27 September 2012

Bacon + Pecans + Pie = :D

It's time for pie! The leaves are starting to turn. Nights require a jacket. I adore fall. I have been craving some pecan pie lately, and I finally caved in...with a couple twists.
I wanted to try out a recipe that doesn't rely on corn syrup. I literally only buy corn syrup for pecan pie, so it would be nice to permanently scratch that off the grocery list. A bit of history for my fellow food nerds: The wife of the owner of Karo corn syrup was the first to publish what we all know as pecan pie. Corn syrup originally was not very popular. It was a newer product when most people were used to regular cane sugar. As an incentive, they began printing her recipe on the back of the bottle. It caught on so well that I have never made, seen, or purchased a corn syrup free pecan pie. Until today that is. There are variations, but that's the general legend. History lesson over.
I also wanted to try out a different pie crust. My regular is just fine, but variety is the spice of life. I recently read an article on pie in Mother Earth News in which they discuss using whole wheat flour. I thought the nuttiness from the wheat might pair well with this savory and sweet filling. There has been a huge focus on pork products lately, especially lard and bacon. Now, bacon I'm familiar with, but until recently lard had been reserved for savory dishes, not dessert. Ever the bull-headed rebel, I had to try it. Don't worry; it's not a mess of grease. In fact, there isn't a “PORK!” flavor like one would expect. It's just a hint.
This pie filling is awesome. I have done bacon pecan pie before, but I have never used the fat in the pie and the crust! It works so well. The crust is layered perfectly and solid yet delicate. I really think the whole wheat balances the sweetness of the filling, and the salty, smoky bacon just sings. Of course, this is a rare treat. RARE TREAT. Please do not include this in your regular diet. I will not be held responsible for heart disease or diabetes. Maybe you should eat this while on the treadmill just to be safe.
Onto the yumminess!

  1. Combine 1 ½ cups AP flour, ½ cup whole wheat flour, and a pinch of salt.
  2. Cut or pinch in 3oz cold butter and 3 oz lard. You can use a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers. It is ready when it looks like wet sand and clumps inside your fist.
  3. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp vinegar and approximately 3 Tbsp iced water. You want the dough to hold together but still be stiff and not sticky. It's best to have to add more water than flour, so go easy.
  4. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.
  5. Roll on a floured surface.
  6. Form and crimp edges. If you are not using the crust immediately, just toss it in the fridge.

  1. Combine 1 cup brown sugar, ¼ cup sugar, 1 Tbsp AP flour, 1 tsp vanilla, a pinch of salt, ¼ cup melted butter, and ¼ cup melted lard. *Make sure your fats are cooled, so the eggs don't cook next!
  2. Stir in 2 eggs and 1 Tbsp milk.
  3. Fold in 1 cup pecans and ½ pound crisp, crumbled bacon.
  4. Pour into pie shell. Bake for 10 minutes at 400, then about 35 minutes at 350. Pie is done when the edges are puffed but the center is still jiggly like jello.
  5. Cool for at least half an hour before cutting. Excellent served warm with vanilla ice cream and strong coffee.

20 September 2012

Canning, Part 1

I started writing a blog on canning and decided that it's too great of a topic to lump into one. Thus, there will be a series on canning. I'll throw in other posts in between for those of you who are not interested...but really you should be. And you hopefully will be by the end of this post. This one is all about why I love canning.
My beloved jars
It all started with a blue Ball jar I bought at a yard sale about 7 years ago. I just got it, because it was neat looking and really I'm a sucker for anything old. I still remember the woman explaining, “I would normally sell this for $15, but I can tell you will appreciate it. So you can have it for 5. I know you'll take good care of it.” I had no idea that jars were sought after collectables. However, I smiled and thanked the lady, thinking it could hold pens or cotton balls. I still have it. I have collected more jars over the years and cannot resist just checking at sales and thrift stores. My favorite is a Drey square jar. Hmm. More on that later!
More recently, I became more interested in gardening and eating locally. This naturally led to preserving. I quickly realized that green beans are not really growing 365 in Tennessee. So how can you enjoy those things that are out of season while not resorting to California imports? Well, I tried freezing first. But with the standard freezer/fridge setup, you can't really stock up on much. I was all too pleased that our current house came with one. However, I often forget what is in there, and some things must be thawed beforehand. I now mostly use the deep freezer to store discounted meats. I just roasted my last turkey in fact. Can't beat 69 cents a pound!
With canning, you can take advantage of produce at its peak, when the flavor is optimum and prices are low. You also have more local options. Consider tomatoes. Now, I can't stand raw tomatoes, but even I know a homegrown summer tomato is heaven compared to the bland, pink orbs from Argentina in December.
Another bonus is controlling ingredients, a definite plus for those with allergies or diet restrictions. I'm sure we've all stood there stupefied by the plethora of barbecue sauces, wondering which tastes best for pulled pork. Or wondering what in the hell disodium inosinate is. Or what exactly “natural and artificial flavorings” means. Well, when you make it from scratch, you know exactly what's in it and can cater it exactly to your taste and needs.
U.S. Office of War Information, 1944
Canning is also a great way to have heat-and-eat meals right on hand. It's not all pickles and jam. You can can (heh heh) meat, soups, sides...pretty much anything but pasta and grains. This lady canned bacon! Now, it was totally yanked from a mad scientist's lab, but a great option if you have limited fridge or freezer space. Perfect for trips up to the cabin or those off the grid. For the rest of us, a whole meal for four can be ready in minutes. That's sounds great to this working mother.
Last but certainly not least, canning is beautiful! (Except for the meat, that is.) I love seeing the rows of canned goods on my shelf. It's like a rainbow of food. I find it unbelievably comforting and calming to can. Passing by the pantry, seeing the glistening jars just puts a smile on my face. It's ridiculous really, but I love it that much.

03 September 2012

Well, readers. Without divulging too much information, let me just say that I learned that no one is perfect. Life is not perfect. And my garden is certainly not perfect. I just finished weed-wacking in there. I still have tomatoes and okra going, but the cukes are done for the summer. I hope to find the determination to put down some peas, carrots, beets, and green beans later this week.
I have been saving my seeds. I didn't think this was very important earlier in the season. However, I reread a chapter on this subject in The Barefoot Farmer, and it made much more sense. “Because plants are rooted to the ground and can't leave when conditions are unfavorable, they compensate by giving their offspring more strength to deal with a particular environment.” Survival of the fittest and all that.
As it turns out, I'm a terrible gardener. I never watered. Weeding was a short-lived activity. I never added compost. Heck, my composter is still in construction. In short, my plants had to go through hell to be productive, and for whatever reason they made it. A modest estimate of my cucumber total is 40 pounds, and that is not including all the ones that I tossed. Okra has been about 30 individual pods; I've gotten 4 good tomatoes thus far. Even though those were much less productive, the ones that made it were tough little suckers! Those seeds will do even better next year, even if I fail miserably again. I have also been saving seeds from our CSA shares.
The CSA has been a challenge this year. I think my previous experience spoiled me. Realistically, Delta Sun is right on target. They are a new small farm, which means bumps are more drastic, and we had a terrible drought this year. They always greet me with a smile, and those pigs are fattening up nice. I made some delicious baba ghanoush with their huge eggplant and spicy garlic. I hope they keep going and have a better round in the fall. It's easy to forget that joining a CSA is much like becoming an investor. It could pay off big time, or flop. If there's anything that needs our endorsement, it's small farmers, and I'm all too happy to lend a hand. PLEASE check out localharvest.org to find local farmers in your area. We're coming up on apple season, and pick-your-owns are listed as well.
My canner is properly broken in now. A few weeks back, my friend hosted a canning party, and the bug has stuck with me. Plus, I had to do something with all those cucumbers! I now have a respectable shelf full of homemade canned goods. The current selection: chicken soup, vegetable, chicken, and beef broths, pintos, various pickles, green beans, jellies (grape,lavender, and honey), and jams (cherry, blueberry, and strawberry). I'll have to do a whole post on canning, because it really deserves one. The biggest worry is that it's complicated. If you can boil water, then you can can. It has definitely paid of over and over again. We're able to stock up for less, take advantage of produce at its peak, and control what exactly goes into our food.
We bought a reel mower. The old timey kind that grandpas in their speedos and black socks use. True story. I love that thing. It never has a problem and is the most reliable mower I have ever used. It is noisy, but I usually listen to a podcast or music anyways.
With my heart yearning for fall, I am feeling the need to knit. I have only been successful with scarves so far. If you knit one rather wide, you can loop it around and either knit the seam together or use buttons to make a poncho. My daughter recently discovered that it can pulled down to an asymmetrical skirt as well. So creative.
On a personal note, reflect honor in everything you do. Whether it's cutting the grass or washing dishes or raising kids or snuggling up to your sweetheart. Nothing is trivial. I have been reminded that we reap what we sow. If you do things, even “mundane” things, with a happy and thankful heart, you can only be better for it. I find peace in my pantry. I know it sounds silly, but it's true. I feel secure knowing we have food in the house, that my babies are warm in their beds, that our home is safe, and that love lives there. It's easy to get distracted from your heart.