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.

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.

Alabama Power Being Sued by Episcopal Kid’s Camp for Charging an Extra $32 a Month for Having Solar Panels

What’s more dangerous, solar panels or Taylor Swift’s politics? Really, a question that Southerners have to face daily. Not content with being last in the country in education and covid vaccination, Alabama Power Company is launching a war on kid’s camps that have solar panels.

Camp McDowell in Winston county is one of the most beautiful places in the South. Then those crafty Episcopalians decided to save the Earth by installing solar panels. AL Power– a monopoly– is having none of that. McDowell is being charged $32 a month for the crime of having ethics.

Now in Federal court for picking on children and a church, AL Power has “no comment.” Probably the smartest thing they have said in decades.

Live Edge Cheese Board, Laguiole Acier Inox Cheese Knives, and the Story of the Mammoth Cheese

Bonjour

Combining my two favorite pastimes, woodworking and eating, was fun. It gave me two excuses–make more kitchenware, and buy more kitchen-alia.

The walnut cheese board is free edge, or live edge, depending on which terminology you prefer. George Nakashima, a master of this form, preferred free edge. Speaking of that, here it is.

Free or Live?

I left on the inner bark just to emphasize the point. I even have a borer hole–probably the last one that bug ever made, because the wood is toxic to our bug friends. The finish is walnut oil, naturally. I also made the best salad dressing I have ever had out of it. Apologies to all of the unfinished pieces of wood I have lying around.

Cut the Cheese

This Laguiole cheese set was bought from Fleabay for the price of a six pack. Some rubbing compound on the stainless, some sandpaper and walnut oil on the handles, and they look better than the ones that come out of the factory. From the grainy picture on the interwebs I thought they were walnut handles–after finishing them, I think they are rosewood instead.

Now it’s time to go to Nerdlandia and talk about the Mammoth Cheese that Mr.Jefferson was given as a tribute for his support of religious freedom. How big was it? A little over 15 x 4 feet big, and weighed 1230 pounds. Too big for my knives.

The Baptists of Cheshire, MA, had had enough of the Federalists and their lackey Congregationalist ministers down grading their religion, and saying that Jefferson would burn every bible in New England, and turn all their women into prostitutes (that last gem came from the President of Yale). Therefore, they made the Mammoth Cheese, and engraved it with the phrase “REBELLION TO TYRANTS IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD.” Then they hauled it down to Washington.

Jefferson threw a big reception for the big cheese, and made the church accept a payment of $200. Church elder John Leland, the mastermind of this clever scheme, thanked Jefferson for the “singular blessings that have been derived from the numerous services you have rendered to mankind in general.” Then they all had some cheese.

Later that same day, perhaps inspired by the cheese, Jefferson wrote one of the most famous Presidential documents in history, reassuring the Baptists of Danbury, MA, that the new constitution insured their religious freedom, and that the Jefferson administration would protect them. Here’s the key paragraph:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Letters of Thomas Jefferson

The wall of separation phrase was eventually adapted as case law precedent by the Supreme Court. Two years after the big cheese hit town, the US Navy produced a Mammoth Loaf of Bread, to go with the Mammoth Cheese. In typical fashion, Jefferson sent the loaf to the Senate, “along with with a large amount of roast beef, cider, and whiskey,” according to the National Constitution Center. The cheese lasted longer than the bread did. My guess is, knowing the habits of Senators, that the whiskey went first.

In honor of Mr, Jefferson, and his insistence that there be a Bill of Rights attached to the constitution, I will have a cheese plate, and a cheeseburger, on the Fourth of July. I think he had something to do with that holiday as well.

Bellflower, Leatherflower–Two Native Vines

Relocated Texan

A hort cliche is that there are “much neglected” plants, to which I say–good. The native clematis species fit this category perfectly. More than a few are not even available commercially.

This red guy, Clematis texensis, is one pricey unit, if you can even find one available. I swapped for this plant with a nursery owner in Texas, and now have a whole jar of seeds. It’s hardy and a beauty. In return, I sent her–

A Garden City Native

Clematis reticulata isn’t particularly rare, but is rarely sold. We have a few hundred of them, all growing wild. In fact the phenotype, or original sample that the species was described from, came from where we live in Garden City. We have so many I have even stopped collecting seed for these.

In short, if these plants can grow in the sandpile we live on, they will grow in most places. The hardest part is just finding them.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School, Part One–A Brick Oven, and a Curtain of Green

Ms. Eudora Welty came up with the Curtain Line

No stainless steel grills here, just bricks, camp stoves, and the end of an old propane tank, made into a fire pit. Welcome to old school, part one.

Our primary fuel is wood, mostly dead fall from our 5.5 acres of forest. The brick oven can take a couple of logs at once. It makes one mean pizza, or two. I need to get back into baking big loaves of sourdough bread.

Twenty two years and a few more days later, I am ready to do the trim work on this multi ton beast. Here’s the side view.

Egg Tempera Paint

That’s homemade paint, that came out very well. The siding was made a few miles from here. I have to buy some wood for the trim. Now for the back, which will be the center, or workplace, for the rustic kitchen.

Hobo Kitchen

Four more fuels available here, which I will get into later. The camp stoves burn alcohol, kerosene, and white gas. The blackish paint is flour paint. The wood grill on the right is my riff on a Tuscan style outdoor grill. The whole thing is as rustic as can be. I might even finish it one day.

A Curtain of Green is a great book by Ms. Welty, and the title of an equally great short story. It’s what happens here in this part of the South in the spring–the forest becomes so thick that a person cannot see through it. A great metaphor is forever.

Rooster Auction Leads to a Bridge in Alabama, 1919 Edition

You think we have big chicken now? A chicken auction in 1919 in Demopolis, Alabama, ended with pledges of more than 200,000 1919 dollars, in order to build a bridge across the Tombigbee River. Not all the money was collected, but it turned out to have been an international effort, involving the US, France, Italy, and the UK. Now that is big chicken.

An issue that President Wilson brought up at the Versailles peace conference that concluded the war to end all wars (sure), was, who wanted to send a rooster to Alabama? The PM’s of France, Italy, and the UK, were all in. The European roosters shipped to DC on a US warship, and the Alabama congressional delegation were there to meet them when they arrived.

Wilson himself donated a rooster, which sold for $44,000. Helen Keller, who is still our most famous person, donated a hen instead. The mastermind behind the whole thing was a farmer from Demopolis named Frank Derby. He had raised $100,000 for the Red Cross in 1917, by auctioning off cattle. He said the idea was ‘to bridge the ‘Bigbee with cocks.’ Maybe not the best word choice.

Word choice or not, the idea worked. The bridge was the last link of a pet project for Wilson, which was a transcontinental road from Savannah to San Diego. The new bridge, that replaced the old one, is still called the Chicken Bridge.

Thanks to various archives and AL.com for this vitally important story. At least the sailors an the warship transporting the chickens woke up on time, every day. They didn’t have much choice.

Alabama Woman Kid-naps Baby Goat, Dyes it Blue, and is Rewarded with Two Felony Charges

The yearly competition for the biggest dope stick in a Gulf coast state is always fierce.The perennial favorite is Florida Man, like the one who drowned a couple of weeks ago looking for a golf ball. A tie for second place is who can be dumber–Florida Woman or Texas Politician. Texas is going for the gold this year.

I am giving the early lead to a newcomer, Alabama Woman. Stealing livestock is a felony in the state, and we are an agricultural state ( I already have artichokes and tomato seeds germinated). Said woman saw an adorable pet kid in a yard, and decided to steal it. This is where keeping it real goes wrong.

After getting home with it, and showing it to her little daughter, she decided it wasn’t cute enough. It needed to be blue, she thought, and so dyed half of it blue. Second felony–cruelty to animals. No goat wants to have the blues.

This was on our Gulf coast, Baldwin county, and the spring break insanity had not even started at that time. Why not get ahead of the competition? I hope the Stones write a new song about this. I have the first two lines of it, gratis.

“I see the White Goat and I want to Dye it Blue,

I See the Jail Door and I Want to Walk on Through.”

Mick can send me just a fraction of the royalties.

Malcolm X, Black Muslims, MJ, and Myself

This is a true story.

I was once interviewed for a position as a Professor of African-American Lit at the second largest University in Connecticut–I have a big list of publications on black writers . Two-thirds of the interview committee almost passed out when a white farm boy from Alabama walked into the room. One woman, who was a poet, thought it was funny as hell.

So here is my Black Muslim/Black History story. MJ and I were the only white people a big group of Black muslims from Chicago would even speak to, in Champaign, Illinois. We had to walk the walk, and we did.

One of my students in a class called “Intermediate Expository Prose,” –seriously–was the head of the black fraternities. His six room mates were Black muslims, who he said would never talk to a white person. Southern charm and brains can break down any walls.

Here’s some boasting here, but I blew it out of the doors teaching The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I choose as a text for the class. The frat head loved it. When MJ and I walked back to our apartment one day, six Black muslims were there to say hello to us, in the park nearby.

So soul food is our food. Collards are soul food, and our food. Black eyed peas are soul food, and our food. Macs and Cheese? French food brought here by the great James Hemings. Damned if we don’t have a fusion culture here. Salt and Pepper, black and white together, we shall over come together. We shall overcome.

In Praise of Danner Boots–Made in the US (sort of)

A Rogue’s Gallery

I will have to begin with a somewhat humorous story, about the time I walked two agents of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission into the ground, after I discovered a previously unknown population of wild brook trout. We were ready for a six mile hike, but as this was on the NC-TN state line, the Forest Service had randomly decided to lock off the access road on the top of a really big mountain into the Citico Creek Wilderness trailhead in the National Forest. Now we had to walk about thirteen miles.

The desk jockeys did not look pleased. I had various secret weapons–a one ounce fly rod, and two pairs of Danner USA union made boots. The ones on the left, which have been re-soled multiple times, and the wading boots with carbide spiked soles, on the right, were both there. I knew they were in for a world of hurt.

I caught them their trout, which increased the known wild brook trout territory in TN by more than one percent. Then we had to walk back up the mountain. I busted their butts, but had a reward waiting–a cooler full of really cold beer.

It was like Lazarus returning from the dead. They both snorted down a beer, and congratulated me on my discovery. All I did was go fly fishing, and have a really pleasant walk.

Danner Boot Company is based in Portland, and is famous for its quality. With one exception these are all US made boots. The second pair from the left is MJ’s hiking boots. The ones in the middle are my new Mountain Lights, a replacement for the ones on the far left. The next pair were called Rainer, but made in Italy, apparently by the Fabiano boot company. Fabio himself was not involved.

I accidentally started the best gripe session I have ever heard. I went to the outdoor retailer show in Salt Lake, wearing my Danner Boots, of course, and the Danner booth was almost all women. Union women rock. They saw my boots, and said, right, on.

Here was my mistake: I asked them if I could get some women’s Danner wading boots for MJ. I laughed for ten minutes as they launched into the finest tirade I have ever heard, about how all their workers were women who fly fished, and male management refused to let them make women’s wading boots. It was epic.

Danner is now making wading boots for the Patagonia company! Still no women’s shoes, but they are making much smaller sizes. Go figure on that one as well.