And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
-Leonard Cohen, Suzanne
I remember my dad telling me that when he was little he mostly got Christmas oranges (mandarins) and nuts in his stocking. When I was younger I thought that was unspeakably lame. I now realize that oranges would have been a novelty at any time of year, but to have such a sweet fruit in the dead of winter was truly a luxury.
I’ve been trying to cultivate a deeper respect for food we bring from afar. Given the season, I’ve been rekindling the ancient occidental obsession with oriental spices. To that end, I’d like to share a story from Herodotus:
What … Continue reading.
While reading the maple syrup section of On Food and Cooking, I came across a shocking bit of information.
Even though North American Indians didn’t have metal pots until the Europeans came, they had an ingenious method for reducing maple sap to make syrup. They would leave the sap in the cold air overnight. In the morning there would be ice on top. That ice would be mostly (but not exclusively) water, so in discarding the ice they were left with a higher concentration of sugar in the sap.
After reading this, I immediately turned to the section of the book on distilled spirits, to see if there was any mention of whether this method works to concentrate alcoholic … Continue reading.
Throughout late summer I found myself craving winter food. When I was filling my rumpot with fruit and canning my sauerkraut it was twenty degrees outside, but I was thinking of the dead of winter, and the rich, warming, comforting food I would enjoy.
Preservation of food has become central to my idea of local cuisine. I’ve always included meat in my concept of preserving for the impending winter, but I recently realized that this doesn’t make much sense.
Before refrigeration, fresh meat could only be kept in the winter. Of course you could kill a chicken in the summer and eat it for dinner, but what if you were to kill a cow and not have a … Continue reading.
When dry-curing, mold is inevitable, yet there’s little detailed information available to guide the beginner. I don’t know for sure why this is, but I have some theories:
- mold is so variant and hard to describe,
- mold-discussions might disgust customers, and
- mold is a mystery of the charcutiers’ cult.
The general rule in charcuterie is that smooth, hard, white mold is “good.” I don’t think it affects the flavour of the meat in any way, but it discourages the growth of “bad” mold, that is, mold that is pathogenic or that somehow compromises the meat. Any type of fuzzy mold is said to be bad.
Luckily, undesirable mold can simply be cut away; it doesn’t taint the entire batch of … Continue reading.
Step One: Acquire Grouse
A friend’s father, Mr. McLarney, hunts game birds with his English pointer. I had never, not once, paused to consider the signficance of common canine descriptors like pointer, setter, and retriever, until Mr. McLarney’s hunts were explained to me. The dog walks a ways in front of him, and when it comes upon a bird it stops and “points”: it aims its snout at the prey. Mr. McLarney moves within range and readies his gun, then makes a call to the pointer. At the signal, the dog scares the bird into flight, so that Mr. McLarney can pull it from the sky with his shotgun.
Mr. McLarney trained his pointer in his backyard with a … Continue reading.
Liver’s robust flavour is perfect in dumplings, that humble but satisfying dish that was once made with left-over bread, milk, and eggs. I was able to pick up some buffalo liver from First Nature Farms last week.
First I cut the liver into pieces and seared them on high heat. I set the liver aside, sweated onions in the same pan, then deglazed with vinegar and water.
For moisture and body, I added leftover bread heels soaked in milk. I used eggs to bind the mixture, dried bread to tune the consistency, and finsihed with salt, pepper, and thyme.
The ingredients were then forced through the hand-cranked meat grinder above, at left, which used to belong to my grandmother. This … Continue reading.
A simple variation on the brine and boil theme.
The rule of thumb for brining hams is a half day per pound of meat. Tongues seem to take a week for the brine to penetrate, even if they only weigh two pounds. This could be because the meat is dense and fine-textured, but that’s only a theory.
As is easy to imagine, the tongue is a highly exercised muscle. It contains lots of connective tissue that moist heat dissolves into delicious, succulent gelatin. As such tongues are almost always boiled.
I had just made some good buffalo stock, so I decided to braise this particular tongue. I didn’t expect braising to affect the tongue much differently than boiling; I just … Continue reading.
When I first decided to make pemmican, I thought the process would be simple: make jerky, pound jerky, render fat, combine. In practice, there were a couple hiccups, but the results were surprising.
In the finest pemmican, the dried meat was pounded until it became a powder. I started grinding pieces of jerky with a mortar and pestle. It worked, but I realized it would take days to process a useful quantity of meat. I eventually found a rock and a solid piece of earth, wrapped the jerky in cloth and pounded it out. You could probably blitz the meat in a food processor and obtain similar results.
With my meat powder made, I ran into a problem:
… Continue reading.
How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?
-Ernesto Geuvara, in The Motorcycle Diaries
Eating the Buffalo
The poster-beast for the nose-to-tail movement is the pig, and I have devoted the last few years of my life to learning some of the near-countless preparations of that animal. I’ve cured hocks, bellies, and hams, stuffed intestines (“casings”), boiled trotters, skin, and bones to make stock, rendered fatback to make lard, made black pudding with pig’s blood, and tried my hand at making headcheese.
For some reason I only recently related the bison meat at the market to the buffalo I learned about in history class. Only recently did I recall a teacher telling us that the … Continue reading.
December 1 is the first day of what I call “secular advent,” which counts the twenty five days until Christmas.
The Catholic Church, however, doesn’t subsribe to such logical measurements of time. (Easter, for instance, is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox…) As such Catholic advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which was a few days ago.
Growing up, we counted the days till Christmas both ways. For secular advent there was a fabric “calendar” with twenty five pockets and a chocolate in each, and for advent proper there was candle-lighting. There was a wreath on the kitchen table that had four candles: three purple and one pink. Starting on the fourth … Continue reading.