Thursday, June 17, 2010

Where Do You Hail From?

My parents, my people hail from Louisiana, north and south.  In March and then again last week Mr. Flavius and I had the pleasure of driving through amazing, beautiful, verdant Louisiana.  Such contrast from  parish to parish, rolling hills to farm land, low lying delta and bayou, marsh, lakes, rivers, forests, towns and country.  Sadly, it has taken me until now to really understand how deeply I love the places where we roamed and played as children, the places where my ancestors lived, loved, fought, and died.  It is an incredible state full of the kindest strangers you might ever meet.  I wanted to share with you a passage I found in the U.S. archives written about my mother's hometown.

"Dotted down among the iron clad hills of Claiborne is the charming and peerless little city named after the great Grecian bard. As will be seen from the account of Claiborne, it ranks among the finest of all the hill parishes of our state, and its people as possessing all the traits of real ante bellum hospitality. So is this little city like its surrounding. Its inhabitants are generous, whole-souled and hospitable, and possess the rare intelligence that always shows itself so plainly in those towns which have always had good schools.
The schools of Homer have always been presided over by teachers of the very highest excellence. The Homer Masonic Female Institute has ushered from its portals girls whose subsequent careers, as mothers, wives, authors and teachers, have added lustre and fame, to their alma mater, and culture to the community within whose limits their lives have been spent. The Homer Male College has laid the foundation of many a collegiate education, and furnished many a bright boy all his parents were able to give him to battle against the world and make life a success. The votaries of mixed schools, of males and females, have gained the ascendancy, and these two honored institutions are now one, presided over by a gentleman of scholarly attainments, crowned with habits of piety and religious devotion.
Situated in the midst of a people of thrifty and frugal habits, Homer's trade has always been very large. New trade centres, brought into existence by lines of railroad, have diverted its trade from a distance to some extent, yet its local trade has increased with the increase of population, and it enjoys a fine trade now..." (from North Louisiana, by F. H. Tompkins, 1860)
My mother's high school English teacher was the niece of Margaret Mitchell.  My great-grandmother's dear friend was Rildia Bee.  She used to bring her son, Van, to Homer to give piano recitals for all the students.  In 1958, he went on to become the first American to win the Tchaikovsky Competition.  This is the same town that Walmart has shuttered its doors only four years ago.  Incredible, isn't it?  Ye, who were once whole-souled art now forsaken . . .
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
  To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
  And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea-shore,
  Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
    Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
  Will silent be; and not a soul, to tell
    Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
                    -Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats
the court house on the square

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Apology and a Recipe

Dear Readers,

I apologize for taking so danged long to write to you.

I have not abandoned the blog, but as you might imagine there is little time to blog other than at the crack of dawn or the dead of night when you have six children.

I started to tell you about our family road trip to Lake Bruin, Louisiana, but somehow I managed to wander far and away off topic opining on the ethanol corn fields that dot the map east of Monroe, how sometimes leaving the 'right' religion can lead you to marital unity and happiness, and how bleach baths can save your sanity under very particular circumstances.  Somewhere around mile marker 214, I look up dazed from want of sleep and slightly bedazzled by staring too long into the luminous glow of the monitor and I realized that I was far off course.  'D' is for [delete].

I still don't have much time to organize my thoughts into a coherent piece, so instead, I present to you a recipe I have been working on South Meets East Spiced Pickled Watermelon Rind©.  Enjoy!

South Meets East Spiced Pickled Watermelon Rind©
N.B. Jaggery general term for a traditional, unrefined sugar made from raw cane juice.  It still contains the molasses and invert sugars in the sugar crystals as well as many mineral salts.  It can range from a golden brown to dark brown in color.  In Mexico, they sell it in cones called piloncillos.  You can find it at your local Indian or Latin Market.

the vegetable:
1 medium size watermelon

the brine:

1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 bunch of lemon verbena (washed and well bruised)
1 inch knob ginger sliced into 6-8 pieces
2 2-inch cinnamon sticks
¾ cup kosher salt
¼ cup jaggery or piloncillo
3 quarts water

the pickle:

1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon whole cloves
4 lemons
3 satsumas
1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 2-inch cinnamon sticks
1 cup jaggery or piloncilo
2 cups of raw cane sugar
3 cups water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup white distilled vinegar

  • Step 1: Prepare the watermelon:  Quarter the watermelon.  Remove the red watermelon flesh, leaving a thin strip of pink on the rind.  Using a y-peeler (or a very sharp paring knife ) remove the inedible green skin from the rind. Cut into 1-inch wide crescents. Set aside.

  • Step 2: Make the brine:  Place 3 quarts of water, ¼ cup of jaggery, kosher salt, whole allspice, whole cloves, lemon verbena, ginger,  and cinnamon sticks in a large pot.  Heat over medium heat until all the salt and jaggery dissolve.  Let cool.  In a large non-reactive container, pour brine over the watermelon rind.  Cover and let sit overnight.
  • Step 3:  Rinse and cook the brined rinds:  Rinse the brined watermelon rind in two or three changes of cold water.  In a large pot, cover watermelon rind with water and bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until pieces are still crisp but you can pierce with a fork.  Approximately 10 minutes.  Drain in a colander and set aside.
  • Step 4:  Make the syrup for the pickles:  Thinly slice the citrus. In a large pot combine the vinegars, sugar, jaggery, ginger, and spices with the remaining 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Add the rinds and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain in a colander over a bowl so as to catch the liquid.  Place in a sauce pan and reduce until you have 4½ cups of syrup, 12-15 minutes, over high heat.  Transfer syrup to a metal bowl.

  • Step 5:  Can those suckers:  Sterilize jars, lids and equipment according to manufacturer's recommendations.  Fill hot, sterilized jars with pieces of rind, meyer lemon, and spices.  Cover with syrup leaving ½-inch head space in each jar.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.