A FLURRY // elspeth

There's been a flurry of activity around here recently. Not all food related, but mostly. Two weeks ago, on that snowy Saturday, we drove up to Canton to pick up our annual grain and bean CSA share. When we got home we packed over a hundred pounds of flour and popcorn and beans and cornmeal into the cupboards and basement in Mason jars and giant white tins. 

We were out of just about everything—we ate the last popcorn the week before, a sure sign that things are getting dicey—and after that the only things left were a few black turtle beans and some rainbow colored dent corn. Getting in the new shipment felt like a very solid form of food security, not on a big scale, necessarily, but in the sense of having something tangible tucked away. 

We cooked the first beans the night after we got home—Soldier beans, I think, or maybe Jacob's Cattle—and they were insanely good. I didn't do anything unusual, just soaked them overnight in cold water and then boiled them the next morning for a few hours on the woodstove. When I drained them they practically melted into the strainer, and for lunch that day I cooked them with olive oil, garlic, and a pinch of salt. We inhaled them, all of us: soft, billowy cushions of beany butter. 

Beyond that we've been focused on spring: placing a seed order and reading up on the possibility of getting chickens and planning out a new set of cold frames on the south side of my parents' new cottage. There's a list going on the chalkboard: move the compost pile, fence the garden, weed and mulch the flower bed outside the kitchen window. It is too early to do most of these things—the girls are still sledding down a stubborn patch of snow between the pear trees and the raspberries—but it's nice to dream.

And it must be coming, because today at the farmers market we were able to get onions and pea shoots and kale and basil and a big pile of suet to render down into tallow. I've never made tallow before, but I have rendered fat back to lard, and apparently it's a similar process. We're out of lard and we buy ridiculous amounts of olive oil and coconut oil and butter, and supplementing with a little beef fat for cooking seems like a good way to keep things more local, spend less on cooking fat, and get the health benefits of fat from a grass fed animal

I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, here's a little inspiration from around the web.

—A lovely piece from Molly Wizenberg on the importance of letting kids help in the kitchen.

—A Ted talk on the importance of WHY we do what we do, and an interesting-looking app for generating collaborative change within an organization. 

And finally from the physical written world: Simply Nigella. I checked it out from the library last week, and it's gorgeous. Best of all, every recipe is simple and inspiring!

Have a good one, friends.



I wonder, sometimes, how boring it sounds to be eating locally in February. Uh, yeah, we love kale! But then I make meals like this: pan-fried pork chops from the half pig we bought with grits I made from the dent corn that came with our grain and bean CSA, and Swiss chard my mom brought down from a farm near their house. It was a meal that satisfied in every way—it supported our neighbors and good farming practices and our own health and all the things we believe in—and it was also incredibly delicious. 

It also allowed for some learning. I'd never processed the dent corn we get with our CSA into grits before—I'd always just kept grinding until everything, or almost everything, was fine enough to be called cornmeal. But it turns out that's actually not ideal, and saving some of the bigger, tougher parts for grits is incredibly easy. 

We used this tutorial, but basically the first time you put the whole dried corn kernels into the grain grinder (we use this Kitchen Aid attachment), you use a very coarse setting. What comes out is essentially cracked corn. You then grind it a little finer, and two types of material come out: a fairly fine flour that looks like cornmeal, and bigger, harder pieces. You use a sifter to sift the cornmeal from the coarse pieces—apparently there are grades of sifters, like 1/16 and 1/32, and what you want is 1/32—and I have no idea where ours falls on this scale. It's your basic, every day kitchen sifter/strainer, something along these lines. But the instructions Alex found said corn generally yields fifty percent cornmeal and fifty percent grits, so once it started to look like that's what we had, I just used our regular old sifter and sifted it. I put the cornmeal through the grinder one more time on a super fine setting and set it aside in a jar for cornbread or biscuits or whatever baking project comes up next. 

The next morning we made our first batch of grits. I've always liked grits—they used to make them all the time at the cafeteria at Middlebury, along with a stomach sinking concoction called "Cheesy Eggs." I remember sitting in GIS class many a morning wishing I hadn't eating quite so many cheesy grits and cheesy eggs, and maybe that's why I've never gone so far as to buy some grits and cook them at home. But making them from scratch ! well. It may be a new Sunday routine. 

They do take a while—you add four and a half cups of water to a cup of raw grains, and like rice, grits are cooked with a lid. They also take some attention—you have to stir them fairly often with a wooden spoon and a whisk to keep them both from clumping and from sticking to the bottom of the pot. They're not a Monday morning kind of thing.

But when you have the time and you get the finished product, they're totally worth it. Both girls spooned down two bowls, and I ate a fair amount off the wooden spoon before any even made it onto my plate. The grits were creamy, almost Cream-of-Wheaty, but with a savory, cheese-laced flavor that I like much better. And they were excellent under a scoop of sautéed Swiss chard and mushrooms, and even better with a pan-fried pork chop on top. 


I've never had grits that weren't cheesy, though I'm assuming there are other ways. For now I see no reason to mess with a good thing: slow-cooked corn, melty cheese, a pinch of salt, and a little butter to smooth it all together. These are delicious on their own, but even better with something from the pork family (bacon? pork chops? pulled shoulder?) and some sautéed veggies or an egg. 

1 cup uncooked grits
4 ounces grated Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon butter
salt to taste

Whisk the grits into four and a half cups water in a medium pot. Bring everything to a simmer, turn the heat down, and cover the pot. Cook, stirring and whisking often, until cooked through—depending on the freshness and coarseness of your grits, this should take between 25-45 minutes. When the grits are soft and have a texture similar to Cream of Wheat, stir in the cheese and the butter until you have a smooth, creamy mixture. Season with salt to taste and serve hot. 


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.