Sky Full of Bacon

Updates on the progress of my sausagemaking adventures (chronicled here, then here):

I took the remaining piece of shoulder and smoked it the next day.  Great pork, you could taste the quality, but not quite so great as deeply smoke-infused pulled pork— I wonder if the meat was a bit denser than the usual supermarket meat and thus smoke did not penetrate as easily.  The other possibility of course is that I simply used less wood than normal, and didn’t realize it.  Anyway, if not quite so smoky as I liked, certainly a satisfying end for the last 6-7 pounds or so.

Meanwhile, my ham was curing per the recipe in Cooking By Hand:

I finished it with a glaze vaguely inspired by this one from Emeril.  At first I really liked the fresh flavor of this ham, but after a certain point I decided it had too much of the floral spices, clove and allspice or whatever, you got fatigued by them and they gave it sort of an eating-an-air-freshener-cake vibe.  So if I ever do this again, I will reduce the sweet spices, up the savory (a little garlic or just more onion might have been good), and maybe increase the salt, it was not all that salty for a cured product.  But I’m definitely intrigued by the idea of doing one’s own baked ham, after doing it it seems like, hey, why wouldn’t you?

Meanwhile, the sausages continue in the wine fridge.  The really hard part is keeping the humidity in the right range– if you do anything, it seems like the tiny space promptly shoots to one extreme or the other.  I’m hoping that a lot of time at 100% humidity and a little time at 0% averages to the 70% I’m supposed to be aiming for.

Well, thanks to some kind words of encouragement in the comments and the fact that they smell pretty good now and look like something that should turn into something good someday…

I’m feeling more positive about my sausages.  The one issue I’m having is that humidity seems to be all over the place, but I’m mainly trying to keep them from getting dried out (this can be a problem, if the outside dries out too quickly, sealing the wet interior so it can’t dry).  I adjust this constantly, hoping it will average out.  You’ll also note that I made a couple of them too long, hence them being tied into a J-shape at the other end, to keep from touching the bottom of the tiny wine fridge.

Meanwhile, the sopressata used chunks of pork leg which came from a large fresh ham.  This is actually it after I whittled it down by half, trying to keep a more or less ham shape.  Cooking By Hand has a recipe for house-cured ham, so I made a brine including vegetables and various spices, injected this piece all over, and will brine it for about six days:

So I’ll get some taste of my efforts, if not sausage, soon.  That makes me feel better about it all.

Like Super Dave Osborne, I throw myself into various culinary adventures heedless of the outcome, and so far I’ve usually succeeded well enough in the end— my first loaf of crusty bread was crusty in the same way a Sherman tank is, but within a few more tries, it was pretty delicious, and I’ve been making it ever since, happily.  Likewise, the first thing I tried out of Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie was bacon, and it went so well that, with a few refinements (such as buying better pork), I was soon renowned as a bacon maven.

This time, though, I may have been beaten.  Maybe I’m just tired after a long day, that’s what my partner in charcuterie Cathy2 suggested, but this one feels like it got away from me, I bit off more than I could chew, whatever.  Here’s my saga of an intense day of porkology, and hell if I know if it will prove successful in the end.

So it started with two large boxes of pork from my pork producer connection in Iowa.  In them were contained:

• Two full-length bellies (usually I just get the squarer rear half)
• One ham
• One shoulder
• Back fat
• Leaf lard

I would end up doing something with all of these except the last today.  First off, I cut the bellies in half and added the cure and maple syrup to three of the belly halves (the fourth went to Cathy).  That was old hat, and easy.

Next I cut out the coppa muscle.  You may recall my Coppablogging posts (here here and here), and how I said that it was fairly simple to find the round coppa muscle once someone like Rob Levitt at Mado had shown me where it was. Well, it was really simple to spot this time:

I sliced it out and trimmed it up, and Cathy got the pleasure this time of massaging the seasoning and cure into it.  That was easy too, and it went into the fridge for about two weeks of absorbing the cure.  Meanwhile, I set to dicing and cubing the meat and backfat for the next and most ambitious parts of today’s adventures in advanced porkitude.

My plan was to make two dry-cured sausages today.  The first was from Ruhlman’s book— a saucisson sec, a simple French country garlic and pork shoulder sausage.  The second, a bit more ambitious, was the sopressata from Paul Bertolli’s Cooking By Hand, a book widely used by professionals of my acquaintance (the Eckhouses taught themselves to make prosciutto out of it; Rob Levitt cited it as his main guide as he began making charcuterie at Mado).  That the latter is geared more toward professionals is evidenced by the fact that I had to cut the recipe by 2/3rds to equal the quantity produced by Ruhlman’s recipe, about 6 lbs.

Now, one thing I quickly learned is that sausagemaking is not a hobby you take up casually at no great expense.  I had the Kitchenaid with the grinder and sausage stuffer attachments, and some dextrose left over from the original coppadventure, but I still wound up having to buy 1) a smaller scale capable of measuring grams, 2) a better boning knife, 3) Instacure #2 and 4) Bactoferm starter culture (which promotes lactic acid formation, preventing nasty things like botulism) by mail from, and a container of salted pork intestines at Paulina Market— and that was only after I’d decided not to make big sopressata in 4″ wide cow intestines, because they only come in a $35 tub of 500 feet worth or some such.  You could spend a small fortune just getting ready for this, and as with the fortune of the late Mobuto Sese Seko promised you by a banker in Nigeria, it’s only the fact that you’ve already put so much money in that keeps you from stopping and saying the hell with it all at some point where doing so would be the only logical thing left to do, if you weren’t delusional by that point.

Anyway, I sliced and diced and cut into strips:

Into the freezer it all went.  First up to grind: pork shoulder and backfat for the saucisson sec.  And here we encountered one of the problems with the Kitchenaid as a sausagemaking tool: you can grind about half a pound before the silverskin and whatnot in the pork shoulder has wrapped itself around the blade and rendered it useless.  So I had to break the machine down and clean the blade and the thing with the holes it pushes the chopped meat through, every couple of minutes.  It made what should have been a few minutes of grinding into most of an hour; I was instantly envious of Eddie Lakin of Edzo’s, who told me when I interviewed him for a video that his grinder has a way of catching that stuff and wrapping it around the auger before it can choke off the blade.

Anyway, much later than I’d hoped, we finally had the meat for the first sausage all ground, and could add the seasonings in the mixer— Cathy having been hard at work getting them together and crushing them in the mortar where needed.  Then it was time to extrude the seasoned pork mix into the casings— and this too went much too slowly, with endless problems caused by the fairly gooey sausage mixture blocking air or creating air bubbles in the casings as we tried to stuff them.  I swear this was much easier the other time I did it, I’m not sure what the deal was today; but I have to think that part of it is simply that, while sausagemaking with a Kitchenaid mixer may be possible, it’s less than ideal and this is another case where having the right tools is the difference between a difficult and frustrating job and a relatively smooth one.  Another much longer-than-expected span of time went into this, with lots of frustration and some careful rereading of the books to see if we were missing something, but finally, we had about six good saucisson secs:

I tied them off and attached tags indicating which sausage they were and their weight in grams at the time of making.  At this point I realized something: my little wine fridge wasn’t big enough to hold these sausages, an equal quantity of another kind, and a coppa.  But the pork leg and backfat for the sopressata were already cut, so Cathy suggested that I make one or two sopressata as a test and freeze the rest of the meat for future use.  So we ground it all and I packed up most of it, measuring out one pound of the meat and then dividing Bertolli’s recipe by 15 to get the proper amounts.  Thankfully, at least the pork leg ground easily without the connective tissue problems the shoulder had had.

On the other hand, the thing that’s really a crapshoot is whether we did the Bactoferm starter culture right; by now we were working with such small quantities relative to Bertolli’s recipe that we could only guess how accurate we were.  At least two things I think should prevent any possible nastiness such as botulism: one, that it’s much smaller than the customary sopressata, so it should dry out more readily than a bigger sopressata and cure  more quickly, and two, when we fried up a little of each sausage and tasted them, they were both already quite salty.  So I would think that the salt should help prevent some of these problems, though I’m not sure if it will be too salty by the time it’s shrunk a bit and become more concentrated.

So anyway, here are the saucissons sec in the wine fridge, while the lone test sopressata sits out at room temperature for a day to activate the Bactoferm culture:

Even if the sausages are a total loss— and I don’t think they will be, but they may not be all that great, either— at least the coppa should work and I have, left over, a somewhat whittled-down but still decent size shoulder and about a half a ham, each of which should make for a nice, non-cured main dish at some point.  But I just don’t know about the sausages; stay tuned to see if it proved too much for me, or if I’m just selling the day’s effort short because it’s worn me down.  Maybe, with luck, the day will come that the pain and difficulties are forgotten but the taste makes it all worthwhile.

Click here to go to part 1.

Now it was time to get to work, recreating my childhood memories— in the kitchen.

Before Cathy arrived to show me the ropes of canning, I did as much prep as I could. I started with the beets. Beets will benefit from almost any logical thing you do to give them a little savory flavor to soak up as you roast them; in this case I vaguely followed this Alton Brown recipe (though the time is never enough; mine roasted for a full hour), coating them in a little oil and tossing them with shallots and a little rosemary I plucked from a plant that never really grew in this weird summer’s weather. But any herb and oniony flavor will be good, enhance their roasted beetiness.

Then I began peeling the tomatoes. Boil water, drop in till the skins start to split, toss into cold water in sink. Considering the half a bushel or whatever I had, it was fast work.

Then the beets went into their bath of vinegary solution. Cathy has a canning kit from Ball which is full of neat little plastic gizmos. The funnel is perfect for not spilling your precious farmstand goodies as you fill the jars…

And this device lets you stir air pockets out, then reverses to show you the height of the air space in your filled jar.

And into the steaming inferno they go, to emerge as shelf-stable, pickled beets.

How do you know how much to do some of these things, like the amount of vinegar, the time to boil, the height of air to leave in the jar? Take off your shoes, your Government has it all figured out for you! Just go here, a site actually maintained by the University of Georgia but paid for by your USDA tax dollars, and a few clicks will take you to instructions for the appropriate foodstuff.  For instance, beets in a quart jar will take 35 minutes of boiling to be safely canned.

* * *

While the beets boil, I turn to the piccalilli.  I puree 8 good sized tomatoes, then add 3 sweet red peppers, a yellow and two green peppers.

Add some onions and at this point what I have is a pretty nice salsa.  I add some cinnamon sticks and allspice in a tea strainer, then half the final vinegar, and begin stewing it all. For the moment, it’s as red as ajvar.

Meanwhile, the beets come out of the canning pot and next go in the Roma tomatoes.  Even with lemon juice, they will take 85 minutes, which gives us plenty of time to fiddle with the piccalilli as it stews.

All along, I’m tasting and testing.  The cinnamon and allspice begin to appear in the background, making it less like a bowl of stewed tomatoes and more like a sauce.  Too much vinegar, but some sugar mellows it a bit, and salt balances the sugar.  Slowly, addition by addition, taste by taste and test by test, I get closer to my grandmother’s piccalilli, like a Polaroid slowly developing, revealing long-gone faces as familiar as if you’d seen them yesterday.

That’s Lilly and her mother, who lived into the early 80s, almost to 100. Did the piccalilli recipe come from her? Or was it just something Lilly clipped from a magazine decades ago that she never thought of as a family tradition, and only became one to me because I associated it with her? I’ll never know. (Well, unless I find the recipe card and it turns out to have the clipping stapled to it, I guess.)

Finally, after maybe two hours of stewing and adjusting, it tastes something like my childhood memories—the vinegar too strong still, but it will have a month or more in the jar to mellow.  The color isn’t an exact match; maybe she did have green tomatoes, after all, what I remember was definitely a mix of red, green and brown.  Growing up, I never even knew there were such things as green tomatoes (that is, as an edible foodstuff) until I was 20 or so, but that doesn’t mean Lilly didn’t.

But the flavor is close, it excites neurons that haven’t tasted this memory in 25 years.  It’s not exactly like being in her house again (for that, I’d have to light up a few Winstons), but it’s like a surprisingly sharp picture of one part of it, reminding me of things I haven’t thought of in years.  (Of course, to really taste my piccalilli in all its Wichita-1978 glory, I’ll need Wonder bread and Cure 81 ham.)

Just five minutes’ boiling for piccalilli, surprisingly.  Then a month or so to mellow.

Not at all a long wait, to have something again for the first time in 25 years.  And to pass a little bit of the great-grandmother who died before they were born, to my two boys.

Lilly, my grandfather Al Gebert, my dad and my uncle, c. 1935.

Lilly’s Piccalilli, Version 10.09
8 large ripe tomatoes or equivalent
3 sweet red peppers
3 bell peppers, green or yellow or orange
2 large onions or equivalent
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
3-4 Tbsp salt, to taste
3 cinnamon sticks
1 dozen allspice berries, in cheesecloth bag or tea strainer
1/4 cup mustard seed
1/3 Tbsp celery seed

Peel and core tomatoes, chop coarsely in food processor, and partially drain mixture in a strainer. Chop peppers and onions in food processor to approximate size of pickle relish. Place all in stockpot with cinnamon and allspice and 1-1/2 cups of the vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer vigorously, reducing liquid considerably, for 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours.

Remove cinnamon and allspice. Add remaining vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seed and mustard seed, as well as powdered cinnamon and allspice to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes. Pour into hot sterilized jars, allowing 1/2 inch headroom in jars. Boil in canner for 5 minutes.

When I first saw that Michael Pollan had written a ten-zillion-page opus on the state of cooking, eating, the Food Network, Julie and Julia, and other such weighty topics, my first thought was that this was way, way too much to read onscreen; Pollan has written a piece about how our lives are too busy for cooking, at a length that our lives are too busy to read.

My second thought was, I’m about to spend ten zillion hours in the car going to and from Wyoming, so I’ll print it out.

And so I wound up reading a foodie manifesto during perhaps the least foodie week of my year, in the least foodie place I can remember going to in just about my entire life. I mean, Wyoming is a marvelous and beguiling place to visit in many ways, a state where they bother to put up population signs for towns with two-digit populations (if only someone in Emblem had died right before they put the sign up, I might have seen a one-digit one) and then follow it with a sign announcing the local cattle rustling heritage museum (every town seems to have a museum of something that happened between 1870 and 1900).

But as far as food culture goes… in terms of restaurants, it’s pretty much, where do you want to eat a preformed hamburger patty and frozen fries today? Apart from a smattering of Mexican and Chinese (no part of America is bereft of those), that’s pretty much it; when a shopkeeper in Cody asked my wife where she was from, the name “Chicago” immediately prompted a five-minute lament on the state of what little Italian food there is in Wyoming, which basically concluded with the axiom that Italian food gets steadily worse from the Rockies on. (To judge by the Jersey-in-1957-amber menu of the place down the street from him, he knows whereof he speaks.)

This made Wyoming an interesting context for considering Pollan’s points, which are roughly these: We may celebrate Julia Child as the progenitor of food TV and our foodie culture, but actually our modern food TV is her antithesis, great at encouraging us to watch more and more hyped up food-sports shows, but largely discouraging our own venturing into the kitchen to do anything more than assemble processed junk a la Sandra Lee—and her advertisers. We have the food TV we have because it suits the world of processed foods we live in, where no one has time to really cook and the habit itself is rapidly being lost.

As a market researcher sums it up (in the best quote in the piece), “A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking and gutting a chicken. Do you know anybody who still does that? It would be considered crazy! Well, that’s exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren: something people used to do when they had no other choice. Get over it.”

So cooking has become a niche pastime, like quilting or radio controlled aircraft. Yet niches can occupy pretty big territory sometimes, and after a week in Wyoming I came away convinced that they can even cover entire states.

It’s not that processed foods weren’t all over Wyoming— in restaurants, as I said. But restaurants are scarce enough outside major tourist stops that it’s clear this is one state where people don’t eat out every night. Meanwhile, go into a grocery store and, sure, amid the frozen dinners and Lunchables and Kleenex-brand sandwich bread, there’s a surprising amount of natural, organic and just old-fashioned real stuff being sold even in very small towns. (A lot more than I’d bet you could find in towns five times as large in Illinois.) Somebody in Wyoming is certainly cooking better than you can eat out in all but the largest and wealthiest tourist-oriented towns like Jackson.

And the proof of that for me was certainly that several of my better meals were in little cafes which seemed to be no more than an extension of the proprietor’s home— not that they were objectively great, but that they were usually the most real, the least prefab, the ones that seemed the most rooted in a local housewifely sense of how to make things as opposed to drones following the instructions on the Sysco box.

In short, Wyoming seems to be one of the last outposts of the old food culture— before the processing that Pollan decries, but also, before the heroine whose legacy he celebrates.  Maybe those two events are not as opposed as we assume.

*  *  *

The standard narrative, which Pollan seems to assent to, casts Julia Child as the great liberator of the American home cook— even as American cooking began declining right as she appeared on the scene.

True, she gave status to the act of cooking at a crucial moment for American women— but look at how she did it: by encouraging us to abandon American cookery for French technique. Far from championing American cooking (like her fellow West Coasters James Beard or Alice Waters), by the time she really turned to her life’s work she was a classic eastern establishment WASP trying to lead the masses toward European tastes and sophistication.

And to be honest, can you really say she succeeded? She tried to teach us French; we all learned Italian instead. Part of the reason Julie Powell’s blog project was such a novelty is precisely because so many people own Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking… and so few ever crack it open now.

What’s more, to the extent she has had an influence, hers was a pivotal step in turning cooking from something you did well for the sake of others at your table, to something you do for self-expression.  And the problem with turning cooking into a Me Decade pursuit, like jogging or meditation, is that it’s no longer necessary— it’s just something to be done when you feel like it.

It’s telling that the only woman in 21st century America who actually cooks every night is doing it for her blog, not her husband— and that she’s therefore remarkable enough to warrant a movie about her strange lifestyle.  Child set out to teach America how to cook a better cuisine, but on a certain level the message America took away was that its native cookery was inferior—and thus not worth the effort being put into it. Or the effort it would take to pass it to the next generation.

Partly as a result, preparing food became a self-conscious act, and American cookery ceased being our indigenous cuisine and became just one more concept. It’s easier to accept the artifice in processed foods when it’s all an act anyway; in a true beef culture, Wyoming hamburger stands would pride themselves on handformed fresh beef as a matter of principle. But when hamburger stands are about fitting the concept of a hamburger stand, all that matters is that you carry off the concept convincingly. If the meat’s a little worse, play the oldies a little louder; it will average out.

Now, I don’t mean to lay every box of T.G.I. Friday’s Frozen Jalapeno Cheese Poppers at Child’s feet. Obviously the main reason Americans stopped cooking is because both sexes are working now, and working more, and the time just isn’t there. But that lifestyle change also owes something to the feminist movement telling housewives to throw off their chains and find their real meaning at a desk rather than a stove.  The chain of American cooking passed from mother to daughter broke in the 1960s, and if the most influential food personality of the decade didn’t have something to do with it, who did?

Ironically, it’s precisely the meaninglessness of her boring desk job that drives Julie Powell to find meaning by taking up cooking, discovering in it all the things that corporate bureaucracy lacks— tactile pleasures, finality followed by a fresh start the next day, instant feedback, real appreciation.  She turns to Julia Child to help rescue her from a less satisfying life without realizing the irony that Child is part of how she got stuck there in the first place.

Like I said, hardly any blogging for the next week, so here’s my second post of the day. But hey, I’m doing a bunch of cooking and other tasks, so no time to sink deep into the editing headspace anyway.

Went to Green City this morning, Fruit Slinger had twittered about some gold cherries so I bought some of those from him and two other types; the gold are pretty but there’s not really that much flavor, by far the best were some Bing-like dark ones.  Then I spotted these:

The last carton of Fraises des Bois!  Actually they became the last when I took the next to last one.  Tiny, tart, prickly little wild strawberries.  Not the greatest strawberry I ever had, but at least interesting and different.  After so much blog trafficking about them, I had to buy a tiny, pricy carton.  Sucker.

I also picked up the first sour cherries of the season (and immediately put one son to work pitting them when we got home for future pie use), and some black raspberries— if you’ve never had black raspberries, they’re a definite thing to look out for, not really like red raspberries at all but a great blackberry-ish flavor eaten atop some Scooter’s vanilla custard or something creamy like that.  They grow wild around here too, if you want to look for them (I know a school garden where they grow, somewhat but not entirely deliberately).

Came home, made a tart crust and a creme patissiere, and…

Tart with fraises des bois and urban foraged juneberries.  I call it Tarte des blog.

(Earlier Juneberry post: I Found Juneberries!)

Continuing my Green City post below…

I made a strawberry rhubarb pie with some of it— but not the asparagus, of course.  For that, first I made a paté brisee, then I blanched and cooled one bunch of asparagus.  I sauteed some prosciutto and onion, added some flour and water from the asparagus, and made a sort of roux with it, letting it cool and adding some lemon zest:

A layer of each…

…topped with gruyere, then another layer of each:

Close the crust, seal with an egg wash:

And it makes a wonderful summery-tasting French tourte.

The recipe comes from Susan Herrman Loomis’ French Farmhouse Cookbook, which I’ve always enjoyed as an unthreatening intro to French cooking, all very rustic and approachable.

If there were a dish that involved asparagus and strawberries, it would have been the salvation for Green City Market today, as plenty of both were on hand. A little sunshine might have helped too; we were among the hardy few in a decidedly sparse crowd.

I stopped by a new cheese vendor, Saxon Homestead Creamery, variously recommended by the likes of Michael Morowitz and Mike Sula. We sampled our way down the line and to our surprise, even the 7-year-old voted for the slightly funky raw milk Green Fields cheese, as well as one called Evalon LaClare Farm cheese. (Cheese Log post to come in a few days.)

At Cafe Floriole we got something to nosh— in this humidity, the crusts were soggy but the good stuff in the middle was still plenty good, I was very happy with a little goat cheese and green onions. A moment later I spotted something else someone (I think Monica Eng) had recommended:

Apple cider donuts! Okay, I don’t think I went quite as gaga for them as she did, but they didn’t exactly last long, either.

By the time I got to Fruitslinger’s stand I had three quarts of strawberries, so I didn’t really have any need to buy any more from him, but we chatted for a moment. I asked him about the fraises des bois (wild strawberries; they were planted, as a sort of cliffhanger, last year on his blog and they turned up recently on his Twitter feed.) He said ten minutes earlier Mark Mendez from Carnivale had bought everything he had. Then he searched around and produced one for me to try. Tart, not that different from the other strawberries. Wait another week or two, he said. When they’re good… his eyes rolled back in his head. (Here’s what happened to them at Carnivale.)

Got some green tomatoes from Growing Power, I’ll make fried green tomatoes in a day or two. Got a new glass bear full of that great black raspberry honey, some pork shoulder and hamburger from a new beef supplier, some eggs (all sold out closest to the parking lot, still available closer in). We went home, damp but happy. Tonight I made strawberry shortcake, tomorrow a strawberry-rhubarb pie and probably an asparagus tart.

In my podcast Eat This City, urban forager Nance Klehm notes (starts at around 12:45) that milkweed shoots can be eaten something like asparagus, and that the pods, when very young, can be cooked like okra. But then she says she doesn’t like to eat them, because they’re the only food of the monarch butterfly, and she’d rather eat other things (since she can and they can’t).

This notion piqued my curiosity, though, since I had milkweed growing in my somewhat neglected front yard patch last year. The kids and I had observed it in its various phases— and best of all, spotted the occasional monarch dining in our front yard. So the notion that monarchs needed it for their own food was by no means abstract— but at the same time, omnivorous foodie that I am, I couldn’t help wonder what milkweed would taste like. Here we are in the season when ramps are all the rage, I could be the first on my block to try another bit of locally grown, wild flora.

So I went into my weedpatch of a front yard and examined the shoots. There were 6 or 8 clusters of about 4 to 6 shoots each. Surely I would not do any harm to simply thin the clusters out by one shoot each, they wouldn’t all grow to butterfly-feeding maturity… right? That at least is what I told myself.

I came back inside with a fistful of young shoots, thin and tender, only a few leaves at the top, leaking sticky white sap from the cut end. Then I began looking up how to cook them. The news at first was very far from encouraging:

Milkweed is typically found in dry habitats, especially in dry, disturbed areas like roadsides, pastures, and dry stream beds. Although eating milkweed is rarely fatal to humans (because it tastes nasty), livestock occasionally die from eating it. Young shoots of milkweed can be eaten, but only after thorough cooking. Never eat parts of mature plants. Milkweed sap can cause a rash on people with sensitive skin.

Then I found this, by a guy who’d not only eaten them without changing the water three times (as all the recipes recommended to rid them of bitterness and toxicity), he’d eaten them raw, and lived into his 70s to tell the tale:

Eventually I tried milkweed shoots boiled without changing the water; furthermore, I made sure to begin the process with very cold water so I could “set” this elusive bitter principle just to see what it tasted like. (I had expended so much time, water, and cooking fuel to fight this chemical culprit that I was becoming anxious to meet him.) The result was perfectly delicious without even a hint of bitterness. I drank of the cooking water, too, and it tasted mild and pleasant, like green beans. After that I went out and ate a small quantity of milkweed shoots raw, and they were rather tasty. So then I tried the milky sap by itself – only to find that it was without any noticeable unpleasant flavor. It turned out that our bitter enemy was too much of a coward to even show up.

Who to believe on the internet? In the end, I took the small chance of following the recipes that said cook it for 15 minutes in the same water, no changes. Someone had to be the first to taste tomatoes, grapes, hemlock. I started the pot boiling and meanwhile, figuring that asparagus was the model here, I whipped up a simple butter-lemon-tarragon cream.

15 minutes later and, well, they were already so soft that it was hard to imagine how more cooking and more changes of water wouldn’t have turned them to puree. I took them out and tasted one.

Yes, certainly asparagus-like, not quite as strong-suphurous… and a little sweet note which asparagus never has. Interesting enough to try once, little reason to want to make it a regular part of your spring diet. Which was a relief; had I found it wonderful, I would have had to ask myself whether it was ethical to call attention to eating milkweed in a way that might influence others to go out and start stripping fields of newly grown shoots.

Yet of course, the only reason I’m asking this question at all is because I happen to have a factoid about this one plant in my head. How many other times have I called attention to something delicious, heedless of the fact that today’s foodie trends to watch list is tomorrow’s endangered species watchlist? My clusters of ethics are clearly rooted in a vast field of locally grown, wild ignorance.

So take my word for it. Milkweed’s okay if you’re a native American during a slow bison season, but it’s nothing to get excited enough about to make it worth taking from the mouths of butterflies. No particular need to add this one to the heavy list of sins we gluttons carry.

Although I am awfully curious about this:

Wild Food Recipe: Sautéed Milkweed Pods and Mushrooms

In this recipe, I removed the immature seeds – the inner white part of the milkweed pod. I looked for young pods, which tend to be small, rough textured, and do not split open easily.

I wanted to see if cooking the insides of the pod would make it stringy, like cheese. In this case, I used white mushrooms, so I could focus on the milkweed.

Well, I spent a lovely day indoors editing prosciutto porn for you people, but meanwhile Mike Sula is meeting your food video needs by posting this video of cheesemaking in Wisconsin (which, as the second cheese video he’s posted, keeps making it harder and harder for me to do one).

Making cheddar at Grassfields Organic Cheese from mike sula on Vimeo.

Here’s the story it goes with. You could find the story from his blog post about the video, but you’d have to look very closely to find the link to the video from the story, so Sky Full of Bacon does it all for you. Incidentally, when you finally see my prosciutto porn… the footage of Paul Virant in that one was shot the very next day after Sula’s footage of Paul Virant in this one. Weird, huh.