Cooking

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beans
It all started early this summer and I have to say I had an accomplice. Up until that point, in order to actually can foods I had to borrow a friend’s canner. Well then my father-in-law dropped one off when he visited the family so I guess if my quickly filling cabinets have anyone to blame it is him.

After a new gasket the canner saw its first use in a while and I quickly became smitten. Organic potatoes we purchased in bulk at a deep discount were the first victims. The boys peeled and chopped, I packed and processed. It was just too easy now that a pressure canner lived right in my own kitchen.

And the gardens happened – the most productive garden we’ve had since inhabiting this land. Both green beans and squash were fermented and dehydrated, until I just couldn’t keep up with it and threw a couple of baskets full into the canner. These were the first jars of homegrown, home canned produce we’ve seen here in Texas.

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I took a break through August when my manuscript was due and September too as I finished the photos. But then I found a stash of dried beans so old no amount of boiling seemed to help. Our neighbor who’d been over helping with housework (hiring help when deadlines loom has been a win!) mentioned how her mom pressure canned them and they were soft and tender. Dozens and dozens of quarts later is when my hobby started to turn into a… situation.

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Then apple season happened and bulk organic apples at a good price means applesauce. But then two large boxes of longhorn bones showed up on our door and desperate times called for desperate measures so several more cases of jars came home with us… and, filled with broth, now join the collection taking up just a bit of space in our cabinets.

So, I thought I’d wait until we took a bull to the butcher before I filled any more jars. The many quarts of meat and broth would surely be enough to deter me from filling more jars and more cabinet space, right?

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Well, potatoes and apples and beets came into season once again. So now one hundred pounds of potatoes and forty pounds of apples and twenty-five pounds of beets are hollering for help and who am I to say no?

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Canning lots of food was really never on my to-do list, but when you live off-grid and are still working on that root cellar and have no refrigeration for produce, it certainly helps. The gallons of turnip kimchi on the counter indicate that my dedication to fermentation has not waned, I’ve simply added to the many, many jars we go through around here.

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I’ll probably need more jars… and cabinet space… or better yet, a root cellar! I’m rallying for a huge potato patch in the spring, more squash, and bushels of green beans! Surely, I don’t have a problem here, right?

Oh, and if you stop by, sorry for the slowly decaying food odor – kimchi always tastes better than it smells. Come back in a month and it will be spot on tasty… and after another turnip harvest, Lord willing, I’ll only have added to my reeking counters and sagging cabinets.

Anyone know if you can purchase jars by the pallet load?

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We recently came into the “bits and pieces” of a longhorn bull. Included in that was two large boxes of bones, kidney, several packages of liver, the heart, and the tongue. We turned the bones into 28 quarts of super concentrated broth and have eaten several packages of the liver with gusto. Half of the heart was chopped finely and mixed with ground beef for meatloaf, the kidneys are still awaiting preparation, and the tongue became tacos along with roasted beets and a homegrown salad. Sadly, I forgot about the other half of the heart so that is going to the chickens.

I find the tongue the most edible portion of the offal for those not accustomed to the flavors of liver and such. It is rich and unctuous and shreds up much like shredded beef. It makes great Tacos de Lengua. This is our second or third time eating it and the whole family has been happy to every time.

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To prepare the tongue, I first rinse it and then cover it in water. You can add herbs, aromatics or spices but I usually just simmer it as is for 2-3 hours or until it is pull-apart tender.

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Next, the tough outer skin needs to be peeled off and the meat shredded. This is simple enough to do with a couple of forks.

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Finally, I like to fry the meat up with garlic, onions, cumin, chili, and a squeeze of lime. This meat can then be used in tacos, in enchiladas, alongside beans, and so on. It tastes like a very rich shredded beef and is surprisingly delicious.

I probably should close this post by addressing the *eek* factor involved in cooking such animal foods as this. I remember the first time I roasted a whole chicken and was just a bit squeamish. The first liver I ever cooked weirded me out a bit. The first time I handled and cooked a heart or tongue was certainly out of my comfort zone as it looks, well… just like a heart and tongue. The same principles apply to my first forays into chicken butchering.

What I mean to say is that working with dead bits of animal is far more sobering than it is glamorous. I’m not sure I’ll ever be “used to” the reality that is taking an animal’s life for food. The blood; the sudden departure from life to death is all very sobering and, frankly, a good reminder of just how mortal we too are as humans.

Working with these bits of animal, however, is something I think you grow accustomed to. It’s like anything, I suppose, in that the things we are unfamiliar with are the things that scare us the most. After a bit of time spent with the unfamiliar it becomes a regular part of our existence.

And then we eat tacos.