Sky Full of Bacon

Pulled Pork and Persimmon Pie: A Book Review (pt. 2)

A book review of James Villas’ Pig: King of the Southern Table, continued from here.

Great Smoky Bacon, Country Ham and Sauerkraut Pie (p. 158)

I’d intended to stop with my two efforts at barbecue, but since I was making a country ham for Thanksgiving dinner at David Hammond’s (using this recipe from Charleston Receipts, which I first learned of from Villas), the next day I got curious about what Villas might suggest for baked country ham leftovers. He had me at “sauerkraut pie.”

This recipe comes from the Smoky Mountains region (the mountains are what’s Great and Smoky, not the bacon per se) where they raise not only pork but, apparently, a lot of cabbage, and make sauerkraut out of it. You start with a lard crust (I chickened out and made half lard, half butter; I also way overworked it, unfortunately), which you partly bake, then coat with dijon mustard:

Meanwhile you fry some bacon, soften some onions in it, and then add some rinsed sauerkraut and seasoning. (I was betting I could hide the sauerkraut sufficiently for my kids to eat it. I won the bet.) That all gets sauteed a bit, then you add it to the crust:

Top it with leftover country ham and some parsley, and bake it like a quiche, basically. This was very satisfying, though it certainly seemed more like German or French food than Southern. Not that I’m complaining on a cold fall day about a dish that made the house smell like bacon, onions and sauerkraut.

* * *

Country Ham and Turnip Hash (p. 172)

Less successful was breakfast the next morning. (Funny that it looks so much like the other dish, though it’s quite different.) Boil some turnips, chop some country ham, dice some green pepper and onion, season it and add cream… the first problem is, Villas says make this into a cake (which you will be flipping as a whole later). Not happening, this is wet goo.

No big deal, you just fry it and flip it like hash browns. But the challenge with any country ham dish is, does it concentrate the saltiness of the ham, or does it ameliorate it, the way the apple chutney spread on the ham biscuits I made did, or hiding the ham amid caramelized onions and sauerkraut did the night before. And frying what was quite a large quantity of ham made for a powerfully salty hash. I ate mine, my wife ate most of hers, the kids, irredeemable Yankees that they are, barely touched it.

Oh well. One flop, but hey, we’ll be down to the bone soon, and I’m already eyeing Villas’ recipes for soup, most of which, not surprisingly, seem to be built on the scraps or bone of a country ham. Creamy rutabaga and country ham… can’t wait.

* * *

And the persimmon pie, you ask? That wasn’t from Villas, that was just what I felt like trying to make this year, given how ubiquitous persimmons are becoming at retail during this season. I bought some the week before and waited for them to ripen, and waited, and waited… only one was really ripe, to the point of being like a mushy tomato, by the time it was time to make pie. But pureed and baked much like a pumpkin pie, they made an interesting and novel dessert, pumpkin pie-like but with an orangey note and lightness of their own. I’m eager to try again, but this time, giving the persimmons all the time they need to ripen perfectly before I bake.

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