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Friday, July 21, 2017

Jammin'

It's raining tomatoes. After a sleepy start, gushingly ripe heirlooms have finally crashed our farmers markets in dizzying waves. From farm stand to farm stand, brilliant patchworks of homegrown color tease, beckon, and shamelessly flaunt their  bejeweled innocent flooziness. Lost in the spell of the sultry purples, perky greens, vibrant reds, carefree oranges, demure whites, and come hither hybrids, the challenge of choosing is real. With varying sugar to acid ratios, all the colors and varieties bring something different to the table. When it comes to summer tomatoes, we love what we love. Taste, like beauty,  lies in the eye of the beholder. I'm easy. Very easy. Whether sweet, tart, ugly, gnarled, or drop dead gorgeous, I adore them all. They flaunt, I fall. Win.

So many tomatoes, so little time.
Take it slow, ride the wave, and enjoy the ride.
Really, nothing tops the simplistic beauty of a sliced and salted ripe-to-the-core sun-kissed summer tomato. Boom, call it a day. Or, for a throwback to childhood, toss a few sliced tomatoes on cheap supermarket white bread with a mayo smear, take a bite, and feel the juicy drip. Not feeling it? More is more. Slap crunchy bacon, crisp wet lettuce, and ripe tomatoes on toasted bread for a classic summer B.L.T.. Salty. Wet. Sweet. Heaven. Better yet, take it up a notch and replace the crispy bacon with bacon jam for a slammin' heirloom tomato homespun home run.

Scoot on over B.L.T., there's a new kid in town.

Bacon Jam, Basil, and Heirloom Tomato Sandwich.
The B.B.T.

Bacon Jam.
Bacon jam just might be the beacon for all that is good and right in this world.
Small effort, big payoff.

After heating a large cast iron skillet over a medium flame, I sliced 1 lb  Stone Cross Farm smoked bacon into 3/4" pieces and tossed them into the skillet. When the bacon started to crisp, I scooped it out with a slotted spoon, set it aside. reserved 1 Tablespoon bacon fat in the hot skillet, drained the remaining fat, and added 1 cup chopped Boyle County Red Bull candy onions. After sweating the onions until they turned translucent, I scattered 4 minced garlic cloves into the skillet. Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the skillet with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/3 cup brewed coffee, scraped the tasty bacon bits from the bottom of the pan, and I added 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup Oberholtzer's sorghum, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and cracked black pepper. After tumbling the reserved bacon into the molten mix, I brought the jam to a boil, reduced it to a low simmer, covered the skillet, and let it bubble away for 1 1/2 hours, stirring and adding a splash of water from time to time.

When jammy enough, I pulled the bacon jam from the heat, scraped it into a container, licked the spatula bone clean, and set it aside.

Summer love.
Heirloom Tomatoes.
Toasted bread.
Bacon jam.
Say no more.

Build it and they will come.
After slathering bacon jam onto toasted Bluegrass Bakery Black Pepper Parmesan Bread, I feathered fresh garden basil into the sticky jam, piled wet juicy slices of Casey County, Pulaski County, Fayette County heirloom tomatoes over the basil, drizzled the jewels with extra virgin olive, and finished
with a flurry of flaked sea salt, cracked black pepper, and snipped garden chives.

Green Zebra. Lemon Boy. Mountain Trash Red. Cherokee Purple. Big White. Kentucky Beefsteak. Orange Persimmon. Purple Plum. Taste the colors.

Kentucky wonders.
With pig jam.

Fabulous.






Monday, July 10, 2017

Shake It Up

The summer I turned sixteen and earned my driver's license, my parents encouraged (forced) me to get a real summer job. Apparently, they tired of funding my halcyon summertime shenanigans and the time had finally arrived for me to pay the piper. And gas bills. And clothing bills. A real job. Oh sure, having access to a car offered me a limited amount of mobility and freedom, but I had to pay for that freedom. Back in the day, a major national retail operation was headquartered in our small rural western Kentucky town. It was a pretty big deal. Big money. Big jobs.  It seemed that most everyone in our little  town, in some capacity, worked for the corporation at one time or another. It was simply what people did. As fortune would have it, a member of my extended family owned the mega corporation and, as a member of the family, it was an unspoken right of passage for me to join the party. Now, there were plenty of jobs to be had at the headquarters. Ranging anywhere from stock clerks, retail clerks, office jobs, runners, secretaries, executives type things, or janitors, there were plenty of jobs. Pushed from my nest, I got out and landed a summer job at the company..... on the loading docks. The. Loading. Docks. No lipstick on that pig. The loading docks were, at best, miserable. Housed in archaic non-air conditioned wooden warehouses with tin roofing, the immense buildings were the distribution centers for the national retail stores. During the summer, the heat and humidity billowed from those old dank warehouses. Sweat was a badge of honor. Whistles blared for the 15 minute morning breaks, 30 minute lunches, and 15 minute afternoon breaks. Like clockwork, eighteen wheeler semi-trucks pulled into the docks every morning and every afternoon. Second after second after minute after minute after hour after after hour, we loaded and unloaded trucks in the sweltering heat. I lived for the sound of the whistle. Within days, I swapped my normal play clothes for patched dungarees, stained t-shirts, clumsy leather gloves, and steel-toed boots. My hair didn't stand a chance.  It wasn't pretty. I was a duck out of water trying not to look and act like a duck. I was dock worker.

Over time, I became an ace at loading and unloading trucks. My fellow hardened co-workers embraced my eager weirdness. In turn, I embraced my sweat and the sound of the whistle.

Come late July, after a very long summer, I got wind of open auditions for the production of "Shakertown Revisited", a play with music staged under tenting on the historic grounds of Shakertown at South Union in Logan County, Ky, (the other lesser known Shaker village in Kentucky) two counties over and a mere 40 minutes away as the crow flies.

"Shakertown Revisited", a symphonic drama with original Shaker music, highlighted the influence that leader Mother Ann Lee had on the sect in the 1700's and the subsequent growth of the Shaker community. Shaker missionaries (known as shaking Quakers because of their music and zealous nature of worship) settled in southern Ohio and Kentucky after the Cane Ridge, Ky Revival of 1801-1803, which was an outgrowth of the the Logan County, Ky Revival of 1800. Known for their frugal simple lifestyle, devotion, and furniture making skills, the Shakers flourished until they eventually faded away due to their sacred vows of celibacy. The late summer production of "Shakertown Revisited" celebrated their journey and their simple way of life. For the production, sprawling tents covered the beautifully manicured grounds of South Union. At dusk, folks gathered under the tents to embrace the Shaker journey through music, dance, and historic storytelling.

The mere notion of the auditions ignited a sense of escape from the summer of my discontent. I saw the light.  As luck would have it, after a few rounds of callbacks, I landed a very small speaking role as a villager. Very small. Like, one line small.  That said, my one line guaranteed me a Shaker costume and a ticket out of Dodge.

Alas, my shaking Quaker tenure was smaller than my role. Ultimately, the late night rehearsals combined with the longer than expected drive home didn't jive with my work schedule and I had to bow out of the production before it opened. During the festival, I attended most of the performances. With sold out audiences, I'd huddle in the aisles between bleachers and quietly sing along before leaving at intermission to make my early morning whistle.

Here in Kentucky, we're fortunate to have an historic footprint of the Shaker legacy. It lives on through their restored villages, furniture, music, story,
and food.

Shaker Lemon Pie.
A simple gift.

Shaker lemon pie, a specialty of the Ohio branch of the Shaker community, made its way south as the Shakers settled in Kentucky. While Shakers were self sustaining and grew most everything they ate, common thinking is that as lemons became more widely available after the railroad system started transporting goods from region to region, the exotic fruit happily found a place in their community kitchens. Their sense of frugality was best featured in their lemon pie. Nothing went to waste. Whole lemons were thinly sliced, tossed with sugar, and left to macerate at room temperature for 24 hours. After the addition of eggs, the sticky tart marmalade-like filling was surrounded with pie crust and baked.

Nowadays, the Shakers are mostly renowned for their exquisite furniture making skills. That said, several of their simple wholesome recipes have been chronicled in cookbooks, keeping their culinary legacy alive. Their iconic Shaker Lemon Pie best represents that legacy. Using the original recipe since 1967, the pie is still served daily at The Trustees' Table dining room  at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, a short scenic drive from Lexington. Packing a fabulous lemony punch, it's not for the faint of heart. Tucked inside an old fashioned flaky double crust shell, the pie is an explosive marriage between  lemon curd and lemon marmalade. Sticky, sweet, bitter, and tart, Shaker Lemon Pie is a downright lemon bomb.

For a spin on tradition, I went topless.

Shaker Lemon Tart.
I used the same amount of filling for a double crust pie, but  swapped out a simple pate brisee dough for an opened faced tart.

Pucker Up.
Using a mandolin, I sliced 2 large lemons as thinly as possible before tossing the paper thin rounds with 2 cups sugar. After massaging the sugar into the lemons, I covered the bowl with a dish towel and set it aside to macerate for 24 hours, stirring the mix from time to time.

As the lemons broke down and melted into the sugar, the mix had the consistency of a beautiful uncooked lemon marmalade.

Tarted Up.
For a double crust pie, any standard pie dough would have worked beautifully. While the original recipe ( a simple combination of 1 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/3 cup shortening plus 2 tablespoons shortening, and 2 tablespoons water) is true to form, I went rogue with a pate brisee. Topless. Rule breaker.

I sifted 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour into the bowl of a food processor before adding 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter cut into small pieces. After pulsing the mix until it resembled a course meal, I streamed 1/4 cup ice water into the processor until the dough came together and could hold together when pinched. I tumbled the dough onto a floured board, used a bench scraper to slice it in half, formed each half into a disc, wrapped both discs in plastic wrap, and slid them into the refrigerator to chill.

After an hour or so, I pulled one disc of dough from the refrigerator (freezing the second piece for other shenanigans), placed it on a well floured board, and rolled it into a 12"x 1/4" round, turning and flipping the dough to keep it workable. I tucked the dough into a 9" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, pressed the dough up the sides, and trimmed the dough along the top edge. After repairing a few dings and dents with leftover excess dough, I slipped the shell into the freezer.

Fill'er Up.
As per the original recipe, I mixed the macerated lemons and juices with 4 frothy beaten eggs. I pulled the tart shell from the freezer, docked with a fork, poured the filling into the shell, maneuvered a few lemon slices to the top, and slid the pie into a pre-heated 450 degree oven for for 15 minutes before reducing the heat to 375 degrees for an additional 20 minutes. When the lemons started to caramelize, I pulled the tart from the oven, and placed it on a wire rack to cool completely before sliding it into the refrigerator.

Chilled and sliced, I finished the delicate shards of pie with airy soft clouds of chantilly cream.

'Tis A Gift To Be Simple
      - "Simple Gifts", 1848,
          Elder Joseph Brackett