highland cattle

highland cattle

“These animals, often called Kyloes in their native land, have been made familiar to the outside world through the art of Sir Edwin Landseer. They are a small, rough-coated mountain breed, having long horns. The original Kyloes were mainly black, but lighter colors—dun, red, fawn (and an occasional white with black points)—have since been established and are now preferred. They are essentially a beef type, and when fattened in lowland parks and feedlots produce a fine, though small, carcass of beef.”

—from The Cattle of the World, by Alvin Howard Sanders. (Washington: The National Geographic Society, 1926.)

Nicolas Freeling on cookery books

“Aphorism number two: this is not a cookery book because such things are whited sepulchres, that tickle but do not satisfy. They appear each year in swarms, burgeoning in spring like horse-chestnut buds, and about as much use—decorative, gentlemen, purely decorative. Nothing wrong with that, no, but the bad cook who buys a bundle of recipes thinking it will turn him into a tolerable cook is in for disillusion and so are all his friends. The worst cookery books are the ones that give formal recipes. The least bad are the coffee-table books, glamorous affairs that waffle on about the little place on the banks of the Loire: the illustrations are lovely and there are historical, archaeological and botanical interests. Most wicked are the dogmatic ones which give quantities and times, peremptory stuff about giving your chop seven minutes each side. The inexperienced cook, starting confident in his mentor, becomes flustered by strange gaps in the information, is confused, irritated and finally exasperated—what should have been a nice meal turns out spoilt and it’s the wretched book’s fault, not the cook’s. You cannot teach cooking out of a book any more than you can carpentry. No two stoves, fryingpans, ovens—come to that no two cooks—are the same. No good writer on food gives formal recipes. “A recipe has a hidden side, like the moon,’ remarks James de Coquet tolerantly.”

—from Notes on a Kitchen Book, 1970.

my old hometown is gone lame

I’m told, because everyone stopped making art and moved out of downtown onto pseudofarms to make food instead. Weird.

Merry Christmas!

arrgg! Lynne Rossetto Kasper! Salt water!

While I am taking cheap swipes at culinary icons, Lynne Rossetto Kasper of The Splendid Table radio show just told a caller from Nantucket that it was a shame that there are no local salt producers there, because then the caller could use that local salt to make a brine to brine whatever it was they were calling about.

Well, a brine, my friends, made from rehydraded Nantucket sea salt, just ain’t so different from undehydrated Nantucket sea salt. Is it?

I feel a little bad about publishing three posts in a day when for many months I’ve barely managed one a month. What can I say?

Asimov on different ciders

Cider’s our indigenous drink, folks. It’s the best thing we can make ourselves, here on the east coast, cheap and easy. I try to make it in great quantity. This year, miserably, I’ve barely managed to put up five gallons.

Eric Asimov, one of my favorite wine critics, just did a column on different kinds of cider—very much worth reading.

Next year, barring natural disaster, I will fill a barrel.

why not more old birds?

I can’t buy old dead chickens around here. I could buy ’em live, I just realized, and cheap too—so I’ll do that. Grow my own old chickens, too, with the live ones I don’t eat right away. But it’s a shame; a terrible shame: young birds make inferior soups, stocks and braises. And it’s getting cold out here. And the wood stove’s going.

If you know what’s good for us all, go out and demand of your farmers tough old birds. The kind your egg producers have been eating themselves, in the belief they can’t sell them. Old layers are great, better than old meat-birds, as meat-birds have a bad light meat/dark meat ratio for optimal flavor extraction. In fact, I am in general not a fan of meat-birds.

Old layers are what is called an agricultural byproduct, and as such should not be expensive. If you find them expensive, because there is limited demand only coming at first from the sort of people who read blogs like this, you’re probably being milked. There is a lot of milking of us going on these days, and I don’t approve of it. It’s making good food expensive, and that is bad policy.

But that’s another post.

Eat old birds.

moka pot vs. moka pot vs. French press

My wife has a moka pot (also known, erroneously, as a stove-top espresso maker), capacity four ounces, she picked up at a yard sale about six years ago. I recently got rid of my moka pot—prettier than hers (I say), like modernist sculpture, really—eight ounce capacity. But, it was a pain in the ass to clean (poor design, for functionality), and the coffee it made wasn’t as good. As hers.

I think this is a little known fact. You see, in your banging around the internet, and in books, people giving opinions. They paint these little pots with one brush. Mostly, the serious people seem to brush them off. I forget why. But I’ve never seen any discussion of variable functionality, of how different design features or capacity affect quality, or, to be less autocratic, tastes. Qualities.

And I can’t give you that comparison. Because I gave away my beautiful pot. And I have a questionable memory. Instead, I use a twelve-ounce French press. Because I like the extra four ounces, and because it’s easier to clean, and because the coffee it makes is just as good, or better, than that old pot made.

And some days I like the coffee my press makes more than I like what comes from her pot. The odd thing is that, usually, I don’t. This either makes me a philistine, or a poor French press user, or means that her pot really is much better than the average run of pots. Maybe it is a little of all three.

In fairness, the grind I use for both pot and press is probably more suited to the pot. I use a Turkish-style brass hand grinder, probably seventy years old, and it is best at turning out a middling grind. Using this same grind, same beans, same water, same day, and in my press near-boiling water, three to four tablespoons of coffee for three to four minutes, typically, here is the usual result:

Her pot makes a cleaner, brighter, nuttier and thicker coffee than my press. My coffee often tastes muddy by comparison. Though still lighter in body. It’s a little frustrating, really.

Still, my coffee’s been good enough, more than occasionally sublime, it seems to me, that I haven’t been too anxious to try to improve it, to best this upstart pot on a more regular basis. But now my curiosity aroused, maybe I’ll start fiddling at my technique.

mother is bunk (speculations on innoculation)

The trouble with making kombucha, for me, is not getting around to refrigerating it before it turns all to vinegar. I’m not really all that fascinated by sweet-tea vinegar. I make a shrub with it. It’s okay, but for me, not worth the crock-space.

I tried eating the kombucha mother. I have so much of it. It’s reminiscent of squid, except without flavor. Harder to sever. It would have to be prepared some way that would soften it. I don’t think I’m intrigued enough to experiment.

I had a fruit fly infestation in my kombucha not long ago, so I poured it all out and tried to start from scratch with just a massive amount of washed mother. That is, without any liquid starter. The result: it took a month.

I grew my original starter mother in less time than that, from the dregs of a commercial kombucha bottle. I did it the same way I make vinegar: add liquid (sweet tea in the one case, alcohol in the other) to an equal or greater amount of the desired liquid, and as the one turns into the other, repeat.

I’ve been making vinegar for at least five years now, and I’ve never seen any sign of a gelatinous mother.

My conclusion: mother is probably bunk. While they’re no doubt coated with the organisms you want to replicate, I suspect you’ll find those in higher densities in the liquid itself, so long as it’s unpasteurized. And even if it were pasteurized: I think the chemical qualities, such as high acidity, help foster the domination of the right bugs as much or more than a high initial population of them at an unfavorable pH.

The bugs, you don’t really need to worry about. If you have a sweet liquid, yeast will find it. If you have a moderately alcoholic liquid, and the presence of air, acetobacter will find it. You’d need laboratory conditions to keep them out.

And you don’t have to worry about maintaining populations of special bugs, either: that sourdough starter you brought from San Francisco apparently went native to wherever you keep it a long time ago. So I’ve read. The humidity and temperature of your refrigerator probably have more effect on your bugs than your original starter culture.

I wonder if there are any special kombucha organisms at all, independent of vinegar organisms, and whichever others make themselves at home in the presence of tea chemicals, and tannin.

I wonder what mother is, and what provokes it in some solutions but not in others.

Practical microbiology is fascinating.

more reading: human microclimate

What if our literal back yards have more effect on the shape of our lives than the resources that are available to us regionally? An interesting vein of thought. More here.

something else to read

While the posting volume here at Encore has drizzled down to just about shy of nothing, for several particular reasons, and some general, let it not be said that I fail to provide diverting reading for those who care to read what I’ve been reading:


Something about wine ratings.

Anyway. In other news, the 1/2 gallon of cherry plum wine I managed to put under glass the other week is so far fucking kick ass. (Excuse the profanity. I’ve been reading http://saignee.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/the-new-scale/.) Chalk the fact I’ve only got a half gallon of it up to the fact I was busy increasing the postage volume of this blog. Yeah.

Also, I’ve been canning tomatoes.

Natural Wine, sort of like Organic used to be.

Most of my readers, y’all, haven’t heard I expect of Natural Wine. It’s a cultish little groundswell, like Organic was twenty/thirty years ago, as was agreeably pointed out the other day in Eric Asimov’s article in the Times. It’s like sourdough bread and farmhouse cheese: wine as a truly agricultural product, made by a farmer rather than the various employees of a brand; tasting like the grapes that made it, rather than the grapes chemically and mechanically adjusted to fit the palates of focus groups, and critics. It’s a bit utopian, really.

For years, there’s been this problem for hippies (that’s what most of my readers would still be called, where I live. It means city folk out of place, more or less; not second-homers, but lifers: eccentrics. Approximately two fifths of the population of Vermont would qualify): how do I buy wine politically and healthwise like the organic food I buy at the coop? Lord knows the coop wine buyer doesn’t know. How do you find sustainably farmed, small-farmer wine that preserves ancient traditional obscure endangered heirloom grape varieties and picturesque, arguably obsolete (I’ll say it:) artisanal techniques, etc. etc., that doesn’t break the usually very-meagre wine budget? Well, here you go: here’s the trick: it’s not the words Organic or Biodynamic, or a smiling cow on the label, or (Lord knows) Local (though there are some exceptions): it’s Natural Wine.

Not that it’s written on the label, or anything. Except in the name of the importer. Talk to your pusher. Tell ’em you’re innerested. Larn your local nat-wine importers. And be prepared for drink that may not taste like woody grape-juice concentrate—it’s sort of, rather, like the warty heirloom tomato(s) of wine. Vs., the perfect softball pink supermarket tomatoes. Or the canned San Marzanos. Knamean?

Incidentally, this is kind of the pre-game week warmup for the second annual nat-wine-writing extravaganza over at saignee.wordpress.com. Thirty-two days of essays by a really, really good lineup of wine writers, on divers subjects related to all this crap. If you take an interest, take a look.

yogurt is warm milk held overnight

A tablespoon of yogurt in a quart of milk, at about a hundred degrees, in a thermos overnight = yogurt.

Failing a thermos, a pot with a glass lid on a sunny day—that’ll do it, too. The bugs are called something thermophilus, apparently, which means they like heat. How’s that for scholarship?

There are niceties, but I haven’t figured them all out yet. The longer you maintain the heat, the more acidic it will be. For instance. I’ve had the texture turn out a little ropey once or twice, but I can’t say why quite yet. The fact is, I only know as much as I’ve told you here, and we’ve stopped buying yogurt.

Save dollars! I am keen on that. Also, I am now only a source of milk and a few winter vegetables away from being able to quit regular trips to the super market. Which is a deeply satisfying proposition.

Hey, maybe I’ll get some pictures up on this blog sometime again!

Johnson’s Winter (York) apple

johnsons winter

Found this lovely apple at a market in Blacksburg. Had good flavor, good crispness, and a shape so ridiculously charismatic that I figured I’d have to grow it, whatever it was. Did a little research, and it turns out the name is obsolete… an old corruption (possibly) of Jonathan’s Winter, which in turn was the original name for what is currently (apparently) one of the ten most commonly grown apples in the country: the York Imperial. Funny that it still gets sold under that old name sometimes. The reason most people haven’t heard of it despite its being a top tenner is that it generally goes into applesauce. Still, I’ll grow it.

orange peels in the soup

I’ve had a little glee in spicing things with orange peels this winter. Braises, soups and sauces—adds a welcome brightness to many of the heavy things we like to eat in winter. I’ve been taking them out before serving, but I’m coming around to that not being necessary. They soak up flavor nicely, and I’ve gotten used to eating them in marmalade. Cut them nicely.

we’re getting creative over here

We ran out of drinking water about three weeks ago. Typically, we haul it in, in five gallon jugs, but this winter the snow has uncharacteristically refused to melt for weeks on end, and the drifts over our long country driveway have in places reached over three feet.

For weeks we drank maple sap. It’s sugaring season, after all, and we have no shortage—more than we can handle, for casual boiling. And we’re still drinking it, and eating a lot of new syrup, and frankly it’s getting a little old.

So I just set a pork belly to curing for bacon, and I had a little pile of trimmings I figured I’d cook with the other night, seasoned with salt and smoked Spanish paprika. And I had a bag of chicken wings needing to be eat. So I threw it all in the Dutch oven to brown, let it cool, threw in some onions to caramelize, set some Arborio rice to risottoing, and realized that with all that inherent sweetness (pork and onions, friends) I didn’t want to make that risotto with maple sap.

So, I used beer. Some weak lager someone left from a party months ago, the most neutral liquid in the house. (Yeah, we’ve gone through all the stock in the freezer, too.) The bitterness, I was hoping, would help balance the sweet of the pork and onions. Also, the radicchio I set with the sauce to caramelizing.

It was a fairly intense thing to eat. But good. Needed something bright and crisp to balance it though, like lightly grilled asparagus maybe with lemon juice—or maybe I should have kept that radicchio more discreet. We drank it with a light, sharp wine (an Austrian Zweigelt) and that helped, it being also a refreshing alternative to more sap.

Of course, close readers of this blog will remember that my wife for her health avoids eating gluten, and will know that beer is glutenous. My wife reminded me of that second fact, several bites in, when I explained to her my clever technique.

What’s the name of this blog again?