Fifteen Tomatoes

Ripe in May!

It’s been almost a hundreds years since scientists discovered that ethylene gas could artificially ripen fruit. That’s the reason why most supermarket tomatoes taste like yuk. They’re green tomatoes, turned fake red, and sold as “vine ripened.” There are very limited penalties for lying, especially in the food industry.

That’s why I am officially declaring war on Big Tomato. ( I have previously declared war on Big Chicken.) In the spirit of ’76, I now have 76 tomato plants, with more seedlings probably coming. I have fifteen varieties, which I will list below.

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! I was going to buy a couple more of these,but I actually bought three more

Roma-the heirloom variety, not the hybrid. Bought at the Festhalle, as were the rest of these. We’ve grown this before, and all of the below

Wild Cherry-the real wild mater.

Brandywine-the classic heirloom, with great tasting maters

Cherokee Purple-Perhaps the classic heirloom Southern variety

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

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. 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

Peppers, Dude

I only have forty something pepper seedlings, so I have a truce with Big Pepper. I do have three more pots of seeds that have yet to germinate. The cease fire could be temporary, and I do eat a bottle of hot jalapenos every month. Everyone has a weakness.

Native Rhododendrons, Part IV–Rhododendron chapmanii

Chapman’s Rhododendron

When people think of Florida, it’s either about beaches, or the trailer parks where Florida Man and Florida Woman live, although I also think about possums who drink cognac. They certainly don’t think of evergreen Rhododendrons. However, right there in the panhandle is the rarest of the rare, Rhododendron chapmanii.

Endemic to just around six counties in Florida, this plant is still sometimes listed as a variety of Rhododendron minus, the other deep South rhody. I have both, but the resemblance between the two is slight. Chapmanii is both state and federally endangered, and unfortunately lives exclusively on private timber comany property. In short, the long term survival of the species is in no way assured.

Fortunately, I was able to purchase two nursery propagated plants for my ark of a garden, and these guys are tough. My first plant is about to cross twenty years of growing out in the woodlands of Oak and Hickory. It has also made it through two of the worst droughts in memory.

The Survivor

Once again, for those in other hardiness zones, this species blooms at the same time as Vernal Iris (Iris verna). This one happens to be between my two plants.

Iris

Like the Ark of Taste, we need an Ark of Plants as well. Your local friendly bees will thank you with pollination.

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.

Enterprise #34 Juicer

One Honking Big Piece of Cast Iron

Coming into the ring at over 10 pounds, this Enterprise Juicer can seriously crush some fruit or vegetable. It would probably also work as the world’s heaviest food mill, but it is something of a pain to clean. I have used it mostly to juice excess blueberries to make some pretty tasty blueberry wine. I have also juiced some key limes with it, like the one in the foreground (a Meyer lemon is behind it). I bottled and then pasteurized the juice.

Technically, the Enterprise Company called the #34 a “Combination Fruit Press.” I found this in the booklet they printed called The Enterprising Housekeeper, which I downloaded for free from one of my favorite websites, Project Gutenberg. Check it out, and download some Jane Austen novels as well, while you are there.

The screw at the pointy end is the adjustment for how fine you want the fruit pulp to be, which also determines how thoroughly crushed the fruit will be. That also determines how much juice will come from whatever you are running through this beast.

Now it is time to wander off into the weeds of food history, as these juicers were also used to produce “meat juice.” This came right along with the worldwide craze for a product known as Valentines Meat Juice, which was a huge seller from 1871 onwards, and naturally, it was a Southern product from Richmond, Virginia. Four pounds of heated (not cooked) raw beef produced just two ounces of meat juice, which is more accurately called myoglobin.

The Enterprise company especially recommended giving meat juice to invalids. Nothing like giving the remnants of raw squeezed beef to invalids. Food crazes never fail to entertain. I hope the Paleo crowd doesn’t find out about this.

Lodge Commemorative and Wildlife Pieces

More Cast Iron

A trip to the Lodge Factory Store in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is a dangerous thing, if you have more cast iron cookware than every other kind combined. My wife Melanie Jane and I went there in December with the purpose of buying Christmas presents for her family, and we came back with seven pieces of cookware, and only four of those were presents.

Pictured is a commemorative skillet for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s the most biodiverse park in the country, and the most biodiverse temperate area on the planet. It’s also surrounded by some of the worst tourist traps in the world.

We bought as presents some of the Wildlife Series skillets, which had Mallards on the back of them, some real cast iron ducks at that. The link will take you to a complete set of the most useful pieces.

I once ran into the top Lodge marketers, at of all places, Salt Lake City in Utah, at an outdoor trade show. In amongst all the ultra light weight camping equipment was a display of cast iron which probably came in at about a ton. I had to check out the Dutch ovens and skillets, which made up most of the display.

I identified myself as being a fellow Southerner, and asked them what the hell they were doing with all this cast iron at a high tech outdoor show. They laughed, and waited until every Western looking person was gone, and one of them said very quietly, “Half the people out here still think they’re cowboys, and have to have our skillets and Dutch ovens. It’s one of our biggest markets.” The new Lodge cast iron care brochure is in nine languages, by the way.

What did I buy in December? My fourth Dutch oven, and I have only had to chase cows on foot.

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.

Imperia 150 Pasta Machine

Get the Sauce Ready

Thomas Jefferson loved pasta. He and his chef James Hemings are said to have introduced macs and cheese–or at very least, popularized it– to North America, and for years he and his family imported pounds and pounds of pasta every year from Italy. Undoubtedly, the first American recipe for macs and cheese was in one of his relative’s cookbooks, Mary Randolph’s 1824 book, The Virginia Housewife.

Jefferson also owned a pasta machine, which was purchased in Naples. His description of it is as follows:

The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, and not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. A paste is made with flour, water and less yeast than is used for making bread. This paste is then put, by little at a time, viz. about 5. or 6. lb. each time into a round iron box ABC, the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF, comes out, and forms the Maccaroni g.g.g. which, when sufficiently long, are cut and spread to dry. The screw is turned by a lever inserted into the hole K, of which there are 4. or 6. It is evident that on turning the screw one way, the cylindrical part F. which fits the iron box or mortar perfectly well, must press upon the paste and must force it out of the holes. LLM. is a strong wooden frame, properly fastened to the wall, floor and cieling of the room.

N.O. is a figure, on a larger scale, of some of the holes in the iron plate, where all the black is solid, and the rest open. The real plate has a great many holes, and is screwed to the box or mortar: or rather there is a set of plates which may be changed at will, with holes of different shapes and sizes for the different sorts of Maccaroni.

Papers of Thomas Jefferson

So even back in the day there were machines for making pasta, and the Greeks said that the god Hephaestus/Vulcan himself made the first one. I’ll stick with this Italian made Imperia machine.

Double Cutter

The double cutters are particularly handy, and this one makes both spaghetti and linguini. A large number of single cutters are available also.

Single Cutter

This cutter makes pappardelle, a nice thick pasta for equally thick sauces. The machine itself can make sheet pasta in six different thicknesses.

Parts and Pieces

The machine did not come with an instruction manual (naturally), so I had to jimmy with it to see the options. The dough tray clips to the front, which is the side the sheet pasta comes out of. The front will also hold a single cutter. The back side works best with the double cutter. Or, you could just leave all that stuff off, and make sheet pasta at the thinnest setting, or even dumplings, at the thickest setting.

Lasagna Sheet

Bill Buford wrote that the Italian introduction of the egg into pasta making was their greatest contribution. I nominate this machine for second place.