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.

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.

Boiling Ants

Old Meets New

Anyone who has spent much time in the South has come in contact with our insect scourge, the imported Fire Ant. After sneaking in on a banana boat, literally, in Mobile, they have spread from here to California. Their bite is bad enough that it can literally leave a scar. I have plenty.

Worst of all, their preferred habitats are lawns and veg gardens. People spend millions of dollars on chemicals to kill them. My solution is the Occam’s Razor of pest control. I just pour boiling water on them. It is both environmentally friendly, and emotionally satisfying.

You could run across your lawn with a kettle of boiling water, or you could do what I do, which is to take the fire to the ants (pun warning). My favorite setup is above, all Swedish, an Optimus stove and a Trangia kettle. Maybe I should get a dragon tattoo.

Killing fire ants, and playing with matches. How appropriate.

Classic Southern

It’s so Sad that Julia Child had to invent good American Cooking all by Herself

From native foods like grits and corn bread, to introduced European specialties such as ice cream and macs and cheese, the South has something of a history with food. The included recipes here are particularly Southern, and there will be NO FRIED CHICKEN (even though I trained as a chicken fryer with the Kentucky Colonel’s business).

Pink Eye Purple Hull Peas

Still More to Shell

Carolus Linnaeus was a great benefactor of mankind, who invented the system of binomial nomenclature of plants and animals. Now we know that Vigna unguiculata is not the same as green peas, though they share a common name. This particular pea was brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans, whose cultivation of it caught the eyes of the slaveholders. Cowpeas, as they are also known, were described by Thomas Jefferson in 1798 as a veg that “is very productive [and an] excellent food for man and beast.” 

This is a simple veg to cook, though it is starchy and takes some time. Water, salt, and some good seasoning meat, are all that is needed. This particular variety is the most popular, though the other varieties of cowpeas are remarkably different in taste and texture. If you see any cowpea for sale, buy them in bulk and freeze them, as frozen cowpeas are almost as good as fresh ones.

Southern Frat Boy Sticks Bottle Rocket up his Butt, Lights it, and Gets Sued

Don’t Leave Home without These

If only I could make up things this good, Robert Ludlum would be out of the writing business.

Since this has to do with a distilled or cooked grain, and possibly a smoked herb, I find this story to be fair game for a food blog. That, and it is something of a classic Southern story of the inexplicable.

Culled from one of my favorite mags, The Atlantic, that has published such writers as Twain and Hemingway, this classic hails from 2011. A West Virginia college frat was hosting a party, when one of the mentally altered guests decided to go out on their deck and stick a bottle rocket in his anus. I actually could not determine which way he stuck it in there, business end or stick end, but enquiring minds want to know.

As this was at a college, naturally there was someone filming the whole thing with a phone. After the genius lit the fuse, the phone guy became so excited he fell off the deck, and found himself lodged between the wall of the building and the heat pump. Naturally, he sued BOTH the frat and the guy with the butt rocket, for damages. The case was settled out of court.

I have to leave the last words to Shakespeare: “I am amazed and know not what to say.”