Shelling Peas during a Hurricane

Field Peas, That Is

I was once scheduled to take the now former Editor of the New York Times fly fishing, but his condo on the Gulf coast got hit by a hurricane, and he had to go and board up the windows instead. He actually is a great writer–a Pulitzer prize winner, in fact,– despite the fact that he had to survive the Alabama educational system. But so did I.

We live in the mountains, where we love a good hurricane. We get the rain during the driest part of the year, and hardly ever get any of the wind. In fact, our last four inches of rain came from tropical systems.

Hurricane Sally stayed around for so long that I thought she was one of my in-laws. Hurricane Delta got out of here like a dog with it’s tail on fire. But Delta gave us some really needed rain.

Here’s how fast it moved. I looked at the radar before I fed my chickens, and there was nothing there. I get to their pen, and it starts raining. I get back to the house, and our entire county is covered with rain.

However, nothing can stop MJ and myself from going to the Festhalle Farmer’s Market, not even a hurricane. An older gent there had the latest season field peas that I have ever seen. We bought 1/8 of a Bushel from him, and I spent the rest of the rainy day shelling peas.

Time for another trip to Nerdlandia. A “Market Basket” back in the old days was a standard of dry measure, and this guy had an authentic wooden market basket. That was 1/2 of a Peck, and four Pecks equals one Bushel. File that in the appropriate file.

Now for the backstory. My Aunt June ran the only real restaurant in our community, and she insisted on fresh ingredients. We began selling her field peas, and she sold them as fast as we could grow them. Then my father had the idea that we should sell to every restaurant in the area. So we planted fifteen acres of peas one summer.

The problem: Cooks want shelled peas. I spent a summer developing advanced pea shelling technigues. A sharp thumbnail helps, but there are ways around that.

Just rip the end off the pea. Then there is the thumb bulldozer approach, where your off hand thumb plows out the peas, while your dominant hand yanks on the shell. A really ripe pea gets the zipper approach, where you just pull the shell apart.

A really green pea? Just feed it to the chickens.

The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook, 1901 Edition Reprint

I love people who hate on Amazon and our corporate overlord Bezos, when I know that they are buying like crazy from them. Life these days would be nearly impossible without them.

I have been saving writing about this cookbook for a couple of years now, and this is only a teaser. I’ll begin with the modest assertion that this is the greatest cookbook ever written (or at least it’s my favorite). You are allowed to ask why.

First, thanks to archduke Bezos, I was able to purchase a mint quality hardback of the 1989 version of the book for $3 plus change. It is expertly edited by a great cookbook writer herself, Marcelle Bienvenu, who wrote the definitive cookbook on Cajun cooking, Who’s Your Mama…? And please don’t confuse Creole food with Cajun food, unless you want to get laughed at.

Then, the recipes are superb, especially the meat recipes for chicken, beef, and Gulf seafood, as well as every vegetable imaginable. There is even a suggestion about how to serve broiled Robins or Larks–this one is not suggested by me, but the recommendation is to serve your songbirds on buttered French toast, and garnish with parsley.

The last mystery was as to who wrote this mammoth book (this latest version is 629 pages). An intrepid young scholar at Tulane University named Rien Fertel has determined that the author was one Marie Louise Points, a writer for the Picayune, who was “from a white, French-Creole family in New Orleans; her ancestors were from Virginia and around the Gulf Coast.” This is a common enough history, as my two favorite “Louisiana” writers came from Missouri and Alabama, respectively.

Bienvenu took the interesting approach of using the recipes from the second edition, but the introduction to the first edition. Anyone who has a copy of the second edition knows why. The second edition has an introduction that contains every racist stereotype that one would expect from the city that brought us legalized segregation with the case of Plessy v Ferguson in 1896–only four years before this book was first published. Fortunately, when it comes to the kitchen, all women and men are created equal.

Hot Stuff!

Can’t Get Enough

Like every addict, you have to eventually confess about your addiction. That plate tells you that I am addicted to pepper flakes.

This year I am drying my own, with a nice mixture of kinds hot and really hot. Really hot include Cayenne, Tabasco, and Royal Black. Serrano is hot, but not like the first three. The mildest is the old standard Cowhorn pepper. These are all local.

After they are dried, they take a couple of trips through the old Enterprise #602 grinder.

Pizza!

What does MJ do but dive into a scrap pile cabinet of hers, and comes out with a pepper flake shaker–THAT HAS PEPPERS ON IT. Nothing to do this weekend but fire up the brick oven.

ORANGE Tabasco Pepper

Peppers Galore. The View from our Deck. Sage in the background

Everyone who has used the Southern classic Tabasco Sauce knows that it is dark red. Imagine my surprise when I went to our local vegetable plant seller in the spring, and found that he was selling orange Tabasco pepper plants. I can never resist growing strange new crops–I also have a row of red broom corn, which is actually a plant from the sorghum family.

This was the result.

Future Pepper Flakes

That little reddish orange pepper is the first ripe Tabasco. It’s probably as hot as that whole Serrano that is right below it. I don’t know how this will work, but my goal is to dry all these, and make multi-colored pepper flakes with them. Then I can make some psychedelic sausages.

Seed Grinder and Mill

From Central Europe to You–The Grinder, not the Flour

I am down to my last two cast iron grinders to write about, and MJ has banned me from buying more. Even with that, I have my eye on a couple of them on Fleabay. Gearheads have no limits.

This Porkert mill is from the Czech Republic, and is the only one I have purchased new. It excels at grinding mustard seed for making fresh mustard. It will also produce a really good medium grain cornmeal. If you are Hulk Hogan, you could even attempt to grind wheat into flour with this. I have had the most success with spelt wheat, which is very soft.

I purchased this from Lehman’s in Ohio, as they have great service and great products. However, hereby hangs a tale, as I was once acquianted with the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. He was even a customer of mine, back when I was in the Outdoor Retail business.

George W. appointed his favorite henchman from Alabama to be the Ambassador to the Czechs. The Czechs are famous for their metal casting, and I immediately suspected some industrial espionage, as Birmingham wasn’t just a steel town, but also a cast iron foundry town. Some of the finest cast iron cookware came from there. I’ll finish with a story about that.

At any rate, he was a good customer, as he had boat loads of taxpayer money to spend. I asked him about the Czech Republic when he came home for the holidays once. I asked him if he had seen the Faust House in Prague (by the way, Faust probably never lived there). His answer was as follows:

Ambassador: Who?

Me: Faust, the guy who sold his soul to the devil

Ambassador: Never heard of him

Me: You know, the Faust that Goethe wrote about

Ambassador: Never heard of him, either

So our educational system produces such products, and they become our Ambassadors to foreign lands. I should stop there, but I have a great cast iron story.

One of his friends, who was much more intelligent, was a retired Gent who worked with us one day a week. He was an expert fly fisherman, had been in the steel business, and knew every mill and foundry in town. His wife wanted some really fancy iron posts for their gate to their new house, and had him custom order some from a cookware foundry nearby. He went to pick them up on a Friday afternoon.

He said all the muscle bound foundry workers were there, lined up to collect their pay checks. He went up to the foreman of the plant, and stated that he wanted to pick up his cast iron posts. The foreman did this. He turned around and yelled:

Foreman: Hey, the guy is here to pick up his Mule dicks!

Everyone laughed but him. He said he just wanted to sink into the concrete, but he had mule dicks to deliver to his house. The fence did look nice.

Summer’s First Vegetable Soup

Let’s Eat!

We jumped ahead of schedule, or maybe just jumped the shark, making this soup, as we had to work with a bunch of non-ordinary ingredient sources. In about a couple of more weeks, we will be able to make this with all fresh local ingredients. But sometimes you just can’t wait.

Ingredients

Chicken Stock

Crowder Peas

3 Ears of Fresh Corn

A small Onion

Butter Beans

Large can of Tomatoes

Salt and Pepper

Half of our ingredients were local, but the rest were scrounged for. We did have stock made from a locally grown chicken, which is unusual. The corn was fresh from the Festhalle, and the butter beans were from there as well, but they were hiding in the dim reaches of our freezer. The okra was really excellent and fresh, again from the Festhalle market. Here’s where we go worldwide.

Crowder peas are not yet in season, and hard to find fresh anyway, so we used dried peas from the famous Camellia brand from New Orleans. New Orleans folks consume as many Fagioli (beans) as Tuscany, and this brand controlled 95% of the market. They are that good. Cook these first.

The onion was an organic onion from California, and the big can of tomatoes was organic as well, but they were San Marzanos from Italy. I just happened to have some cans of them in my pantry.

MJ and I enjoyed this with some fresh corn muffins, made with McEwen cornmeal.The leftover soup will be frozen for the winter. The left over muffins were devoured by our chickens.

Great Food Poetry, Part II–“After Apple Picking”

We picked blueberries in the 85 degree F heat today for about thirty minutes, until we finally said, Fornicate It, the birds can have as many as they want. Then my favorite food poem came to mind, written by the magnificently wicked Robert Frost. Here it is, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation:

After Apple-Picking

BY ROBERT FROST

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

The bad news is we will have more blueberries in a few days.

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.