The Medicis, and the First Drive Through/Walk Through/Pick Up Window

There was a good reason that the Medicis ruled Florence and Tuscany for centuries. Besides funding guys named Leonardo and Galileo, they performed many public services. One of the Medici popes even hired an artist to paint his ceiling, though the ceiling happened to be in the Sistine Chapel, and the dude’s name was Michelangelo.

The most interesting invention of the Medici family these days was the take out window, aka wine window. Leave it to the great journalists of Agence France-Presse (French Press Agency) to catalog these gems (for a picture of one, go to the reprint of the article by the website Raw Story).

This is how it happened: the Medicis returned to power in Florence in 1532, and wanted to promote both agriculture, and give the average wine drinker a price break. It was a PR miracle, as both farmers and drinkers were thrilled with the setup. The solution was genius in its simplicity.

First, there needed to be strict regulation. The Medicis only allowed wine windows in palaces, and the selling had to be direct from winery to customer–no middleman. A drinker could only buy 1.5 liters at a time, though apparently there was no limit to the number of windows someone could visit. This rule also assured that there could not be the creation of a monopoly.

Then 1634 rolls around, and everyone’s favorite plague, the Bubonic, hits Florence and Tuscany. Even then, before the germ theory of disease transmission, one local writer noted that the use of wine windows protected people from contracting the disease, in that there was a thick stone wall and a heavy wooden door between buyer and seller. In current terms, there was enforced social distancing.

Fast forward to the present, and everyone’s second favorite plague, Covid-19. Suddenly long unused wine windows are back in operation, except this time there is an entire menu. Various bars are selling wine, as well as mixed drinks, coffee, gelato, and sandwiches, through the windows. The association called Le Bouchette del Vino has an excellent website with a tour of the wine windows of Florence (some saucy French person translated that as “wine holes”). AFP reports that there are officially 149 wine windows in central Florence, and a grand total of 267 known wine windows in the entire province of Tuscany.

So grab some Chianti or even some Morellino di Scansano, and take a virtual tour of the wine holes on https://buchettedelvino.org/home%20eng/home.html. It beats riding on a plane for eight hours with some already addled anti-masker.

Ciao!

Kitchen Invasion

What a Great Wall–Richard Nixon

It happens. This is not a kitchen intervention or a kitchen rescue, this is about when your kitchen begins to invade the rest of your house. We have at least three living spaces where the kitchen is slowly creeping in. I will mention two, but describe one in detail.

In detail–I made this dough bench intending that it be used strictly for bread making. The USA made maple butcher block top is oversized to accommodate clamped on tools–too bad it’s too thick for any of them that we have. Instead, I have a clamped down meat grinder, an Enterprise #22. Which leads to the four tasks this unit now performs.

Meat Grinding/Sausage Making

The #22 grinder is such a beast that it requires a bolted down installation. The clamp on version is much less common, and less useful. This will grind pounds of meat in a matter of minutes, and in a variety of grinding thicknesses/textures. It’s clamped on with a giant c-clamp.

The sausage making tools are stowed beneath the butcher block. Essentially, these consist of a sausage plate and three sausage stuffing tubes of different diameters to accommodate different sized casings. The world of sausage is infinite, and worth the trouble, for as Bismarck reportedly said “The less you know about how laws and sausages are made, the happier you are.” He was reffering to bought sausages and purchased politicians.

Wine Storage

It’s far better to have good drinkable wine than fancy wine storage. Jacques Pepin once showed off his homemade wine storage, and it was essentially plywood boxes in his basement.

Our little portable rack is all we need, what with our regular trips to the good wine selection at our local Publix supermarket. Most of our wine is Italian, French, or German, as all three countries have strict wine regulations.

Pecan Cracker

An antique but portable item, this old pecan cracker that belonged to MJ’s grandparents has a definite 1900 industrial look. The only thing it won’t crack are hickory nuts, but I have a 23 ounce framing hammer for those. Not too many people have a Pecan cracker in their living room, but sometimes nuts need to be cracked.

Dough Station

And it sometimes is even used for what it was intended! Everything ensconced on the top can be removed quickly. If I am making my usual Creole French bread, there is not even the need to do that. Even the French baguette pan is housed directly under the butcher block top.

The last two invasions: our dining room literally has an entire wall covered with dishes and glassware. Even the bookcase next to the dough bench is being invaded, as it is now 1/8 food books. In amongst my two first edition works by Henry James are food autobiographies by Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, and Barbara Kingsolver, and sausage making books, which are handy for task #1. I should also add that MJ’s corporate home office is overseen by two shelves of cookbooks, stacked in various configurations, one of which is a strong 19″ high.

And then there is the rolling pin hanging on the wall, which is soon to be joined by another. Every living room needs a couple of those.

Boeuf Maison

Winter in the Southern Appalachians

Though the Appalachians extend all the way up to the northern sections of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. and actually into the French territory of St. Pierre, off the Canadian coast, we are already seeing signs of spring down here on the distant southern end. High temperatures are in the sixties and seventies, and the wild blueberries are blooming along our riverfront. It’s time for some outdoor cooking.

Perhaps in honor of the French end of our mountains, I gave this dish the somewhat ridiculous name of Boeuf Maison, which is best translated as “Home Cooked Beef.” It is better when cooked outdoors. It is also ludicrously simple, which is why I gave it a fancy French name, to make it sound difficult.

Ingredients

Lard

Beef Roast (I always get local grass fed, when available), marinated in Salt and red Wine

Onion, chopped

28 ounces of whole canned Tomatoes (If I don’t have home canned, I use Cento Tomatoes from Italia)

Seasoning–Salt, Thyme, Oregano

That’s it. Here’s a perfect example of when the quality of ingredients and the cooking method make all the difference. It helps to have a really heavy Lodge camp dutch oven as well. The first step is probably the most important. PETA members, stop reading at this point. If you want to find some people who make PETA look rational, check out the website of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). They liberate things like pet bunnies.

Roasting Hot

The sear is the most important thing for me. I have a hot fire of hardwood and hardwood charcoal, and put the dutch oven directly above it. Add some home rendered lard, and sear away. Be brave with the brown of the sear.

Now We’re Cooking

Sear both sides of the roast nicely, and add the rough chopped onions. Rough chopped is fine, as this sauce will be strained after the dish is finished. When the onions begin to soften, add the marinade, and the tomatoes, and then the seasoning. Time for it to cook low and slow, for two or three hours.

Anticipation

Move the pot to a cooler spot in the fire, if cooking outdoors, or the lowest heat on a stove top. When the meat is completely tender, strain the sauce and nosh away. Mashed potatoes are the perfect sauce soaker.

On a serious note, and I am rarely serious, this fire pit survived the super tornado outbreak of 2011, though it was mashed completely down into the ground by a giant pine tree that fell and smashed into it. A larger pine tree was blown onto our house, and I cut it off using a German crosscut log saw. I lost a half of one roof shingle; 238 people in Alabama died, most in Tuscaloosa, the home of one of my Alma Maters.

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.

Sauerkraut Season

The Beginning, and the End Result

What with the fall cabbage harvest coming in, it’s time to turn that surplus into a German, and German-American, specialty. Namely, fermented sliced cabbage, better known as Sauerkraut.

Pictured above is a first day ferment, complete with fermentation lids, made by yours truly for next to nothing, and a nice quart I made last spring. My mother in law Agnes Olga would fiddle around with giant crocks full of cabbage, but not me. Give me a lid and an airlock any day.

Ingredients

One medium Cabbage, sliced

Salt

Caraway Seeds

Apple Wine (substitute any white wine)

This not exactly traditional recipe is kicked up by the addition of the wine. Among other things, it insures the fermenting cabbage will not be exposed to the air. Also, a bludgeoning tool is most efficacious when it comes to stomping down some fresh cabbage.

Stompers

The sliced cabbage needs to be crushed to release the water contained in the leaves. The big one does that, and the small one is used to pack the jars. A medium cabbage only makes two pints of kraut, if they are properly stomped on. Ferment for three to six weeks, depending on how sauer you like your kraut.

This is a great first fermentation project. That, and the final product tastes great on a good bratwurst.

Cullman Oktoberfest 2019

Courtesy of the Cullman Oktoberfest Facebook page, here is the schedule for this year’s Oktoberfest. The primary locations are the Cullman County Museum, and the Cullman Festhalle, said to be the largest timber framed structure in the Southeast. Prost!

Monday, September 30, 2019

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM School Tours at Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 2:30 PM Wolfgang Moritz at the Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Nimble Thimble Quilt Guild Display at Cullman County Museum

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM St. John’s Church Oktoberfest Dinner

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

7:00 AM – 2:00 PM Farmers Market at the Festhalle

8:30 AM – 2:00 PM Wolfgang Moritz at the Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM School Tours at Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Nimble Thimble Quilt Guild Display at Cullman County Museum

10:30 AM – 2:00 PM Freddie Day Catering at the Festhalle

5:00 PM Busy Bee Café German Menu

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

8:30 AM – 2:00 PM Wolfgang Moritz at the Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM School Tours at Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Nimble Thimble Quilt Guild Display at Cullman County Museum

10:30 AM – 2:00 PM Freddie Day Catering at the Festhalle

5:00 PM Busy Bee Café German Menu

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Sacred Heart German Dinner

5:00 PM – 10:00 PM Carriage Rides

5:00 PM – 10:00 PM Cullman Oktoberfest Biergarten

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM Opening Ceremonies at the Festhalle

6:00 PM – 10:00 PM Children’s Activities at the Cullman County Museum Parking Lot

7:00 PM Paper Airplane Contest at the Cullman County Museum Parking Lot

7:00 PM – 10:00 PM Terry Cavanagh & the Alpine Express at the Festhalle

7:30 PM Pickle Eating Contest (Ages 14 & Under)

8:00 PM Best German Costume Contest & Longest Beard and Braid Contests

9:00 PM Stein Hoisting Contest

Thursday, October 3, 2019

7:00 AM – 2:00 PM Farmers Market at the Festhalle

8:30 AM – 2:00 PM Wolfgang Moritz at the Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM School Tours at the Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Nimble Thimble Quilt Guild Display at Cullman County Museum

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM Terry Cavanagh & the Alpine Express at the Festhalle

10:00 AM – 2:00 PM Senior Day at the Festhalle

10:00 AM – 2:00 PM Cullman Oktoberfest Biergarten at Senior Day

10:30 AM – 2:00 PM Freddie Day Catering at the Festhalle

5:00 PM Busy Bee Café German Menu

5:00 PM – 10:00 PM Carriage Rides

5:00 PM – 10:00 PM Cullman Oktoberfest Biergarten

6:00 PM – 6:45 PM Cullman Community Band at the Festhalle

6:00 PM – 10:00 PM Children’s Activities at the Cullman County Museum Parking Lot

7:00 PM Paper Airplane Contest at the Cullman County Museum Parking Lot

7:00 PM Candlelight Walking Tour (Beginning at the Cullman Depot)

7:00 PM – 10:00 PM Terry Cavanagh & the Alpine Express at the Festhalle

7:30 PM Pickle Eating Contest (Ages 14 & Under)

8:00 PM Best German Costume Contest & Longest Beard and Braid Contests

9:00 PM Stein Hoisting Contest

Friday, October 4, 2019

8:30 AM – 2:00 PM Wolfgang Moritz at the Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM School Tours at the Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Nimble Thimble Quilt Guild Display at Cullman County Museum

10:00 AM – 8:00 PM Arts & Crafts Show at Depot Park

10:30 AM – 2:00 PM Freddie Day Catering at the Festhalle

3:30 PM – 12:00 AM (overnight) Cullman Oktoberfest Biergarten

4:00 PM – 10:00 PM Children’s Activities at the Cullman County Museum Parking Lot

5:00 PM Busy Bee Café German Menu

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Wine Tasting at the Biergarten

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Christ Lutheran Oktoberfest Dinner

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Avenue G at the Festhalle

5:00 PM – 10:00 PM Cullman Oktoberfest Classic Car Show

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM Living History Cemetery Tour (Every 30 Minutes; Departing from Festhalle)

7:00 PM Paper Airplane Contest at the Cullman County Museum Parking Lot

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM The Overtones at the Festhalle

7:30 PM Pickle Eating Contest (Ages 14 & Under)

8:00 PM Best German Costume Contest & Longest Beard and Braid Contests

9:00 PM Stein Hoisting Contest9:00 PM – 12:00 AM (overnight)My One & Only at the Festhalle

Saturday, October 5, 2019

7:00 AM – 9:00 PM Farmers Market at the Festhalle

8:00 AM Oktoberfest 5K & 10K Run

8:00 AM – 8:00 PM Arts & Crafts Show at Depot Park

8:00 AM – 10:00 PM Children’s Activities at the Cullman County Museum Parking Lot

8:30 AM – 9:00 AM East & West Elementary Singers at the Festhalle

9:00 AM K9s-4-A-Kause at Depot Park

9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Cullman Middle & Cullman High School Singers at the Festhalle

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Nimble Thimble Quilt Guild Display at Cullman County Museum

9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Oktoberfest Junior Sidewalk Art Show

9:00 AM – 10:00 PM Carriage Rides

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Wallace State Singers at the Festhalle

10:00 AM – 11:59 AM Cullman Oktoberfest Biergarten

10:00 AM – 7:00 PM Bingo at Sacred Heart Church (Concessions Sold)

10:30 AM – 2:00 PM Freddie Day Catering at the Festhalle

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Wallace State Jazz Band at the Festhalle

12:00 PM Lions Club Bed Races at Depot Park

12:30 PM Bratwurst Eating Contest at the Festhalle

2:00 PM Round 2 at the Festhalle

2:45 PM Paper Airplane Finals at the Cullman County Museum Parking Lot

4:00 PM – 7:00 PM Corn Hole Tournament at Goat Island Brewery Sponsored by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church & School

5:00 PM Busy Bee Café German Menu

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM Wine Tasting at the Biergarten

6:00 PM Blind the Sky at the Festhalle

8:00 PM Best German Costume Contest & Longest Beard and Braid Contests

10:00 PM Stein Hoisting Contest

There’s still time to practice your chicken dance, so go ahead and shake those tail feathers.

Making Sheet Pasta for Lasagna

Some Nice Pasta

The South is thought of as a fried chicken, hush puppy, and biscuit kind of place, but we also have a long tradition of Italian influenced cooking. In fact, the first reference to the mafia in the US was in the New Orleans Times in 1869, which reported about “well-known and notorious Sicilian murderers, counterfeiters and burglars, who, in the last month, have formed a sort of general co-partnership or stock company for the plunder and disturbance of the city.” Not that I am trying to perpetuate a stereotype or anything, but one of the best restaurants in the city reportedly still has a room reserved just for mobsters.

However, my favorite restaurant was the now closed Corsino’s in Montgomery, Alabama. No room for mobsters there: it was an Italian family run place with diner booths and metal pedestal tables. I don’t get that far south often anymore, but they formerly had two options for buying wine–by the glass or by the jug. We always went for the jug.

Their food was rock solid, and they flew in desserts from New Orleans. Their pizza was great, but their lasagna was the best. Now I’m reduced to making my own. I’ve taught myself how to make fresh pasta.

The secret is the ingredients, and there are only two or three. Bill Buford, in his superb book Heat, gave away the secret. He studied in Italy with one of the most traditional and famous pasta makers, and she said it was good eggs, and good flour. In fact she used bootlegged locally grown eggs, which is an EU story that is too complicated to get into here. Here’s the pasta recipe for one big dish of lasagna.

Ingredients

1 cup Antimo Caputo 00 flour from bella Napoli (Naples)

1 jumbo Egg (I currently have pasture raised)

Water if needed

Pasta Machine

This is an Imperia pasta machine, which is Italian, and not absolutely necessary, but it really speeds up things.

Double Yolk Egg

With an egg this big, no water was needed. Just kneed these two things together, and progressively roll into thinner pieces with the pasta machine. Here’s what you end up with.

Finished Lasagna

Let’s eat!

Making Apple Wine

Drink Chilled or on the Rocks, or Mixed with another Beverage

If you have been deluded into thinking that winemaking is some kind of alchemical process, take a little more than ten bucks and make 3.5 liters of Apple Wine. Yes, 3.5 liters of fantastic wine for around ten bucks, and that’s organic wine as well.

Ingredients

One Gallon Glass Jug of Organic Apple Juice

2/3 cup Organic Sugar (more sugar means more alcohol)

One packet Wine Yeast

That’s it. You’ll also need some equipment:

Air Lock, Carboy Bung, and Yeast

The airlock is a fermentation device that lets gases/pressure escape during the fermentation process, but doesn’t let air/contamination back in. That particular carboy bung fits a standard gallon jug, and the hole is for the airlock.

The process is as follows. Remove about one cup of apple juice, and have a drink. Replace with the sugar and yeast, and shake to help dissolve (one packet of yeast will ferment up to five gallons of wine). There are other methods of dissolving the sugar, but this is the simplest. Insert the carboy bung into the jug, fill the airlock to the line with water, insert it, and place your wine-to-be in a 60 something degree room. It will smell like sulphur when it starts to ferment, and the airlock will bubble like a percolator. Don’t panic. Let it ferment for a month or so to let the yeast settle to the bottom of the jug, and then you can bottle the wine, or just leave it for a few more weeks, and then bottle it. Don’t drink the dead yeast at the bottom, by the way.

For the best wine, let it age for a few months, though it makes a great marinade or ingredient as soon as it has fermented. Germans make all sorts of strange concoctions with Apfelwein, especially for summertime drinks. Summertime, you say? Lots of folks need to be reminded of that right now.