More Taters, Precious

Just out of the Ground

I now have a couple of months worth of new potatoes, because I grew these myself. Those in the picture are Yukon Gold and Russet potatoes. It’s next to impossible to buy potatoes of this quality. You have to grow them yourself.

With that said, hereby hangs a tale, as Shakespeare might have written. I come from a line of many generations of potato farmers, and my grandfather Earnie claimed to have started the sweet potato industry in Alabama. Here’s the story.

During the 1920’s, farmers from the South would travel to Northern industrial cities to work during the winter. Folks from Cullman would go to Cincinnati to be among their fellow German descended folks. Factory work paid better than sitting on your butt all winter.

Factory owners caught on to this migration, and instituted a rule that no one who quit to work at a higher paying factory could be re-hired by another one. Before the days of Social Security numbers and other ID, my grandfather just used a different name, every time he moved from factory to factory.

He would also look for markets for anything he grew. One day he ran across a grocery wholesaler who was really interested. Here’s how he would describe the conversation:

Wholesaler: “So what do you grow down there in Alabama?”

Earnie: “Our main crop is strawberries.”

Wholesaler: “Too perishable. They’d be rotten by the time they got up here.”

Earnie: “We also grow lots of sweet potatoes.”

Wholesaler: “Sweet potatoes! Oy vey! I can never get enough sweet potatoes. I’ll take three carloads.”

Earnie: “I’ll get three guys to bring up three carloads.”

Wholesaler: “No, I want three train carloads. That will just be the start.”

And thusly every sweet potato in the county was sold, and an industry born. The first time I walked into our first Whole Foods store, I saw a big sign that said “Local Sweet Potatoes,” next to the picture of a farmer I went to high school with. Taters run deep.

Honey Blueberry Glazed Ham

Easter Ham, which will be around a while

Thanks to our corporate overlord, Jeff Bezos, and his minions at Whole Foods, we actually had a decent ham for Easter. Still staring at a freezer full of blueberries, we decided to make a new and different glaze for the spiral sliced ham (pre-cooked. Thanks, Mr. Bezos).

The Glaze

Honey to taste

1 tablespoon Sorghum Molasses

The Juice of four cups of Blueberries

Juice of one Lemon

Mix these together, and boil until the glaze thickens slightly. Stud the ham with cloves, glaze, and cook until the ham is warmed through, and the glaze is shiny.

Don’t have a couple of cups of blueberry juice handy? Then whip out your Enterprise #34 cast iron juicer.

Juicer, Old School

Weighing in at a mere 14 pounds, this thing has never met a berry it couldn’t juice. These are readily available on eBay. A food processor and a strainer will work as well, but don’t really make a statement like this beast does.

Supermarket Dumpster Diving

WH VaseSometimes you have to do what you have to do.

I was coming out of our Whole Foods in Mountain Brook, Alabama, when  I saw something unusual: a woman being held by her ankles, rummaging upside down through a giant dumpster in the parking lot. Actually, only her top half was upside down: she was bent over the top edge of the dumpster, and was digging like crazy. If her male companion had let her go, she would have literally dived head first into the dumpster.

Fortunately, I was parked right next to the dumpster, and would have a close up seat to this enterprise, never having seen a well dressed woman dumpster diving before. I paused to savor the sight, when a Whole Foods employee passed me with buggy load of galvanized pots, headed toward the dumpster. They were throwing those away? I had to know.

Me: Are you throwing those away?

WFE (Whole Foods Employee, a young woman): Yes, we’re getting all new displays for the floral department.

Me: You don’t mind that woman dumpster diving out there?

WFE: It’s that, or the landfill.

Hmmm. I thanked her for the info, and headed to my wife’s Prius Eco to unload my goodies. Then I had a brain infarction: I could use those flower displays she was throwing away as growing containers for my favorite fruit, the pomme d’amour, the love apple, aka, the tomato. Wild Galapagos, Wild Cherry, Cherokee Purple, and my favorite, the deliciously ugly Purple Calabash, was all I could think about. By the time I had finished my mental catalog of what I could grow, the lady dumpster diver had hauled off a carload of really nice galvanized pots. Now it was my turn to become a dumpster diver.

I had no one to hold me by my ankles, so I took a more cautious approach. Looking over the edge of the dumpster, I saw a big stack of practically pristine galvanized flower holders, with copper handles, perfect for growing tomatoes. Bingo, that’s a goody, as Bear Bryant used to say. I grabbed nine of them, and loaded them into the Prius. My first dumpster dive was a complete success.

One corporation’s trash is another man’s . . . 

A Chance Encounter at Whole Foods

BeefVegans, don’t read this. An animal was killed and eaten as part of this story.

You know that the following narrative is true, because no one could possibly make up something as crazy as this. I also doubted the following quote from Joel Salatin, aka “the world’s most famous farmer,” but now I have incontrovertible evidence that it is true:

The indigenous knowledge base surrounding food is largely gone. When “scratch” cooking means actually opening a can, and when church and family reunion potlucks include buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, you know our culture has suffered a culinary information implosion.

Hyperbole? Here’s what happened during my last weekly trip to the Whole Foods Market in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

Thrifty person that I am, I play every angle imaginable when shopping, as long as there is no compromise on quality. I rarely buy any meat other than chicken at Whole Foods, as our local butcher, Brickyard Meats, regularly has local grass fed beef and local pork. They were mostly wiped out on my last trip, and all I scored was some slices of fresh ham, which I marry-nated in a Saumure Anglais, which I believe means something like “English brine” or “English pickle.” So if I wanted decent beef, it was Whole Foods or bust. I was headed to the wealthiest zip code in Alabama, and one of the wealthiest in the South.

Apparently I exuded a false air of respectability, as I was picking out a good chunk of beef from the Amazon Prime specials display, because a young woman with a small child trailing behind her, decided she wanted to know what I was buying.

MBH (Mountain Brook Housewife): “What is that?” She was wearing a Patagonia down vest, zipped up to her neck, even though it was sixty degrees outside.

ME: “It’s a chuck roast.” I pointed at the label while I answered her.

MBH: “How much is it?”

ME: “This is the regular price, and this is the Prime price.” I pointed at the two signs that displayed the prices in large numbers.

MBH: “Could I make beef stew out of that?”

ME: “It would make excellent beef stew or a roast. I’m making a roast.” That answer was a mistake.

MBH: “Could I cut it up?”

ME: “Yes.” I was mentally debating whether or not I should make a run for it.

MBH: “Will they cut it up for me here?” Apparently she had a knife-less kitchen.

ME: “Probably, if you ask the people down at the meat counter.” Those poor suckers.

She made a bee line down to the meat counter, and as I walked by, a tall woman with a butcher’s apron was explaining to her that they had stew meat already cut up in the meat display. I decided it was a good time to head to the restroom. Later, I peeked at her cart while she was checking out, from a safe distance away. There was no stew meat in it. In fact, it appeared that she had nothing but prepared, processed food in there. I had to feel sorry for the poor kid.

MBH had just confirmed one of the most notorious jokes about a Mountain Brook housewife. What is the best thing they make? Reservations.