parking lot, this is what they saw on the side of the office for the Festhalle.

Use the ATM so Farmer’s can Get Cash

Judging by the size of them, I would say that they agreed with this sentiment.