Outdoor Kitchen, Old School–Parts One and Two, Oven and Stove

The Big Kahuna

The Freudian idea of the unconscious mind is a problem for speakers of English, and is probably the result of yet another weak translation concerning the difference between German and English. Unbewusst, usually translated as unconscious, could be better thought of as unaware, as unconscious is more often considered a medical state in English, like a blow to the head. So if we go back to Dr. Freud, unconscious, conscious (unbewusst, bewusst), are more understandable in English as unaware, aware. Because you are unaware of something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, and doesn’t involve any head banging.

This all may help to explain my realization that I have a final plan for a five part outdoor wood-fired kitchen. I realized this when I woke up from a dream this morning, and the discovery cost me nothing in psychiatric fees. At any rate, here are the five pieces/parts/cooking stations, though I am only going to discuss the first two. I’ll get to the others later.

Brick Oven

Brick Stove

Smoke House

Tuscan Grill

Fire Pit

The Cornerstone

The brick oven will get the most use of all of these, mainly because of its versatility. I should point out that a brick oven is not a pizza oven, but a pizza oven can be made of brick, and most are, but they can also be metal and a number of other materials, such as clay. Many people, myself included, will lapse into calling this a bread oven, as that may be their primary use (this was designed to be mostly a bakery oven). However, anything that can be baked or roasted can be cooked in one of these ovens, with the added advantage that the temperature can easily be raised to 1000 degrees F, or higher. When this oven gets very far above 1100 degrees, my digital thermometer just says “HI.”

Baking traditional bread (think round sourdough loaves) also requires a door for the oven. After a fire is hot enough, which can be used to roast meat, veg, etc, it is allowed to burn down into coals. Those are then spread over the entire surface of the oven, to further heat the surface of the firebricks. After those coals are burned down to ashes, the oven is cleaned out, and the loaves are placed in the oven–this size oven will hold a dozen loaves. The door is then closed, and used to maintain an even temperature of between 400 to 500 degrees, or thereabouts. Theoretically, 36 loaves could be cooked in this with one firing, which made this style of oven popular with large bakeries, or even as communal ovens. The most loaves I have cooked in mine is a grand total of two.

Potager

This particular masonry structure fits into the category of something you don’t see every day–a Potager, more commonly called a Stew Stove in English. These were particularly popular with the upper crust of the eighteenth century, and the most famous ones in the States are at Monticello in Virginia. My Potager is a copy of one rebuilt at Ham House, a British National Trust Elizabethan period property in Surrey. It is definitely a French influenced design.

The concept is elegantly simple. A masonry firebox leads to a chimney like opening (I used flue thimbles as openings). This concentrates all the heat and smoke down to a six inch area. In the case of this stove, just sit a cooking vessel over the opening. The temperature can be varied so that it can range from a sear, to a saute, to a long and slow stewing. In short, this is a half ton equivalence to a modern cooktop, with the exception in my case, that the fuel is free and one hundred percent renewable.

As an experiment, I first used this to roast some poblano peppers that I bought at the farmer’s market, on a grill. They smoked as well as roasted, and were jet black in no time. After I cleaned and sliced them, they went into the freezer for use this winter. For stewing, shovel coals into the firebox, and use a pair of bellows to control the temp. Extra fuel is literally at your feet.

Coals from the brick oven can be used for the Potager, and a busy cook can bake and saute at the same time. Alternately, coals from the smokehouse steel wood stove, pictured above, could be used to smoke something and stew at the same time. A cook with four arms could bake, sear, grill, stew, and smoke food simultaneously. Such a creature would end up with a powerful hunger in no time at all.

Creole Shallot “Josette,” aka Spring Onion, White Multiplier Onion

Josette Shallot?

As this plant has at least three common names, I’m going with the most provocative, and yet the most historically accurate one (if you want the whole scoop, read the long discussion from 2008 on Nola.com about the issue). Creole food expert Poppy Tooker of New Orleans believes the original ones from France were actually shallots, but that only the green parts of the plants were used, and that eventually any green onion became known as a “shallot.” Here she is–

I believe in all those original old Creole recipes, people were actually using shallot tops, because they were growing them like that out in their garden, then, later, probably buying them in whole bunches with a little oniony part on the bottom and the green onion part on the top. . .I really believe this is the truth, and why we call them shallots instead of scallions or green onions or spring onions.

Poppy Tooker

Common names of plants are really only as useful as nicknames anyway, so this debate is about as important as what your dog’s name really is–is one of our Aussies named Siegfried, or is it Ziggy? Either way, he’s still a dog.

This plant does have a provenance of sorts, as the person I bought these bulbs from wrote “I obtained a start about 1972 from an elderly Creole gentleman in Golden Meadow Louisiana.” That’s good enough for me.

I think of these scrawny things when I hear multiplier onion.

Ready for Replanting

These are the common yellow multiplier, which come in various varieties. Fortunately, scientists have come to the rescue, and reclassified all onions and shallots as just Allium cepa, with different types. Now to the questions of whether or not Elephant garlic is really garlic: Hint: it isn’t. A scallion? Different species also. For now.

Another Alabama Kangaroo is on the Loose–in Tuscaloosa County

As per Al.com, our local news site, this roo is no beer drinking, pickup riding, good time Aussie. It is a sure enough public menace. And I remember the good old days when a PBR would get an Alabama roo into your F-150.

Says Tuscaloosa County Deputy Martha Hocutt, “These are wild animals; these are not the cute little fuzzies.”  On a side note, Nick Saban is rumored to be recruiting this beast to run for the Crimson Tide.

Brick Oven Rebuild, Part Five–Completed Masonry Work

Bigger is Better

The masonry work on the re-built brick oven is finito, and the oven has been getting a work out. We have cooked a few roasts, re-seasoned some cast iron, and churned out multiple pizzas, including six one day during the weekend of the fourth. And we still have that big stack of firewood on the west wall.

I haven’t shown all three walls, as the two side walls are identical, and the back wall is just a smaller version of the other two. The east side is an entirely different story. Here’s picture worthy of a contest.

A Brick Hutch for Giant Rabbits?

There are actually two projects going on over here. One is actually attached to the brick oven, but is not part of it. It is to serve an altogether different function. The old steel wood stove is soon to be attached to another part of the outdoor kitchen. Needless to say they all involve burning wood.

Anyone who can nail the purpose of each of these two units will be awarded an honorary certificate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Southern Using What You Got. I’ll add a heavy hint–think of something that Monticello and Mount Vernon have in common, and I don’t mean the Presidents.

Florida Man Bans Spectrum of Visible Light

Nature Being Naughty–Illegal in Florida Schools

July 1 begins the “Don’t Say GAY” law for Flori-duh schools. The first victim is unfortunately light. Rainbow images (aka, the visible spectrum) are explicitly banned from public schools, in the form of stickers, clothes, jewelry, what have you. Is this a symbol of the darkness that is falling across our once free country?

I hope some film class includes the classic Hepburn-Grant movie Bringing Up Baby, where Cary Grant, while wearing a woman’s robe, jumps in the air and explains, “I just went GAY all of a sudden.” I would feel bad about Physics teachers who can’t show a picture of the visible spectrum, but it is hard to imagine a physics textbook that doesn’t have one. The optics wouldn’t look right.

Even better, teachers of Florida, resign in masse. Let the Goobernor deal with that.

Early Happy Fourth–Thomas Jefferson on Judicial Supremacy

In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson was “commanded” by Supreme Court Justice–and his cousin–John Marshall to appear at the trial of Aaron Burr, who was charged with treason (Marshall was the presiding judge at the trial). Jefferson said, thanks but no thanks, and replied to Marshall thusly, essentially saying “make me.”

As to our personal attendance at Richmond, I am persuaded the court is sensible that paramount duties to the nation at large control the obligation of compliance with its summons in this case, as it would should we receive a similar one to attend the trials of Blennerhassett and others in the Mississippi territory, those instituted at St Louis and other places on the western waters, or at any place other than the seat of government. To comply with such calls would leave the nation without an executive branch, whose agency nevertheless is understood to be so constantly necessary that it is the sole branch which the constitution requires to be always in function. It could not, then, intend that it should be withdrawn from its station by any co-ordinate authority.

Jefferson’s Letters

Note the use of the words “co-ordinate authority,” which is the polite Jeffersonian way of saying, “you’re not the boss of me.” Jefferson held that, in line with the Constitution, that all branches of government are co-equal, and that no un-elected official, or any other kind, was going to be allowed to issue kingly orders down from on high. Jefferson thought that it should take two out of the three branches of government, to over-rule the third. For what it’s worth, after Jefferson refused to be Marshall’s errand boy, Marshall found Burr to be not guilty.

After his retirement, Jefferson was not so polite about judicial kings-in-the making. From one of his private letters, he explained:

At the establishment of our constitutions, the judiciary bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous; that the insufficiency of the means provided for their removal gave them a freehold and irresponsibility in office.

Jefferson’s Letters

No one can say we weren’t warned.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

I Say Ha! to the Heat

Need a late spring/summer blooming temperate forest shrub? This native could be the ticket. Two varieties of this species spread out the bloom period for a potential month and a half, and the plant doesn’t care if the highs are in the seventies, or like today, in the nineties.

In the wild, Bottlebrush Buckeye is found primarily in Alabama and Georgia, but it is now grown in Zones 4-8. The plant pictured is the earlier blooming “species” variety that was at peak bloom last week, when it was pummeled by 4+inches of rain in one day, and it still looks as pictured. Soon the second variety, often sold as var. Serotina, will begin to bloom, and will continue blooming into July. We have one of those as well, and it will bloom into July. Northern gardeners have reported later periods of bloom stretching into August.

A huge population of wild var. Serotina plants are growing just about three miles from here, south of Garden City, right along the edges of US Highway 31. Every few years Alabama Power will cut them down to the ground under the power line that runs to Blount Springs, which somehow or other rejuvenates the plants. Within in a few years the blooms will be spectacular, with limestone boulders interspersed with hundred foot long colonies of plants, and blooms hanging out over the road from steep hillsides. Unfortunately this section of highway is known for some spectacular wrecks, though they have never been attributed to drivers rubbernecking the plants.

Book Banning Season is Open for All to Enjoy

A Book in a Fur-in Language? Gott in Himmel!

The positive part of book bans is often overlooked, as a significant part of the population only thinks about books when they hear that some have been banned. I even taught a World Literature survey class once where everything on the syllabus was available in the erotica section of a large bookstore in Montgomery. Every work had been banned at one time or context or another, and some are still banned by the holier than thou. Interest in the class increased greatly when I informed the students of these facts.

The list of my top five to be recommended for censorship was not easy to compile, but I started and ended with Southern writers, as the South has been around the block a few times on this issue.

5) The Thomas Jefferson Bible

If King James could have his own special version of the Bible, why couldn’t Mr. Jefferson? The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth was his second attempt at distilling the Bible down to its essence. That it is only 84 pages long says all you need to know. My personal bible would include both the stories about Judith and Holofernes (see the famous painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes), and most importantly, the one where Jesus stretched too short wood to the proper length in Joseph’s workshop. No one would read that one either.

4) Gargantua and Pantagruel, by Francois Rabelais

What’s not to love about two giants wreaking havoc all over France and Europe? The Church didn’t think this first bestseller of fiction was very funny, and Rabelais needed the protection of the Queen of Navarre to avoid execution, on the basis of his assertion that giants can be born through their mother’s ears. Of course the priest named Friar John of the Funnels, who was always drunk, didn’t strike them as humorous either. Always a favorite in my World Lit class, but don’t teach this in Floriduh.

3) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself

Slavery and American history? Sounds all woke to me. That Douglass was criticized for writing that religious slave owners were the worst ones, says all you need to know about pre-civil war America. People, please go back to sleep, and don’t tell this to Florida man if you ever wake up.

2) The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This masterpiece of Sturm and Drang (storm and stress) is all about love, and suicide at a young age. Banned by Italy and Denmark as a bad influence on the young, the city of Leipzig in the German part of the Holy Roman Empire also banned the style of clothes that the fictional Werther wore. Now that’s a real ban, German style.

1) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Yikes! A young girl who wears boy’s clothes and goes by the name of Scout. Named by NPR as America’s favorite novel, it has racism, profanity, and gender confusion, all under an oak tree in south Alabama. Remember when Scout said to “pass the damn ham” at the family dinner table? Hardly a flattering depiction of Southern girl-hood. Also, don’t forget that scary Boo Radley. I am the proud owner of the first printing of this book, which is in the picture above.

After all that thinking, which may well be illegal soon enough, I am going to relax and read a comforting banned book.

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.

The Gazpacho Police Are Coming for You

The South is famous for such things as laid back folks, college sports, good food, a variable climate, and elected officials of questionable intellectual capacity. One, in fact, fears that a Spanish soup is trying to hunt her down.

The honorable US Representative for northwest Georgia apparently doesn’t know from Gazpacho. She stated, in her typical ranting fashion, that the Speaker of the House was sicking the Gazpacho police on her. I am of the firm conviction that a Gazpacho bath would be the best remedy for removing any skunk smell that a person might have.

Some countries do in fact have food police, in particular, Italy (sorry Spain, but we had to switch countries). The Carabinieri (think Italian FBI), which is actually part of the Italian Army, in fact has an agricultural division, that enforces Italian and EU food laws. Olive oil fraud is a major illegal activity in Italy, (author Tom Mueller estimates that 75-80% of the extra virgin oil sold in the US is fake) and wine is the number ten export. So the Carabinieri are charged with everything from dealing with organized crime to enforcing European Union Egg Directive 1028, which requires inspection and labeling of eggs. Italians really hate that last one.

Which in a round about way brings me to the topic of Ur-Fascism, a term coined by the great Italian writer Umberto Eco. His 1995 essay of the same title, published in The New York Review of Books, has become justifiably famous. Eco recalls winning a writing award given by the Italian Fascistas when he was only ten. He said all he had to do was agree with them.

The distinction Eco makes is between Italian Ur-Fascism and Nazism. Ur-Fascists are dangerous, but almost comically incompetent. Unlike the single minded and ruthlessly efficient Nazi party, the Ur-Fascists were and are primarily interested in lining their pockets and running off at the mouth. My favorite sentence from the essay has to be the following: “Mussolini did not have any philosophy: he had only rhetoric.” From that point, Eco outlines his analysis of fascist rhetoric, now usually called the Fascist playbook. Don’t read it and then watch the news, and really don’t dare to watch C-span afterward.

So we should probably add one party rule and Ur-Fascism as a Southern trait. Recently both Alabama and Mississippi were ranked as two of the most corrupt states in the Union by a good government group. Alabama is using Covid relief money to build new prisons, while having a former football coach as a senator, who couldn’t name the three branches of the US government when asked. He should have punted.

The South, everything from soup to nuts. Especially the nuts.

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