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I’ve wanted to make Son-of-a-Bitch Stew since forever.

It’s been so long I’ve wanted to make one that I can’t remember anymore where it was I first even heard of Son-of-a-Bitch Stew. And usually I can trot out the source of any recipe I’ve ever made or heard of because my mind is a Steel Recipe Trap.

I looked in all the cookbooks I’ve had for a long time. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Kaput. Son-of-a-Bitch Stew was not even mentioned by Waverly Root, and goodness knows he mentioned a lot of wonderfully, exceptionally odd things.

But that Son-of-a-Bitch Stew has been calling my name. I used to threaten people with the fact that I’d make it for them. Threaten or promise, that is. I was ready to do it at the drop of a hat (but only if it was a cowboy hat) and even knew butcher shops that had most of the ingredients.

That Son-of-a-Bitch (stew, that is) came awful close to hitting the stove once when a fellow from Wyoming came to lunch. Why Wyoming? (Say that fast five times . . .) Because Wyoming is a place where the Son-of-a-Bitch was known and loved. It’s not only in Texas, you know.

I was close to putting it on the menu, as close to it as a pig’s nose-ring is to the soil when they’re rooting around, but then I chickened out. Actually my mind was more running along the lines of making Son-of-a-Bitch-in-a-Sack, which would have been much more good old-fashioned fun, but darn it all. Something inside told me not to.

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I probably never would have found all the ingredients though, or at least not without saddling up my trusty steed and heading out for a long ride on the dusty trail in search of some of the more interesting tidbits. Then there’s also the fact that for sure the kitchen staff would have run for the hills themselves if I’d proposed the idea of Son-of-a-Bitch for lunch.

Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack is sort of like Son-of-a-Bitch Stew, or it’s not. It’s not when it’s a pastry, a dessert – like the recipe Alan Simpson mentions enclosing in his letter. But the other way is like an Extreme Son-of-a-Bitch-Stew. You get real, with this thing. Here’s a recipe for Son-of-a-Bitch Stew from Clifford Wright.

What I remember most, but what I can not find written anywhere (did I imagine it, as I loped across the imaginary plains on my imaginary horse?) is that the Son-of-a-Bitch in a Sack (the one that is not a dessert) (the one you get real with) was cooked in a cow’s stomach. Therefore the name.

Though that Son-of-a-Bitch is still calling my name, the words are fainter now as time goes on by. Now, when I read the ingredients list, no low growl emits from my throat – the growl that says “I Will“.  Now, the corners of my mouth turn up a bit in delight at the unbridled sheer macho joy of the whole thing. And I say to myself “Maybe. Just maybe. Someday.

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Clifford Wright’s “Real Stew” book (source of the recipe above) is here on my bookshelves. And although I winnow constantly, it has been – and will always be – a Keeper. 🙂
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Yeeeeeeeee-haw! Rawhide!

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It startled me to see The Fireside Cook Book peering out from the bookstore shelf. The biggest surprise was how very new the book looked. The editions I’ve seen have been battered and worn, food-speckled, and with the non-shiny essence of the year 1949 – the date when The Fireside Cook Book was published for the very first time.

The new edition is red and green and yellow-brown and bright, and the illustrations – tossed in as if by a mad generous cook into a huge happy salad – are a look into another age of cookbooks.

Playful line drawings seem to be on almost every page, each one broadly drawn and colorful: An enigmatically smiling woman holds a garden spade as she bends over the earth almost-bursting out of her clothes while planting cauliflower in a garden as a little bird sits nearby watching her closely . . . a black-coated coachman throws delicately curled reins around the neck of a lime-avocado-green horse resembling a Lippanzauer as it pulls along a Cinderella-story coach labelled (writ large and bold and even saucily) SAUCES, and there upon the top of the coach sit the sauces in their jugs and bottles, merrily bumping along.

It all sounds just too precious. But it’s not. The book’s content crunches any initial questioning thoughts of ‘just too precious’ into a puff-ball which disappears with a slight ‘pouff!’ noise somewhere never to be seen again in the 1217 recipes on the 306 pages.

In this book are recipes, menu planning ideas, information on food purchasing, notes on seasonal cooking, the food of other lands and more. The recipes are written by someone who knows them too well to make a great fuss over them, someone who knows that any recipe ultimately answers to the cook, not the other way around – where cooks answer to the recipes which have somehow transformed themselves into pettily demanding divas. And yet the recipes in this book are far from unsophisticated.

This is not a specialist cookbook, though specialized ingredients and methods can be found in any given section. Beard’s mention of chayote, in 1949, is an interesting example of how very unassumably forward-looking he was.

Mark Bittman writes the foreword, and at the end of it comments:

“The man was born to teach cooking”.

I’m glad he wrote this, for the book jacket bio draws a strong picture of the other aspects of Beard: the well-qualified expert; the world-traveller; and the man who was quite intensely industry-connected.

My vision of Jim Beard (drawn from stories told to me by those who knew and worked with him during his later years in Manhattan) is in alignment with Bittman’s comment. I imagine him as consummate teacher first, bon vivant second, and writer through it all.

‘American Cookery’ is still my favorite book by Beard, but The Fireside Cook Book – this bright new edition – is coming right up close behind it as a very near second for my affections in the world of his writings.

Bread of a day, wine of a year, a friend of thirty years. I’ve always loved that saying. Maybe I’ll tag on to the end of it ‘a book of sixty years’.

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2580230409_d23fb4f0dcThe day is over. The feast demolished. The dishes done, I hope.

Now what?

Now it’s time to make an Olive-Mint Quick Bread.

Oh please don’t tell me you don’t want to cook. What? Tired you say? Not hungry you say? Don’t want to look another dirty dish in the face till you have to, you say?

Blasphemy. Buck up there and let’s get cooking.

Olive-Mint Quick Bread

Ingredients

1 1/2  C firmly packed pitted drained and chopped Kalamata olives

2 1/2 C AP flour

2 Tbs. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbs. sugar

1/2 C chopped fresh mint leaves

1/2 C grated or finely minced onion

2 lg.eggs

1/3 C olive oil

2/3 C milk

Action Plan

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Put flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and mint together in a bowl and stir to mix. Make sure olives are fairly well dry then stir in.

3. In a separate bowl whisk together onion, eggs, oil and milk.

4. Stir egg mix into flour mix just till blended. Do not overmix.

5. Pour into greased standard-size loaf pan.

6. Bake in center of oven for between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes (depending on the accuracy of your oven) till a toothpick or skewer comes out clean when you poke the center of the loaf all the way through.

7. Gently remove from loaf pan and let cool on rack.

Notes: The fresh mint can be replaced with approximately 3 Tbs. dry mint if you can not obtain it fresh. Dry mint is available at stores which sell spices in bulk (i.e. the local ‘health food store’ if you live outside a large city) or alternately the pure ‘mint tea’ found on the grocers shelf can be used.

Please don’t try to substitute a dull canned olive for the Kalamata though or you’ll end up with a very dull loaf.

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There you go. Good with turkey. Good with cippoline agrodolce. Good with roast peppers. Good with all three together. Good with cheese.

And the antithesis of a sweet muffin, to boot.

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When cold winds blow I fall in love, and it’s always an onion kind of love.

Leeks, scallions, golden globe, purple sweet, pure white angelic, cippoline for me-poline. Each one sits in its basket of adornment sending little beckoning love glances my way, and I can not demur. I must have them, have them now and have them as much as I want.

Luckily they are not a love of the sort that means fancy clothes, perfect makeup, a new haircut or a new jewelry in the form of any sort of kitchen thing. My onions take me as I am – they are solid, always there, rarely frowsy, and don’t bite my bank account.

Yesterday I picked up a red-netted bag of plain yellow onions at the grocery store. Their skins were sleek and glowing.

I placed one on the cutting board. Now this particular one was not meant for any starring role. It was merely going to be tossed into the split pea soup that was developing in the pot with some wild abandon, for split pea soup needs an abundance of onions to be what it should be. (What should it be, you may ask? It should be the soup your children demand on a weekly basis – the soup that melds siblings who pick opposite sides of any plane of existence or idea as a way of life – into siblings who agree wholeheartedly – at least for the moment of the life of the pot of soup. That is what split pea soup should be.)

my humble yellow onion
from the red netted bag

was so very full of life

that it cried milky tears when I
struck it with my knife

It was a good soup. It was an excellent onion.

With the rest of the family of red-netted onions will be made some onion soup. Onion soup is most serious stuff. It breathes deep things into those who take their swallows of it, as long as there is not too very much cheese added to the toasted crouton. If you add too much cheese you will be made stupid.
At least for the rest of the afternoon or evening.

Onion biscuits will be made from it – so simple. Caramelized onions, wrapped up in biscuit dough and baked, they are a sort of Simple Simon Onion Tart. Onion biscuits know how to de-materialize very quickly. Various hands will grab them and whoof! Voila. Gone.

Cippoline agrodolce is a must for me, sometime around Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be the exact day, but it has to be around the day. It’s not about the day, it’s about the thanks which cippoline agrodolce always inspires.

My list of onion love goes on and on and on.
I do hope you have onion love too.
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I’ve posted here an onion love note from Dana Jacobi’s website. Dana writes and cooks both wonderfully, with the bonus that with her recipes you will be aiming towards being healthy rather than otherwise:
Onions in Three Flavors

Fabulous idea. Love made real, in those little bites of flavor!
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I need some poetry. Some onion-y poetry to prove my onion love.

Here is one from Sydney Smith (Lady Holland’s Memoir, I, 11, Recipe for Salad)

Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl
And, scarce suspected, animate the whole.

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Some foods or recipes have hints of luck about them. There are many different varieties of luck, of course.

Beans and Taters is a dish steeped in luck.

Though it’s known all over the South,  you won’t find a recipe for it in most of the usual cookbooks where “native Southern recipes” abide. And though the phrase “beans and taters” is one immediately recognizable and known to most Southerners (particularly those with rural roots) you won’t find it listed in slang dictionaries or in regular dictionaries or in the larger (Oxford on food, Cambridge on food, Southern Culture) encyclopedia sets. There is a newly released (this year) Encyclopedia of Southern Culture  which has an entire volume on food and food culture. I’m hoping to see if it is listed there!

You hear about beans and taters through luck if you’ve not grown up knowing it. My luck happened when a neighbor in an area of the rural South telephoned one day asking for a ride into town. Her car (pronounce that as that ve-hi-cle please, and with no self-consciousness either) had broken down. Luck had run out for her, in that moment.

During the ride into town, her young son was talking about food. He wanted some special thing for supper, that night. His Mom’s response . . . “Way things are going we just might be eating beans and taters for some time!”

But “beans and taters” was said with a musical lilt when she said it. And there was no sadness in her voice. Apparently beans and taters (yes, very musical the phrase is) is a dish born of bad luck but one that has good luck inside it. It is filled with pleasure, gladness, and gratitude. It is loved.

Luck also touches beans and taters in their very inception – the lithe green beans or sturdy other sorts of beans are ready to pluck from  their vines in the garden at the same time those tiny new potatoes are ready to start digging up. Just look at any farmer’s market right now if you don’t have a garden, and see them sitting there on the same table – the two are silent partners.

Luck being what it is, beans and taters is not just one unchangable recipe. There are many recipes, and they rise from an oral tradition. Two of these recipes stand out as the most common examples: A green bean and bacon stew topped with little shiny new potatoes steamed on top . . . and a pinto and saltback or bacon stew sided by fried potatoes. These make the meal – there’s not any need for too much else but cornbread –  unless of course there is more bounty to have . . . if the luck is running strong the beans and taters can move quietly from the center of the table to settle in as a side dish to serve with one of those huge picnic spreads of fried chicken, chow chow, sliced tomatoes, the endless variety of things from the fields and garden that crow and  holler from the rural end-of-summer table.

But they say one chooses their own luck, and I still feel lucky to have heard the words “beans and taters”, and to have tasted them made by my own hands after the fact, in my own home kitchen.

The only print resource I’ve found with a recipe for beans and taters is in a book by Loretta Lynn titled “You’re Cookin’ It Country”. Her recipe is made with pork jowl, sugar, salt and pepper, fresh green beans and new potatoes – and when she writes of beans and taters the luck emerges again in the form of grace. The hunger of poverty, the pride of finding something to hold on to when nothing seemed to be there, and the joy of taste and comfort those lucky beans and taters hold within them are the heart of her tale.

I’m thinking of that saying: “If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all”. This guy’s got it wrong. He’s just got to find himself some beans and taters.

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If you have a garden, the cucumbers may be trying to take over, gripping everything they can in viney puckers, dropping a little cucumber here and a larger one there – just like so many pods in a science fiction movie trying to take over the world.

If you don’t have a garden it’s a pity. I don’t right now. But then again there’s the Farmer’s Market where cucumbers will be piled in boxes awaiting their fate.

What to do with them. Gazpacho. Salads – simple, complex, Oriental, Germanic. Raita to side a curry or tzaziki to dollop into pita with  grilled faux gyros of ground lamb and beef tossed together with herbs and spices.

Then there’s pickles.

I know of a pickle that many people have never tasted, never heard of. It’s an odd sort of pickle. A rough and ready sort of pickle without the least bit of pretension to finesse. It’s called a Maine (Sour) Mustard Pickle.

The only place I’ve ever had these pickles (aside from when I make them) was in Maine – made by my grandmother who was not a cook by any means and by my aunt who is a good home cook, the first good home cook I ever knew. The taste reminds me of my family, and of the history of my family. The taste is not all sweet, but very real.

It’s best to make these pickles in a real pickle jar – but if you don’t have one they can be made in what you do have.

The big expense will be dry mustard. Surprisingly it isn’t cheap in the usual grocery stores. It can be found in bulk at the ‘health food store’ sometimes at more affordable prices, though.

If you like pickles and if you like mustard, these are worth a try. They will start off gentle and become more sour as time progresses – denser, more puckery.

Here’s a recipe:

Old Fashioned Sour Mustard Pickles

Cucumbers
2 quarts of apple cider vinegar
½ cup salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup ground dry mustard
Some garlic cloves, peeled (optional)

Wash and dry the whole cucumbers and garlic and pack them into jars or a crock, the bigger the vessel the better.
Mix together other ingredients and pour over cucumbers. Close jars or crock and store in a cool place.
The pickles will be quite sour within a week.

(From Snell Family Farm)

P.S. “Kirby” style cucumbers are best for this recipe somehow but the larger cucumbers cut in chunks will do though they will pickle faster and taste even stronger. 🙂

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