Yesterday, we did pretty well with eating locally. For brunch, we had some quesadillas made from Holmes County, Ohio cheddar and smoked cheddar, with Organic Valley sour cream and the Calico Salsa I made last week. The tortillas were godawful–I would have done better making my own. Whatever healthy brand they were, I am not buying again–they had the texture of cardboard. Ugh.
But, the rest of it was good. I just thought it was an affront to the good Amish cheese to pair it with tortillas which tasted like they were made from cedar shavings. I found the cheeses, along with Walnut Creek butter, also from Holmes County, at Curds and Whey at the North Market in Columbus.
I was thrilled to discover that Wild Oats in Columbus (we had to stop so Zak could get his cologne–WO is the only place he knows of where he can buy it without ordering it off the Internet) is now carrying Hartzler’s Family Dairy milk. It comes in great glass containers–which you can return for a deposit, though, I think I will keep mine as it reminds me of the glass milk bottle my Gram kept in her fridge full of ice water in the summer.
Unfortunately, I picked up skim milk instead of two percent–because the glass bottles all look the same. From the appearance on the website, they usually have cardboard hangtags over the bottleneck to label thier products clearly so that ditzy folks like myself don’t go and buy the wrong milk, but these tags were not in evidence at Wild Oats. So, when Morganna and I tasted the milk and said, “Ick. Tastes like skim,” there was a reason.
It was skim.
So, maybe I will make ice cream out of it!
Supper, however, was an unqualified success. We had ribeyes from Bluescreek Farms that Zak cooked out on the grill, grilled corn on the cob from Cowdery Farms, Green Zebra sliced tomatoes from Athens Hills CSA, and my very own country style green beans, which featured ingredients from all over the Athens Farmer’s Market. Dessert was blackberry-raspberry pie; the fruit came from the farmer’s market, the lard from Bluescreek, the butter from Holmes County, and the flour from King Arthur flour, which means it is from somewhere. I mean, I have no clue where it was grown, but it is great flour nonetheless. (I still haven’t heard back from the farmer in Licking County on the issue of whether or not he can ship me some of his homegrown hard and soft wheat flour.)
It took me way back to my childhood–because it was very much a typical summer menu in my growing up days, whether I was in town with my parents or Gram and Pappa, or in the country with Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle John. In the summer, there were certain things that were nearly always on the table, and I want to talk a little bit about them.
First of all, there were always sliced tomatoes. At Grandma’s house, they were apt to be on the table three meals a day, and we always ate them up, and never got tired of them. At Gram’s house, they were always there for supper, but at lunch, tomatoes appeared on BLT’s or on cheese ‘n’ mater sammitches. (That’s how Pappa said it, so that is how I am writing it.) Those were made with thin sliced Pepperidge Farms white sammitch bread, homemade pimento cheese spread from Pearl Damus’ Market down on Washington Street, and thick slices of ripe beefsteak tomato sprinkled with black pepper.
Man, alive, those were good. Pearl could throw down and whip up a batch of pimento cheese that would make your head spin and your eyes pop out it was so good.
At my parent’s house, we had sliced tomatoes every dinner once tomatoes were in season, along with the usual meat, two vegetables and a starch. On a good night, we had sliced cucumbers or quick pickles, too. (Quick pickles, for those who are not hillbillies, are sliced fresh cukes, diluted white vinegar or cider vinegar, sliced onions, salt and pepper, and sometimes sugar. I didn’t like them with sugar, but I did like that my Mom always put ice cubes in them to make them crispy-cold and almost frozen. Boy were they refreshing.)
So, I ate a lot of tomatoes growing up.
(And I was really depressed to discover I was allergic to them–not that it stopped me from eating them. Apparently, the allergy wasn’t so bad as all of that, because I yet live and I still eat large amounts of tomatoes.)
Corn on the cob appeared at least three times a week in the season, except at Grandma’s house. Then, it appeared nearly every night, and when it didn’t, that was because it showed up at lunchtime. It was my job to go pick the corn and shuck it. Grandma would wait until the water was about to break into a dancing boil, and would send me out “quick like a bunny” to pick a big old basket of corn and shuck it as fast as my hands could tear. I hated the silk, and Grandpa was particular about it, so I had to be careful and pluck each bit up with shaking fingers, as I bounced in anticipation of the three to five ears I was fixin’ to eat when we sat down.
Green beans were another favorite, and they were only fixed one way–long cooked.
Hillbillies don’t know from crunchy green beans. I liked to eat them raw, myself, but I was looked upon as some sort of mutant life form from another planet because of that. I think my cousins thought I was half lagomorph or something because I ate every vegetable God made raw, including green beans. (I am also supposed to be allergic to green beans. You notice I am still eating them and am still alive. I think maybe my allergist was full of…well, beans.)
I always said, “But they taste so -green- raw.”
And they would blink at me and say, “That’s because they are green, ya dumb ole girl.”
Well, be that as it may, everyone else, including me, ate them cooked in only one way–to death.
Now, let me qualify this. Green beans do taste lovely and fresh and green when they are raw. And when they are lightly cooked, such as sauteed or stir fried or steamed, and seasoned properly, they are perky and crisp and delicious.
But let me tell you–if you cook ’em up right when you are cooking them to death, they melt in your mouth and make you want to sing. They turn a deep olive green and start to break down into the cooking water, but that is okay, because that juice turns into something magical–it becomes pot likker, which is ambrosia to a hillbilly.
But there is a secret to long-cooking your green beans. You can’t just stick them in a pot with water and salt and pepper and boil them until they expire into a huddled mass and expect them to taste like something. All that does is waste beans, water and time.
No, no, no. You must not do that.
You have to do what generations of Applachian cooks have done for centuries.
You have to put pork fat of some sort into the pot.
I bet you could see that coming. Smoked pig bits make everything better.
And, you can throw in some tiny new potatoes, too–because they will soak up that pot likker and turn all melty delicious.
And onion–onions are classic in the dish.
And, if you are me–you have to throw in some garlic and a chile pepper, just because to not do it is a wasted opportunity for goodness.
But, you know, you don’t have to cook them all day. Naw, not at all. My grandma did cook them all day when she wanted them for supper, meaning the evening meal, but if she cooked them for dinner, meaning the noon meal, she never cooked them all day, yet they still came out all melty-smoky-wonderful with gold-green pot likker that I would drink in a cup.
She was a clever woman, and employed technology–she used a pressure cooker.
Which is what I did last night when I made my very own rendition of the dish, which I call
Hillbilly Nouveau Haricots Verts
2 thick slices bacon cut into 1″ square pieces
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno chile, sliced (you can leave it out, but I’d rather you didn’t)
1 pound strung, snapped, washed and drained fresh green beans (half-runners are the best)
6-10 tiny new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
In the bottom of your pressure cooker, spread out your bacon, and cook on medium heat until crispy-chewy. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels and reserve. If there isn’t enough fat, add some bacon drippings (y’all do save those don’t you?) or some olive oil.
Add onions, and cook until they are golden and smelling really good. Add garlic and chile, and keep stirring until the onions are a nice brown color and everything smells delicious.
Throw in the beans and the potatoes, then the chicken broth, salt and pepper. (Be careful with the salt–how much you add depends on how salty your bacon is.)
Bring to a boil. Put the lid on your cooker, lock it down, bring to full pressure, turn down the heat to low and cook on full pressure for 12 minutes. Remove from heat, release pressure, open cooker and take a look. If the beans are dark olive green and starting to fall apart, and the potatoes are starting to break down and it all smells really good, it is done.
If the beans look too green and healthy, put the lid back on, bring the pressure up and cook for another couple of minutes.
Check for salt and pepper and serve with the bacon sprinkled on top.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, be prepared to cook the beans all day. Put them on the back of the stove, bring them to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer until they are dead and gone. Then, they are good. You will need more broth to do this–like maybe a quart or so, to make up for all that will simmer away. The pressure cooker is blessed in that it uses much less liquid.
Now, you will note that in all this recitation and talk about my childhood meals, I haven’t mentioned the meat. Well, there is a reason.
I don’t much remember it. There was no typical meat of my childhood suppers. It was the vegetables that every table had in common.
But right here–I do want to say–David and Cheryl at Bluescreek grow some mighty fine ribeyes, and Zak cooks ’em up right fine and dandy.
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