Friday, February 16, 2007

californio dreamin'

This post plays with a new concept of sorts, so if you are just looking for a recipe, then skip on down a ways and scratch your head while wondering why..........or pretend like you are transported back in time...........(like in the movies, you know, where you exercise "willing suspension of disbelief" all the time)

Feb. 16th, 1863.
Dear Uncle Garner,

It is late Friday here in Monterey. I would love to be home again, enjoying whatever fills your hearth air, and it is this memory that I bring to mind as I write. California remains somewhat exotic for me, and I am still not used to the local fare (even after 13 years!). I will freely admit that unlike home, here in the spring (mis-named winter locally) we have fresh items: onions, garlic and cabbage that look splendid; cheese of many kinds; crabs are still easy to pull from the depths; and ample supply of salt beef and pork are to be had. We are not want for sustenance by any means. Despite these bounties here, I am now and then forced to be somewhat wreckless with my dining preparations. Occasionally, out of need yes, more so out of ignorance truthfully.

I offer as anecdote, an experience involving a bizarre new item: an "alligator pear" or "aguacate," as I have heard, that found it's way into my home a few days ago, after sailing from a port near the City of Angels. Angelic or not, I am not at all acquainted with this leathery looking green pear, and quite to my suprise, in using it as prescribed by it's giftor, created an uproar in our home at supper by placing it atop soup! Afterward, the men stood about frantically smoking their pipes and swilled copious amounts of some local "brandy" while arguing whether this newly presented item was fruit or vegetable, and what therefore would be the proper course for this "pear" to be a part of. If only they knew what was in the soup, their conversations might be of a different matter entirely!

(this is still in the works, so let's stop there for today and fast forward:)

I've been wanting to explore the theme of cooking within a particular time and place in history (and ideally the associated available food), where I pretend I have landed there and am forced to make do. (Miraculously, my current state of experience remains intact. I love fantasies.) This is another horizon to the theme contained here, and it might be important to keep this in mind while you read on. Call it justification for the ingredients about to be used. Call it writing a story around some recipe made up on the spot. Call it using what's in the house, in this season and time, while wanting to participate in some Soup's On! fun. Call it birthing a new idea and trying it out. In public (ouch!). Call it pulling out the stops, and rolling it all into one. Thank you Alanna!

I wanted to play along in the soupy fun and was daydreaming in the realm of possibilities for this post when I tripped over the idea. Literally. We have pumpkins on our doorstep that date to Halloween, a gift grown by grandpa that have lived sporadically in the house since that time. About a month ago they were moved outside. They have collected sediment beneath them with the tiny bit of rain we have had, but are free of rot and look like they were just picked. Several times, while not paying attention going out our door, I have stubbed my toe on one or another, and immediately berated myself about not doing something with them. After the last trip, I thought: Ha! One of you is becoming soup!

I've always wanted to try cooking a soup inside of a pumpkin, so from the start I was intending on making this happen. Due to the antiquity of the pumpkin, I started thinking about other old items we have around that might be used. We have some old stock in the freezer, that's good. We have potatoes and cheese. That's good too. Hey, all these things are old! Yeah, I'll do an OLD SOUP post!

Wait! What am I thinking? Focus D. Okay, put the stock in the pumpkin, add some ingredients, maybe use that salted beef......wait a second. Is it possible that all of the items I am contemplating would have been around for some long-ago relative to use.......Wait, what about this avocado that I wanted to incorporate, and needs to be eaten? I've seen folks put these as garnish on soups. Dowf! How long ago did these become a foodstuff here in sunny California? Hmmm, you don't say, really.......

With the fantasy in mind, the monkey and I forged ahead and brought our victim into the house to be gutted. We removed the top, scooped out the seeds and persimmon, and started to prep our other ingredients. (Kidding about that persimmon! See this post for more background on this overly used item.) With pumpkin prepped, we filled it with our frozen crab stock (using the logic, lots of crabs back then, probably had some stock of sorts or easily could have) and put it in the oven. Where to go from here.....

My sis had bought some "beef bacon" for us to try. Considering it was a heavily salted meat item that was likely rather popular before refrigeration, I assumed that this would have been common back then, and besides, I needed some fat to fry the onions in. I grated a little cheese (olive oil and brine rubbed, I thought this might be reminiscent of earlier days), got out a few potatoes and onions, and sat my Hass down for a little rest. For those sticklers out there, yes, the Hass wasn't "developed" until the 1930's, and to be authentic, this should probably be something more like a Fuerte, but come on, keep playing along please.)

The pumpkin was baking, filled with crab stock, fried salted beef and onions, grated cheese and diced potatoes. It needed more body, and we had leftover cabbage. I don't know about early cabbage usage in CA, but I do know that it would grow easily, and at the very least different species were likely being farmed in family plots by members of the local Asian community at the time. I thinly sliced about a third of a head of cabbage and stirred it into the soup.

Baking together in the oven, it was starting to smell intriguing at least. After a good hour at least, the pumpkin was browning nicely and the contents looked great! I ladled some out into a cup, and it was good. I wanted to stop right there, and write something else for this post, but struggling with honesty, forced myself to go on. Besides, the pumpkin was balanced within a ceramic dish (but unsupported on its bottom) and beginning to cave in with each moment. I removed it from the oven, pureed the contents, scraped the flesh from the gourd, blended that too, and prepared the avocado for the top. I had some garlic quark in the fridge and thought: shucks, I have no fresh crema for authenticities sake, but this will defiantely taste good. (Remember, first time trying this theme out, so my allowances are a bit loose here.)

It was like orange velvet. Only with meat bits, and a crabby disposition. The cream component tied it all together though, and I just couldn't help but frying up some sourdough bread crumbs to serve on top. It was definately different. Inspired though? Uh, sure. Tasty? Yeah, but you might have to like the ingredients to start with. Should I do it again? I'll leave that to the bloggers out there who stumble upon this one. Who I pray, will get to this point in this long and complicated post not asking: "What was this guy thinking?" only to read on and find themselves staring at a recipe in disbelief.

californio pumpkin soup:

1 big, old pumpkin
1 quart crab stock
3 russet potatoes
3 large spring onions
2 thick slabs "beef bacon"
3 ounces finely grated Old World Portuguese cheese
1/3 savoy cabbage

1 avocado
seasoned sourdough bread crumbs
creme fraiche (sounds better huh?), but you can use sour cream or quark for the same result
oregano sprig

Cut off top of pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and loose innards. Place stock into pumpkin and put into the oven. (I took the lid off until the liquid was hot, as it seemed that initially it kept the inside from effectively heating by acting as the top to a cooler on a blistering hot day.) Do this in some sort of secondary containment if attempting for the first time, as I did and still managed to make a huge mess. While the pot is browning and the stock is heating, fry your bacon. If using beef, you will need some oil too. I used a local olive oil and when the bacon was beginning to brown, I threw in the chopped onions including most of the greens. When the bacon is done, chop it into smaller pieces, adding it and the onions to the steaming broth in the gourd. Dice the potatoes and some finely sliced cabbage. Add some finely grated cheese. Carefully stir all of the ingredients while trying not to poke a hole in the side of the now possibly slumping/deforming pot. Place the lid back on and attempt to cook for an hour or so more. When it has been over an hour, or impending scalding hot liquid doom is imminent, transfer the contents of the pumpkin to either a blender or a large pot and puree by some means. Scrape the now very tender flesh from the steaming pumpkin and add to the puree. With all of the cooked items incorporated, serve garnished with slices of avocado, some creamy dollop of sorts, and something else fun, like herbed breadcrumbs from the last bread you overbaked. Think: It is not 1863, and try to enjoy. And serve with a nice high-alcohol beer. Preferably prepared in an authentic fashion of course.

Thanks for listening!

For those stopping by for the first time:
Thanks for coming on the ride. Please check for all of your personal belongings before disembarking the vehicle and have a lovely day. And please, stop by the monkey ranch in the future. It's really not this weird all the time. (Who am I kidding?)

On second thought, maybe I should have started playing with this new theme in a time and place where sourdough, used with whole wheat and rye were popular breads. Yeah....maybe that would have been a bit easier considering this picture represents what else had been happening in my house as I have attempted to write up this post. See, I'll be playing in the snow with monkeys this weekend, and I hear bread keeps you warm. When dipped in hot soup that is. So today, in preparation for the cold I baked some bagels, pretzels, and a baguette while starting the new habit of documenting sourdough adventures in my new "book of loaves."

A monkey wranglers work in the kitchen, is never completely done........


chilebrown said...

Hello D-man, I have just started checkin out your verse. I heard about you from Biggles. Those Pretzels and Bagels look like the Bomb. I have some experience with sourdough. Looking at your shots brings a smell memory. Chilebrown

Callipygia said...

I enjoy your flight of fantasy but froze when I saw the pic of the persimmon smugly sitting within the seedy cavity of the pumpkin- this is completely believable as a 1863 repast and I like the idea of crab and salt beef and rye pretzels with aquacate mustard.

kitchenMage said...

dude, another hippie kid here (my parents weren't but they moved us to Laguna, Bolinas, etc...go figure)

Soup looks great!

D-man said...

Thanks for coming by to check this out folks! I was a bit afraid of putting this one out there, so it is nice and reassuring to hear some positive feedback.

Chilebrown: so are you really a "mad meat genius"? as I would be more than willing to sample some evidence while dropping off sourdough starter (Biggles mentioned you wanting some, still true?)

callipygia: ah.....did you not immediately assume that the persimmon was really for your sake? When I hauled the pumpkin up on the counter, monkey asked "what's inside?" I starting thinking about how as a kid, your imagination does not filter the possibility that something odd might be found INSIDE an intact item such as a sand dollar, or say a pumpkin. I actually thought about putting persimmon in this soup too, and then came to my senses and decided to at least keep the joke going. Bad as it may be, I felt I needed to "tip my hat" to my one faithful commenter. Thanks for continuing to be there.

kitchenmage: hello, hello! I've been wanting to know more about you and your part in the ayearinbread thingy! I'm interested in playing along too, as I'm sure you can imagine. Come on by again and let me know what's up. Thanks!

Alanna said...

D~Man: Well worth the wait!. Thanks so much for the culinary journey back in time, it looks to be an inventive, amusing compulsion, I mean fantasy, whoops, how 'bout exploration!

There is some precedent to your back-in-time cooking. I wrote a column last fall about Mary Gunderson, who did a fantastic cookbook from the Lewis & Clark expedition.

You might introduce yourself, she's a real firecracker and great fun. Tell her 'hi'!

Freya said...

This is a great blog! The soup looks delicious as does the bread! Will be stopping by again!

chilebrown said...

Yeah, Starter is good. How about draggin Biggles up with some dough and we will pop it in the 'Beehive Oven'. I will be curing bacon later this year. There will be a piece with your name on it. WooHoo!

D-man said...

Alanna: Thank you, those are very kind words....and Mary's Book sounds fascinating, I'll try and locate a copy. And any info you know about historical cooking is a bonus, as I have not really done any research on the subject yet.

Freya: Welcome, welcome, glad to hear you like it! I came by and checked you out too. If your "cookbook" were in print on my shelf it would soon be split from perusal. That is one impressive list. Come on back!

Chilebrown: Damn, I am all over that "bring some dough for the beehive," ohhhh yeah! And home-made bbbbaaaa....ccon? I'm writing Biggles next.

Freya said...

Hi again D-Man! I semi pinched your squash recipe and made a soup IN a squash. I have a feeling mine wasn't so good due to the lack of 'meat' though...

deinin said...

Um, wow. I'm kind of speechless here! *stares at soup*

And pretzels! Fabulous.

D-man said...

freya: hey I baked a stuffed squash the other night that turned out all right, so be careful, it's apparently a sickness of sorts that lingers.

deinin: Sheesh, thanks. Good to hear you enjoy, and I should add that I don't mind gawkers, so stare away! And let me know you're out there occasionally.

Freya said...

Hey D-Man, hope you don't mind but I've tagged you for the Five Things You Don't Know About Me!

Lis said...

Wow that soup looks amazing - I can't imagine it being any better.. unless.. I had some freshly baked sourdough bread or pretzels to dunk in it! Woo!

Helene said...

That sounds incredibly good! And look at these breads...heaven!

D-man said...

Freya: I'll get you my little dearie! (kidding) No prob on the tag, it's actually something that I've been wondering about lately since I see it all the time out there, so I'll try and make my first some fun. Don't think you're getting off easy though!

Lis: Hey there. Thanks for poppin' by. I'm still thinking of sausage, and according to the latest update, it will be a few weeks off as I have to wait for some hog to be butchered. I'll let you know what happens when it does.

Helene: Welcome! Nice of you to drop by and pay some kind words in my direction. I'll come by your way to check out that dessert soup! It's about time I added a dessert link don't ya' think?