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Purloo and Sour Orange Pie

Purloo, jambalaya, pilau, arroz con pollo… all rice casseroles cooked with the local aromatic vegetables, broth and whatever meat happens to be around. Purloo is the Cracker & Low Country version of this dish, made slightly soupier with rich stock. I used good Louisiana rice in this purloo since I didn’t have any Florida rice left. Okra is a traditional vegetable here, but okra’s not in season yet. I love the flexibility of these one-dish meals, once you learn the technique you can freely substitute seasonal ingredients throughout the year. These kind of dishes can really come in handy for the Eat Local Challenge, too!

Sour orange pie is a revelation. I read about the recipe in my Cracker cooking and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings research, but never tried it. I was warned last Saturday that there’s only a few weeks left for sour oranges, so I finally remembered to buy a graham cracker crust, I pulled a can of dusty sweetened condensed milk out of the back of the pantry, and I made this pie. I swear I will never make key lime pie again. I may never *want* key lime pie again. This pie is fantastic. I don’t love meringue toppings, so I topped this with plain whipped cream. Perfect.

purloo1

Chicken, Tasso and Rice Casserole

3 chicken leg quarters, cut into joints
1/2 lb tasso, chopped
2 green peppers, seeded and chopped
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 large sprigs of fresh thyme, minced
2 c good quality rice
4 c homemade chicken broth
1/2 tsp creole seasoning
salt, pepper, and a handful of fresh parsley, minced

Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Do not add oil! When the pot is very hot, lay half the chicken pieces down and brown them on each side. When browned, take them out and brown the other half of the pieces. Wedge all the chicken down in the bottom of the pot. Add the tasso, peppers, green onions, garlic, and thyme. Put the top on the dutch oven and cook for 20-30 minutes. Then lift the lid off, add the rice, chicken broth, and creole seasoning. Shake the pot gently until the rice is submerged under the broth. Bring the broth up to a boil, then cover again and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook at medium-low for 20-30 minutes.

Taste for seasoning and add salt & pepper if necessary. Turn out into a large dish so the chicken is on top, sprinkle with parley, and serve.

sourorange2

Sour Orange Pie

My recipe comes from Authentic Florida, but using the big bumpy sour oranges instead of calamondins. If you have a ton of calamondins, you can use those instead. I’m going to try this next with a puree of kumquats. Don’t buy the whipped cream in a can for this- unsweetened cream is the perfect foil for this sweet, slightly tart, aggressively orange pie. Sour oranges are available right now from Henderson & Daughter Citrus at the Alachua County Farmers’ Market.

3 large sour oranges, as clean as possible
4 eggs, separated
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 c whipping cream
1 graham cracker crust, homemade or store-bought

Heat oven to 350. Use a vegetable peeler to peel about half of the orange with the most blemish-free skin. Mince the peel finely. Juice all 3 oranges, making sure there are no seeds in the juice. Measure out 2/3 cup juice and set aside the rest for another use (like mojo!). Separate the eggs and set the whites aside for another use. Beat together the egg yolks, minced peel, juice, and the full can of sweetened condensed milk. Pour into crust and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until set. Let cool completely. Whip the cream to stiff peaks and serve with the pie.

Mugwort and Ratsnake

I took a sick day today to try and head off an ear infection, or at least keep it from getting worse. Unfortunately, the decongestants to promote drainage make me restless and irritable, and all I can think about is everything that needs to get done. So I went out in the garden to soak up some sun and see if there was anything low-impact I could accomplish, and I happened to brush my hand through the mugwort.

mugwort1

Yep, those are flower buds. I grabbed the clippers and carefully started harvesting the mugwort, clipping the big branches close to the ground but not resting on the ground. I only want the fresh green leaves. The mugwort smells absolutely amazing, hopefully at the peak of its leaf energy. I’ve been reading about growing and harvesting mugwort to make moxa for months. I missed the traditional “high yang” time of harvest, but I’m not in China, so I just kept watching and smelling.

mugwort harvest

Growing mugwort for moxa is a long-term commitment. Drying the mugwort can take months, and then processing takes time, and then the processed floss has to age for a year or longer to be considered high-grade. There’s a huge loss of volume in moxa, too. I don’t expect this harvest to make more than 100 grams of finished moxa. Premium gold moxa from Japan costs $160 for 100 grams, but I cannot claim anywhere near that pedigree. I might also try making moxa sticks, which have less loss of volume but also are worth less as a finished product. I’ll probably experiment with both and see. I expect to get two crops a year from this patch, which I will definitely be expanding.

While I was standing along one of the rows, an exciting thing happened… a rather large yellow rat snake decided I was disturbing its nap.
ratsnake2I froze as it nonchalantly slithered out of the tall mugwort about six inches from my foot, but as soon as my brain registered “non-venomous” I leapt over the snake and dashed into the house for the camera. By the time I spotted it again it was heading straight for the brick platform under the rain barrel, a snug and cool spot for a snake. I am thrilled to pieces we have a large-ish snake in residence, especially since I saw a field mouse dash along the fence under the large orange tree and we definitely have a rat in the compost from time to time. Hopefully this lovely snake will have lots of babies and with the owls and hawks, help keep everything in balance.

The Herb Garden, One Year Later

I was looking through some posts from last year, and came across photos from the herb garden right after it was laid out.

new herb garden

Wow, what a change in just a year! Herbs in this garden: parsley, cilantro (now bolting for seed), rigani, sage, thyme, chinese garlic chives, oregano, dill, magenta lambsquarters, lemongrass, lemon verbena, Jamaican oregano, culantro, rosemary, walking onions, motherwort, borage, hoja santa, and a few random chile peppers. I love that you can’t even see the paths any more.

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Like the forest garden, the deep mulch and bright sun provided the perfect environment for the betony, and it spread through the garden like wildfire over the winter. The betony roots grew so thickly under the mulch through the winter that I can chop down the above-ground growth, but the only way to pull the roots out is to dig the entire bed down a few feet, remove all of the beautiful loam I’ve been building for two years, and start over again. And that’s just not happening. So I’m enjoying the pretty purple flowers and chopping it down when the above-ground growth gets too thick. It looks messy but doesn’t seem to be stunting anything, and the flowers bring the bees like crazy.

parsley1

This is my last remaining parsley plant. I had three huge parsley bushes, but the others were attacked by some beetle larvae that bored into the base of the stem and killed the plants. The parsley plants are so dense I couldn’t tell anything was wrong until the leaves around the bottom started yellowing, and when I checked, the stem was already hollowed out and rotten- the larvae had already emerged to pupate. Hopefully this one survives to bolt, I’d like some swallowtails.
lemongrassculantro
These are my two surprises this spring- one good and one bad. The bad is the two lemongrass clumps are not doing well. Despite the thick mulch they froze back pretty severely over the winter and seem to be struggling. I’m giving them extra fish emulsion to help them along. The happy surprise is this little culantro plant, waiting for me when I pulled the mulch back last month. Somehow it survived the freezes and is coming back nicely from the roots. This is especially nice because I tried starting some culantro seeds and not a single seed germinated. We eat a lot of culantro in the deep summer when cilantro isn’t available, and I wanted a sizable patch. I’ll be looking for starter plants around town.

I’m still keeping an eye out for a few herbs I’d like to add, but the garden is pretty full right now. I’m looking forward to posting pictures again next spring when the newer perennials like the lemon verbena and hoja santa get established and really start to take off. The goal is for this whole thing to become self-sustaining- the annuals reseed themselves and all I have to do is add compost, mulch, and harvest!

Florida Peach Crumble with Pecans and Ginger

Every Farmers’ Market morning one of the first things I do is walk around the market with a notepad and make a quick list of everything being sold that day. I post these lists on Facebook through the morning to entice customers to come out to the market. Some mornings I can do this at a slower pace because the market’s not very busy, but some mornings there are dozens of people lined up at the gates waiting for the bell to ring and I have to hurry. This past Saturday was a hurry-morning, which was wonderful to see. But apparently I hurried too quickly past our largest certified-organic farmer’s tables, because several hours later when I finally got the chance to do my own shopping, he had baskets of peaches! They were small and hard, but they were the first peaches of the season. I bought his last basket and then never took a picture of them.

peachcrumble

I set them in a corner of the kitchen counter to ripen and then promptly forgot all about them until last night, when my daughter points out the vinegar flies. Oops. One peach had a bad spot and the vinegar flies found it. So she cut up the rest of the peaches while I mixed up some crumble topping. Then I remembered the half bag of local pecans in the freezer- my last stash of local pecans from November. The last pecans of the year with the first peaches of the spring make a great combination.

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Peach Crumble with Pecans and Ginger

This is a fast and easy dessert that everyone loves (especially served with whipped cream) but my kids especially love this for breakfast. You can easily make this gluten-free by using oat flour instead.

8 small peaches, sliced thickly but not peeled
1/2 c + 1 tbl blonde raw sugar
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c self-rising flour
1/2 c spelt flour
1/2 tsp ground ginger
a sprinkle of ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt
1 c pecans, chopped

Heat your oven to 350. Butter a small baking dish. Dump the sliced peaches in the buttered baking dish and sprinkle with 1 tbl sugar. Combine the 1/2 c sugar through pinch of salt in another bowl and kind of smear the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture comes together into moist crumbs and lumps and there’s no dry flour left. Add the pecans and stir again. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the peaches. Bake until the crumb topping starts to brown and the peaches are bubbling around the edges, about 30 minutes.

Serve warm or cold, with ice cream or whipped cream if you want, or with sausage and scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Breaching the Cultural Divide

This might be the first article to tackle what I have seen to be the largest obstacle to suburban/urban residents wanting to learn to hunt animals for food.  

Most hunters are residents of rural communities that include other hunters. Even if no one in their immediate family hunts, there is someone in that community who does. The social network in rural communities includes hunters. The connections are there for buying guns, learning about local game, learning about hunting spots, and most importantly accessing land to hunt on.

rifle first time

What if you grew up in the city? What if you don’t know a single person who hunts for food? Many new hunters are trying to find a way to do this from the outside of that rural social network. It’s daunting. Even if you buy a gun, gets lots of shooting practice, read a lot of books about hunting, get out in the woods and practice tracking skills… where do you go to actually hunt? Who do you go with?

I have been trying to answer this question for myself. I have acquaintances of acquaintances who hunt, but no one who I feel I can ask to either accompany them on a hunt or hunt on their land. I can pay money and go with a professionally-led hunting trip, like this company. So I decided to start asking around in the intersections I have with rural communities- the farmers at the market and the butchers at the custom deer processing butcher where we get the animals for the cow pool butchered. The farmers I asked were all too busy to do much hunting but they all had cousins, brothers, or neighbors who hunted and every single one had been hunting at least once in their lives. The butchers at Crawford’s Custom Meats are all women right now. Surprising to me, they were all active hunters, and what they hunted was hogs. Then a few months ago a friend and I drove out to a farm to pick up a load of compost in her pickup truck. The man showed off his hunting dogs while we were there, and it turned out that the hunting dogs also belonged to his wife, and she hunted hogs with them. Apparently that’s the usual game for women to hunt in this area is hogs, though I wouldn’t even want to guess why hogs (which are big and quite dangerous) and not deer or turkeys or quail.

One of the women I spoke to invited me along with her to hunt hogs this fall, and even though I don’t know her well, I said yes. I don’t have the “right” clothes, and I need a lot more target practice, but even if I don’t fire a single shot I am sure it’ll teach me more than reading books ever will. I am hesitant, but how else can I learn?

My husband and I will probably also go on a hog hunt with a professional this fall, because my field dressing skills are mostly book-learning at this point and I will happily pay to have a professional hunter teach me field dressing. But this weekend, more target practice!

My First Mayhaw

Last Friday was the Native Plant Sale, and I found a seller with a half dozen mayhaw trees in good shape. So I bought one and planted it.

mayhaw

It’s 5′ tall and mine, all mine.

I was chatting with a co-worker who’s also a gardener and mentioned that I planted a mayhaw tree over the weekend. And she said “Have you ever eaten a mayhaw fruit?”

Uh, nope. Actually, I haven’t.

Does that matter? Not to me, frankly. It’s a fruit tree that’s supposed to grow well in this area, it’s disease-resistant, and it’s beautiful. That’s enough for me to want to try and grow it. Mayhaw fruit is like a tiny crabapple, the size of a large blueberry. They grow naturally in wet riverbanks, but can grow in drier areas with irrigation.

Established mayhaw with fruit from Mayhaw.net

What I didn’t know was that you need two of the darn things for cross-pollination, so I’ll be heading up to Just Fruits & Exotics soon to get one of the cultivars. It’s times like these that I’m particularly glad I have a large yard… sure I have room for another tree that spreads to 20′ when fully mature!

The only other tree I purchased at the Native Plant Sale is a pawpaw! Pawpaws are difficult to transplant and have special requirements. It’s going to take some more observation & thought before I decide where to plant it but it’s kind of a race since it needs to be transplanted before it leafs out. My husband was very amused that I paid $10 and was so damn excited about “a stick in a pot”.

So now I have these fruit trees:

10 orange & tangerine (7 varieties, I think)
2 kumquat (2 varieties)
5 pomegranates (four varieties)
3 peaches (two varieties)
1 fuyu persimmon
2 strawberry guavas
1 pineapple guava
2 plums (2 varieties)
2 wild plums
2 figs
1 mayhaw (soon to be 2!)
1 pawpaw

Whew! I think that’s probably enough for a while. No matter how much I want an avocado. And a couple bananas. And a pecan tree. Once you get started, it’s kind of hard to stop.

Collards and Cracker Cooking

kitchen

We had a great time cooking at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings historical home March 22nd. I found out the home had a smokehouse, so I made a “mess” of collard greens with smoked bacon the night before. I brought collard greens, Val Leitner from Blue Oven Kitchens brought fish she had caught herself a few days before and sour orange marmalade she made from Seville oranges growing in the historic home’s citrus grove. When we arrived, Stefanie Hamblen, writer of Hogtown Homegrown, made biscuits, cornbread, and then stuffed the fish with cornbread stuffing and roasted it. Val made a delicious drink with sour orange juice and orange blossom honey, like sour orange lemonade. I made hoecake, which is just cornmeal, salt and water, fried on an iron griddle. The tour group arrived at 11am, and we did our Cracker cooking and homesteading talk at noon, and then served samples of all the food. We had so much fun! The docents enjoyed it too, and asked us to come back next year!
messofcollardsFunny story about collards- We went into a grocery store in Denver and I saw a sign for collard greens in the produce section, so I went over to take a look. The “bunch” of collards was five leaves not much bigger than my hand and it cost $5!! That was a defining “I am no longer in the South” moment. For any of you not in the South, that photo above is a “mess” of collards, which is considered a generous serving for 5 people when cooked. That is $3 at a local grocery store.
baconI was kinda surprised when I posted about the Cracker cooking demo and several people said they had never heard of the Crackers. I am not a Cracker. Although parts of my family have been in Florida for three generations, those parts lived in Miami and were thoroughly urban. The rest of my family came down from Kansas (father’s side) and East Tennessee (mother’s family, which is why she pronounces “wash” as “warsh”). However, I have a passion for native and local foods and especially food history. If we explore eating only what grows here, then Cracker cooking is where we need to look. They were the pioneers, not only of the back woods of Florida, but also of the first fusion cuisine in Florida- the Scots-Irish, African, and Spanish food they brought with them combined with the foods they found here, and were largely introduced to by the Indian tribes living here.
collards

The Best Collard Greens

The secret to good collard greens is long cooking and quality pork products. Bacon, ham hocks, or fatback is fine, so long as there is plenty of smoke and very little (if any) sugar. I highly recommend Graham Farms smoky bacon ends, available at the Alachua County Farmers’ Market.

1 mess of collards
1/2 lb smoked bacon, diced
2 whole dried red chile peppers

Pepper sauce/vinegar, to taste

First the rinsing. Fill your sink with cold water. Cut the thick stems off the bunch of collards, all the way up to the leaves. Then plunge the leaves into the water and swish vigorously. Collards grow in sand, and it’s tough to get all the sand off. Swish some more.

Get out a large stockpot with a heavy bottom and tight-fitting lid. Start the pot on medium heat. Put the diced pork into the pot and get it sizzling. Now lift a manageable bunch of collards out of the water and shake some of the water off. Put them down on the cutting board in a rough stack. Take one end of the stack and roll the leaves into a tight cigar. Now cut into narrow ribbons with a big sharp knife. Add the cut collards into the pot. Stir briefly to coat the collards in the fat. Then continue until all the collards are sliced and in the pot. You may have to wait between stacks for the previous stack to wilt down before you can add more, depending on the size of your pot. They will wilt down quickly. Once all the collards are added to the pot, stir until all the greens are coated in pork fat. Add the dried peppers and about a cup of water. Wait for the pot to come to a boil. Then put the lid on and turn the heat down to low. Cook, stirring about once an hour, for at least two hours. Three is better. The best is to let the collards cool, put them in the fridge overnight, and then get them piping hot the next day.

Serve with plenty of pepper vinegar/sauce, cornbread, and fried catfish.

Easy Orange Curd

So the trees started flowering last week. That’s wonderful. The only problem is that there were still fruit on most of the trees. Unpicked fruit goes bad quickly if it’s still on the tree when it flowers, so my kids went out after school and picked every single orange off the trees that were flowering. There were way more than I thought- two 10-gallon buckets full! We immediately gave away a couple dozen, pulled out the four oranges with the most perfect skin, and then juiced the rest. All of those oranges only made a little over a gallon of juice. I haven’t done much with the oranges this year, we’ve mostly just been giving them away and eating them fresh.

orangecurd1

Then I took the four best oranges and decided to try making orange curd. I’ve made lemon curd so many times I almost have the recipe memorized, I think I always open the book because I love the book itself so much. The 1979 A Feast of Scotland by Janet Warren was given to me by my husband I think before we were married. He’s second-generation American, and he recognized many of the foods in the cookbook from his childhood with his grandparents.   The only recipe I use is from this book- no double boiler needed and works without fail. I’ve made minor changes to incorporate modern kitchen appliances, but otherwise left it alone. Success!

orangecurd4

Easy Orange Curd

4 large eggs
4 organic thick-skinned oranges, scrubbed and dried
2 sticks salted butter
1 1/2 c blonde organic sugar

Take the oranges and peel the orange outer skin off in strips with a sharp vegetable peeler, leaving behind the white pith. Get every bit you can. Mince the peel with a sharp knife. Combine the peel and the sugar in a food processor and process until the sugar is like a paste. Now juice the peeled oranges and set aside the juice. Make sure there are no seeds or large pieces of pulp. Get out your heaviest-bottom saucepan.

Melt the butter in the saucepan over low heat. Add the sugar/peel paste and stir until the sugar melts into the butter and the mixture is barely simmering. Add the orange juice. Beat the eggs separately in a small bowl. Start beating the eggs and add a small ladle full of the hot orange mixture. Add three small ladles of the hot mixture, beating constantly, until the eggs are hot.This tempers the raw eggs so they don’t turn into scrambled eggs when you pour them into the hot orange mixture.

Now slowly pour the hot eggs into the orange mixture, stirring constantly. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon without dripping off. Mine took about 20 minutes. Ladle orange curd in hot clean jars, cool completely, and then store in the fridge. I don’t know how long until it goes bad, it never lasts that long. This recipe makes about 2 pints.

Other than eating it a spoon, what should I do with this orange curd?

Use-All-The-Coriander Chutney

The relatively wet and mild spring has made my cilantro and parsley grow like crazy, and then the few sunny days that reached almost 80· was like Mother Nature shouting “Bolt! Bolt now!” with a megaphone.

chutney3

Once the cilantro bolts, it basically stops making leaves and starts making flowers. You can retard the bolting by cutting off the flower spikes, but here the plant will still eventually peter out. I enjoy collecting and drying my own coriander seeds so I want to allow the plants to eventually complete their flowering cycle, but not before I get some more leaves. As soon as my summer culantro is transplanted out, I’ll let the plants flower and set seed.

chutney2

We are reducing our grain consumption again. Dear husband’s blood sugar has been creeping up again and so far the primal diet has been the most effective at reducing his blood sugar and keeping his weight stable. When we’re eating mostly vegetables, I use fresh herb sauces and condiments constantly. They add big flavor to simple dishes, and they can be used as flavor bases to more complex dishes. Indian fresh herb chutneys have no oil, unlike pesto, but they have a short shelf-life. A batch will only last about a week in the fridge, and will spoil quickly if left out.

chutney1

Use-All-The-Cilantro Chutney

Use by the spoonful on roasted vegetables, over eggs or plain chicken. Mix with yogurt or sour cream and drizzle over potatoes, cauliflower, and shrimp. You can also replace part of the cilantro with parsley. 

4 c cilantro, packed
1″ fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 green chile, minced
2 lemons
1 heaping tsp ground cumin
salt & pepper

Get out a sturdy blender or food processor. Chop the cilantro. Combine everything except the lemon in the food processor. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice out of the whole lemon into the mixture. Blend, adding water by the tablespoon if necessary, until the mixture is a smooth paste. Taste. The salty/sour/spicy should be bright and balanced. Adjust the salt and lemon juice. I ended up using quite a bit of salt (over a teaspoon) and 1 1/2 lemons.

Planting the Spring Garden

I can’t believe how late I’m planting everything. This spring has sped by with too much travel and not enough seeds started or early vegetables planted. I’m feeling pretty puny today and yet I’m absolutely driven outside to plant, weed, and start seeds.

spring garden1

See that mass of weeds around the cauliflower on the upper right? That is Florida betony. Over the winter, that betony took off like a rocket all over the garden, punching right through cardboard and 6″ of hay mulch in places. This is the only weed that tempts me to use herbicides. To clear the bed above, I had to rake out 4″ of betony infested hay mulch and the top two inches of decomposed hay/soil and pull as much of the tubers and runners as I could. Then I added a wheelbarrow full of new soil. I’ll dump the betony-infested hay mulch under the citrus trees in the back, where it’s too shady for the betony to grow.

mugwort

In better news, some of my over-wintered medicinal herbs are doing quite well. The mugwort is thriving and the ashwagandha is coming back from the roots like I had hoped. Its “nap” was pretty short, but should serve to intensify the medicinal strength of the herb.

orange and azalea

The citrus trees, azaleas, loropetalum, and camellias are all in bloom together. It’s stunning. The first weekend in April is slated for “citrus feeding weekend”. Last year the trees didn’t get anywhere near enough fertilizer so this year we’ll be giving them several inches of compost, rotted hay, trace minerals, and giving foliar feeding a try if I can afford the equipment.

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