Our Daily Bread

Bread.

I have been baking bread for decades.  There is no way to make bread that I haven’t tried.

I’ve worn out a bread machine completely.  Bread machines are fine.  Mine was a Zojirushi (an earlier version of the one pictured above), which is a fairly high-end machine.  The drawback to them, and the reasons I never replaced it, involve two things.  First, they aren’t any good for anything else and they’re big.  But more importantly, you put the ingredients in the bread machine and then you shut the lid and you can’t feel the dough.

Flour absorbs a different amount of moisture depending on several things. One is how much moisture is in the wheat in the first place. And second is how humid the air is.

I like to have a way to tell if the dough is right.  For years, that meant actually hand-kneading it.

I’ve tried no-knead breads. They’re fine, too, I guess. I never did any of them more than once.

We like bread to be something that we can slice and use to make a sandwich, not a crusty round-shaped loaf.  If I want that, I know how to get it, but for daily use, we want a regular loaf of bread with a much softer crust and even crumb.

I’ve made bread about a million times totally by hand. This, in fact, was my go-to method for many years.  Kneading by hand. I own a very large stainless-steel bowl that I used for that purpose almost exclusively. I mixed the dough in it and kneaded it right there.

In all that bread-making, with all those bazillion loaves, I still had problems with the way homemade bread behaves, how it feels when you slice it, and most importantly, how it tends to tear and crumble when you spread it with peanut butter.  There is a different texture to store-bought bread, and it’s a texture that both Dave and I prefer.

That doesn’t mean that we didn’t eat the bread I made.  We did. We just got used to having peanut butter sandwiches with torn places in the bread. But always I had the idea that it could be better. The store bakery does something I wasn’t doing.

So, I tried all sorts of things.  There are lots of blogs and websites that purport to help you, like this.

More about this later on.

One day, about three years ago, I decided that I wanted a mixer.  Maybe.  Mostly, I thought I wanted a nice pretty Kitchen Aid.  I looked at them. I read about them. I wanted one.

But while I was reading about them, I kept seeing them being compared to other stand mixers.

And one of those was a Bosch.

I remembered years ago that a friend of mine had one of these, and I knew it was a quality, good machine. But it’s not pretty like that beautiful yellow Kitchen Aid.  I wanted the Kitchen Aid.  The Bosch just looks like a white lump.

There were drawbacks to both machines, from my viewpoint.

The Kitchen Aid will knead bread, but I read too many accounts of people who blew the motor doing so.  There were lots of caveats about whole wheat flour.  You’ll see in a minute why I had a big problem with this.

The Bosch doesn’t care one bit about whole wheat, but that Bosch doesn’t do one loaf of bread very well. It’s made to knead a lot of flour.  Small quantities don’t work so well. Besides, it’s overkill.  I don’t want to bake four loaves of bread at once. I want one.

Then I found this.

It’s pathetic looking.  It looks like a child’s toy.  It looks like a piece of plastic junk.  Seriously.  Even out of the box, in real life, it looks and feels like a joke.  And compared with the other two mixers, it’s cheap.

It’s not a joke.

It is hands-down the best mixer I have ever owned and it has kneaded whole wheat bread about twice a week for about three years.  If it died tomorrow, I would go into mourning, have a memorial service and order another one immediately.

You can’t do four loaves of bread in it.  You can do two.  I have never done two.  I have done a large loaf once or twice (about 1 1/2 times what I usually do) but that’s as much whole wheat flour as I’ve tested.  You’ll notice that the motor has half the watts of the bigger Bosch.  I don’t push it.

This, by the way, is the top-selling stand mixer in Europe.

So here’s how I make bread, combining everything I’ve learned the hard way.

I measure very few ingredients, but one I’m accurate about is water.  The more water, the more flour will be required and the bigger the loaf will be. We prefer to have loaves that are slightly smaller and more compact.

I use 1 1/4 cups of water.  But I divide that.  I heat 1/2 cup of that water to near-boiling and put it in the mixer bowl. To that, I add about a tablespoon of fat.

What is pictured there is ghee, but it really doesn’t matter. Butter is fine. Lard is fine. I don’t know about oil as I’ve never bothered with it.

I put the ghee in the hot water so it will melt.  While it’s melting, I grind the wheat.

The wheat I’m using is hard white spring wheat. The type of wheat is important.  It makes a lot of difference in how the bread turns out. Here’s a web page evaluating the various types of wheat used for bread.

Not surprisingly, the author favored the red wheat. We like the white.  The only real difference in the two is color and taste, as the red wheat has more whole wheat taste to it. White wheat tastes more like white bread, sort of.  Nutritionally, they are virtually identical.

One note: I have made whole wheat bread with flour from the store.  It’s possible.  It’s also not as good as freshly-ground wheat. I don’t grind wheat ahead of time.  I grind it as I use it. It’s one time when fresh is definitely best.  If you choose to try all this using flour from the store, go light with it at first.  Not much of it, unless your family likes dense bricks.

Note: God, the floor. Dave is ripping up the floor in that room and preparing to extend the hardwood you see in the hall into there.  I may be dead before he’s finished.

This is my grain mill.

When I bought mine, I ordered it directly from the manufacturer.  I called there to see if they had any seconds or “blems.”  To my astonishment, the owner answered the phone and we had a lovely conversation. And yes, he had a blem and I bought it for a lot less than the Amazon price.  I’ve never figured out what the blemish was.

It’s quite simply the best grain mail made, period.  It will outlive me and probably all of you and all your children and maybe your grandchildren.

It’s manual, but can be motorized although you’d have to be a little crazy to do that, I think.  I am elderly and I can turn the handle just fine.

For bread, I turn the handle 200 times. I have never measured it. I suppose it’s about 2 1/2 cups, maybe three, of flour. It takes about 5 minutes or so to do that.

Meanwhile, the ghee has melted.

At this point, I pour in the remaining water, cold,  3/4 cup, and start the mixer on low.

Salt. I don’t measure it except using the method shown.  What is that?  Maybe 1/2 tsp.

This is wheat gluten, as you can see. It looks like flour, actually.  It comes in a giant bag.

I put three tablespoons in the bowl, one for each cup of flour (approximately, since I really don’t know how much flour I’m using). As you can see, I keep a small amount in the cupboard and store the big bag in the freezer.  A bag like that lasts a long time.

Yeast needs something to eat, so I put in a spoonful of sugar.  Any sweetener will work, even the very last bit of jam in the bottom of that jar in the fridge. It does not flavor the bread. It just feeds the yeast.

I pretty much measure the sugar.  Too much would make sweet bread and I don’t want that.

Yeast.  I buy the huge containers of it (restaurant size if I can find them) and store it in the freezer.  It lasts for years and years.  That small jar lives in the refrigerator.  One loaf of bread requires one teaspoon and I do measure it.

So far, if you’ve ever done much baking, you’re probably yawning.

But this is the secret ingredient.

This is dough conditioner. This is how commercial bakeries do it.

It’s a great big can. Four pounds.  Notice when I last bought it? I store it in the freezer along with the gluten.  It’s the same amount as the gluten but I use only a fraction of the amount so it lasts for years.  In my case, it might be a lifetime supply.

Yes, it’s “chemicals.”  I do not care. What it does to the bread is practically miraculous.

Here are the ingredients:

NUTRITIONAL FACTS for HONEYVILLE DOUGH CONDITIONER
Serving size…3 tsp Serving per container…150
Per serving…40 cal Total Fat…5gr,Sat. Fat…1g, Trans Fat…0g, Cholesesterol…0 mg, Sodium…150 mg, Total Carb…5g, Dietary Fiber…0g, Sugar…0g, Protein…1g INGREDIENTS: Wheat enriched Flour, ascorbic acid, Calcium Sulfate, L-cysterne hydrochloride, dextrose. mono and didyscerides, salt, tricalcium phosphate, enzymes.

Oh, nooooooes.  We’re all gonna die.  I can’t even pronounce some of those. I’m laughing. You know I’m laughing.

This is great stuff.

If you look online, you’ll find all sorts of “natural food” sites warning you that this will kill you.  If you want to believe them, then you will just have not-perfect bread. That’s okay with me.  I’m gonna stick with perfect.

I put 1 teaspoon per cup of flour (in my case, that’s 3 teaspoons in the bowl). Yes, I measure it pretty carefully.  I want that can to last as long as possible because it  costs about $25.

And finally, the freshly ground flour.

At this point, I did a little video so you could see the mixer do its thing.

We left the bread rising as you see.

Rising takes a couple of hours, depending on how cool the house is. I made this bread on a chilly day. We had a fire in the wood stove, so it was fairly warm in the kitchen, making for a slightly short rise time than usual.

There’s the dough in the pan.  I don’t do any very elaborate shaping of the dough.  I just punch it down, wad it up, shape it like a submarine and plop it in the pan.

Another hour or two and it will go in the oven.

Ready for the oven. It will rise a little more in the oven, so I try not to let it get away from me before I get it in there, although it sometimes happens.

Our wood cook stove. That’s where I baked this loaf of bread. It was a chilly day, and we had a fire.  The large white dial on the right shows the approximate temperature of the oven.  It’s not the most accurate thing on earth but gives some idea of what it is.  It’s reading right at 300 degrees.  I like it hotter than that for bread, but you take what you can get with a wood stove.

In the regular oven, I bake bread at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

In the wood stove, well, it’s a little more hit and miss.

I have never actually tested this thing. I just know that once it gets to a minimum of 300 degrees, I can bake bread.  Other stuff is more forgiving.

I put some small wood on the fire so it won’t lose heat and then preheat the oven.

Preheating the oven just means pulling that knob out in the position you see. That opens a damper and makes the hot air flow down and around the oven before exiting through the chimney.  Preheating takes only a few minutes to do.

So it goes in.  It’s a nice sized oven, actually larger than the oven on the regular stove. The heat circulates around all four sides, and it cooks very evenly.  This is an Amish-made stove and has heated our whole house for about a decade now, as well as baking and cooking who knows how many meals.

There’s the baked loaf.  See how much it rose in the oven?

That’s after a bake time of about 40 minutes.

After baking, I sometimes (maybe mostly) pop the loaf without the pan back in the hot oven for about 5-10 minutes.  That just firms up the crust along the sides and bottom a little bit.  It’s not a requirement, and I don’t always do it.

The finished loaf, cooling.  This is when I have to leave the kitchen.  Otherwise, I will cut a heel slice (my favorite) and pile on some butter and let it melt.

Done.

Time required: several hours.

My time: less than 10 minutes to grind the wheat, another five to dump everything in the mixer and start it, a few minutes to monitor the mixer and add white flour as needed.  And then a minute or two to shape the loaf after rising and another minute to put it in the oven.  Mostly, it’s something that is just there, needing to be done.

I have done this so often and so regularly that I hardly think about it anymore.  Most of the time, I make bread while I’m cleaning the kitchen, so by the time I have the dishes done, the mixer is done.

I do try to remember to set a timer so I don’t forget it and leave it to rise for four hours (!!!) but usually, I just see it as I walk through the kitchen and plop it out, or turn on the oven or whatever.

In terms of cost, it’s inexpensive after you have plunked down the plastic for all those appliances.  The bread itself costs just pennies.  The accumulated appliances run the cost up to about $10 per loaf.

That’s a joke. I really have no idea and don’t care.

Somebody will inherit all that stuff because it will outlive me, and I just hope they grind wheat, make bread, and live happily.

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of a Tomato Plant

We didn’t plant a garden this year.  There were several reasons, including the fact that we had too many irons in the fire, and not enough time to deal with it.  So we just didn’t.

But there was one tomato plant that just sprouted in the remains of the old compost bin.  One tomato plant.

Dave saw it, left it alone, and then said, “Oh, for Pete’s sake,” and staked it.

And then every now and then, he watered it because it was right there near the water faucet (which is over to the right out of the photo).

Of course, he then had to add another stake, and then another, and then he started tying it up.  Finally, he got sort of fond of it.

Here’s the first couple of tomatoes that ripened.

We have eaten tomatoes off that one tomato plant all summer long.  There have been two or three ripe ones on the kitchen counter all the time.

But tonight we’re expecting a good frost.  It might not happen.  That plant might survive.  But it’s starting to look really sad. Tomato plants do not like cool nights. They don’t set fruit when it’s really cool even if they survive and the fruit that is already there tends to not ripen.

And besides, we like fried green tomatoes.

It’s a good thing we like them.

This is not bad as the last gasp of one very brave, determined tomato plant.

RIP.

She Calls This Cooking

Nicole finally came out and said that this mess is not a rocket stove. Well, duh.  We’ve known that.

Here are some pictures on Pinterest of DIY rocket stoves.

This, of course, doesn’t even slightly resemble those.  This is just Cindy Cinderblock and her siblings piled up haphazardly around a fire with a makeshift grate, with old ash piled up.

Somehow, I think, this is supposed to look all self-sufficienty and homesteady and back-to-naturey.

But what in the hell do they cook on that?

Well, this.

I showed this photo to Dave.  He is probably the easiest-going man on earth when it comes to food.  If it’s edible, he’ll pretty much eat it.  He just doesn’t complain. He’s not picky.

But his comment was this.

That looks like something we’d feed to the pigs but I wouldn’t let them lick the pan.  They have never cleaned that cast-iron pan, ever.

Really?  What am I missing here?  All you gotta do to cook like that is get a few cinderblocks and have a toddler stack them, light a fire and then put an old grate over it. Finding a cast-iron skillet in that condition will, I admit, be pretty hard to do.  Try the local dump.

Then they had a little discussion about sun ovens, which is actually something the Nauglers could use.

Here’s my Sun Oven.  And the pan of brownies in the windowsill came right out of it.  They work beautifully, but the DIY ones pretty much suck. I checked into it before buying mine because they’re sort of pricey. There’s a good reason for that. They have to be made correctly or they simply don’t build up enough heat to do the job.  The homemade ones also weigh a whole lot, while my little Sun Oven is very light.

Most of the people who successfully make solar ovens that actually work end up spending almost as much money as they would have spent if they just bought a Sun Oven. So that’s what I did.  I’ve had mine for 9 years and it doesn’t appear that it will ever wear out.

Factor in living in Kentucky where long blocks of cloudless hours are sometimes hard to find, and it takes a bit of practice to learn to use one. To get it to really heat up, you have to pay attention and go out and turn it to face the sun periodically.

The YouTube videos that show the little cheap ones  are used in Africa not Kentucky.

I have baked in mine, as you can see, including bread.  It’s nice on a hot summer day to not have to heat up the kitchen. It bakes lovely potatoes and of course, stews and soups are similar to what you’d do in a slow cooker.

 

August Means Peaches

Dave came home the day before yesterday with a deal.

He’d been to see the welder who makes gates for us, and while he was there, the man’s uncle showed up with two half bushel boxes of peaches.  They weren’t quite full, but were close. They were also ripe and ready to roll.

He wanted to sell them. Dave asked him the price.

$15 for both boxes.

Sold.

He also stopped by the liquor store and bought two large bottles of peach brandy.

This was a not-so-subtle hint.

So, yesterday, I spent the whole day making brandied peaches. The total came to 33 pints (there were a few that didn’t seal and they are in the frig already).  And there was one pint that was plain (you can see it marked on the lid) because I ran out of brandy.

Even though I explained carefully to Dave that brandied peaches need to age a little bit, he’s already eaten one pint, half last night and the other half this morning.

Brandied peaches are really quite easy to make.

Peaches are canned as usual, but when I’m filling the jars with syrup, I just add 1/4 cup of peach brandy first.

It’s the boiling water dip for the peaches and the peeling that is tiresome.

Anyway, as I cut up the peaches, I took any bits that were really too soft or starting to brown and tossed them in a bowl with a bit of lemon juice. I refrigerated the bowl overnight because I was too tired to care about it, and then dug it out this morning as I did dishes.

And there’s peach jam.

This is all great.

What is not so terribly great is that Dave is on a roll.  He came in yesterday afternoon with another half bushel. It seems the Mennonite produce place marked their peaches down and he just thought. . .

Biscuits

Somebody asked me about this, and I promised to elaborate when I next made biscuits and could take some photos, so here we are.

This is how I make biscuits. There are other ways. Some of them are more elaborate, but I need to get the job done in a hurry.  My criteria include speed and whether or not Dave likes them.

I use self-rising flour.

If I get all inspired and decide to actually grind wheat for flour, so the biscuits then become whole wheat, I have to measure the flour, and measure the baking powder and measure the salt.

With self-rising flour, I don’t have to measure anything.

preheatoven

I start by preheating the oven.  I usually get the biscuits made before the oven gets to the correct temperature, so I flip on the oven as soon as I come in the house from the barn after milking.

flour

As you can see, it’s self-rising flour. For the two of us, I generally put about one to one-and-a-half cups of flour in the bowl. I don’t measure it. I just guess.

lard

And then I add the fat. It’s usually lard, although I’ve used butter and I’ve also used ghee, and I think I’ve probably used tallow and/or schmaltz (chicken fat) a few times.

I don’t measure it, but the basic idea is about 1/4 as much fat as flour.  The more fat you add, the more flakey the biscuits will be, so I sort of err on the high side.  However, I try not to go overboard. I use a little less fat than I would in pie crust (I don’t measure for that either).

pastrycutter

I use a pastry cutter.  I haven’t always done so.  My mother taught me to use two knives turned to the dull side and literally cut the fat in pieces. The pastry cutter does the same thing, but it’s faster.

addmilk

Then I add some milk.  I go very sparingly with it.  My guess is maybe 1/4 cup or a wee bit more, but I tend to add it in little bits and stir it in.

As you can see, I want a dough that sticks together and pulls away from the side of bowl, but isn’t too awfully wet.

finger

If I touch the dough at this point, it will stick to my finger, as you can see.

If I put too much flour in there, the dough will be too dry and the biscuits will be tougher.  If I put too little, I won’t be able to handle it.  So I get it to the sticky point.

extraflour

Then I sprinkle a little flour (maybe a spoonful) over the sticky dough.  That forms a sort of barrier so I can touch it.

formingbiscuit

And there’s a biscuit being formed.

You can roll out the dough if you like and cut it with a biscuit cutter (for that, I use the lid to the PAM spray) but I rarely do it. That would mean something else to wash.

I just get a spoonful of dough, lightly covered in flour, and form a ball.

formedbiscuit

It looks like this when it’s ready.

biscuitsonpan

Sprayed pan, ready for the oven.

settimer

I always set the timer because nobody on earth can burn up something in the oven better than I can.

bakedbiscuit

And there they are, hot and ready.

breakfast

Yes, that is Frances butter. Yes, that is our bacon and our sausage.

Those are store bought eggs. We do not currently have any hens. We got rid of them last fall because they were old and had pretty much quit laying.  We considered getting new ones this spring, but eggs at Aldi are currently 29 cents per dozen.  We cannot feed hens for that.

When eggs go back up, maybe we’ll get some hens.

And one other note.  I had a boyfriend once whose mother made biscuits for every meal.  Every single meal, so that meant she sometimes made biscuits three times a day.  She basically taught me to do it the way I do it.

Only she was far better than I am.

She kept a bowl full of self-rising flour in the cupboard with a dishtowel over it.

When she needed to make biscuits, she would take it down and add a little lard, right into that big bowl full of flour.  She then cut it in right in the middle.  She kept the flour/lard mixture in the center.

She would then add the milk, a little at a time, and stir until she had some dough, still right in the middle of that big bowl of flour.  And then she would form the biscuits just like I do and put them on her pan and they’d go in the oven.

She then put the towel back over the flour and put it back in the cupboard.

All she used was two knives (to cut in the lard) and a spoon.

I was simply awestruck by it. I knew I’d never be able to measure up to that woman so I found a new boyfriend.  Dave’s mother rarely cooked at all, so I knew I was safe.

Gee, Ghee

Since the subject has come up, and even though I don’t have good photos of making it, and even though I can’t get any right now because I don’t need to make any, we’ll do ghee anyway.

Ghee is clarified butter.

Butter is a type of fat.  Pork fat is another.  Beef fat is another.  So is chicken fat.

But if you take a slab of pork fat and leave it sitting out on your counter for a few days, it will be horrible. It goes bad.  It stinks to high heaven.

It isn’t the fat that goes bad.

It’s the muscle protein that is in the piece of fat. As it comes from the pig, you simply can’t cut it clean.

So, long ago, people figured out that if they “rendered” it, or “clarified” it, they could get rid of that protein that goes bad and the result would be a product that is pretty much shelf stable. It’s pure fat.

Another issue is that if you take a spoonful of butter and put it in a pan and heat it, it will brown.  Keep doing that and it will burn. What if you don’t want that?

What is browning and burning is that same protein (in butter, it’s milk) that is in the butter and there is no way to remove it completely without rendering the butter.

So here’s how I make ghee.

Morningmilking

We store milk in gallon-sized glass jars.  This is the milk from the morning’s milking, what is left after the calves are fed.  That’s quite a bit, and means that at the time that photo was taken, we needed to get a couple of new calves.

That goes in a frig in the basement.  I can put nine gallon jars in there. After a couple of days, the cream rises to the surface.  It’s easy to see the cream line, so I dip out the cream and store it in separate jars.

jarsofcreamSee the cream line near the bottom of those jars?

When I want to churn butter, I take out the jars of cream and let them come to room temperature, or slightly cooler.  Cream right out of the frig won’t churn well, and it also won’t churn well if it’s too warm.  It’s fiddly if you’re using a manual churn; much less so if you’re using a food processor.

And you can do this two different ways, with shades of gray all in between. You can let the cream sit overnight or even 24 hours and sour a bit, which produces a tangier butter. We like it.  Some people do not.  Or you can churn it as soon as the temp is right, and the butter will be sweeter.  Or anything in between.  Most of the time, our butter is whatever I got around to doing.

creaminprocessorThis is cream, in the food processor.  I also have a manual butter churn (glass with a handle), but life is too short if the electricity works.  With the manual churn, it takes ten to fifteen minutes of cranking that handle. With the food processor, it takes about three minutes with no effort on my part.

butterinprocessor

When the cream is churning in the processor, you can hear the change when the butter precipitates out.  Open the food processor and you’ll see the clumps of yellow butter floating about in the skim milk.

butterinstrainerHere’s the butter in the strainer. You can see the skim milk in the jar below. We feed that to the pig and/or chickens.  After letting it strain for a few minutes, I then put it under the cold water tap and wash it well, right in the strainer.

Mark this point.  Here’s where I diverge from making butter to making ghee.

But first let’s finish the butter.  That butter still has a good bit of milk in it. Even washing it won’t get it all out.

washingbutterSo then I dump the butter onto any available flat thing, in this case, an upside down casserole lid.  If you look closely, you can see the skim milk around the edges of the blob of butter.  You’ve gotta get as much of that out as possible.

So I wash it.  I knead it, run it under the cold water tap (gently), and then knead some more.

kneadingbutterSee the milky water?  That gets clearer and clearer as you go.

You never get it all out, but I try to get as much as possible. And then I salt it.

I have a very scientific method of salting butter. I get the salt shaker and shake it. And then I knead it some more to mix it and then I taste it.

butterformedHere is the butter being wrapped for freezing. I shape it that way because that’s what fits in my butter dish.

packagesAnd there we are, all done. That represents around two gallons of cream.

But let’s go back to ghee. That butter, above, cannot be used to make ghee, or rather, cannot be made into ghee that I like.  The divergent point is the salt.

I don’t like ghee made from salted butter. I want to salt food myself. I don’t want the salt in the ghee.

If I’m making ghee, after I wash as much milk off the butter as possible, I dump the butter in a crock pot.  Then I churn some more and repeat until I’ve done all I want/have, or the crock pot is full.

I set the crock pot on low, adding just a little bit of water to keep it from scorching while the butter melts, and put the lid on temporarily.  Once the butter has melted, I tilt the lid so that moisture can escape. You don’t want any water in ghee. Just the fat.

The idea here is to heat the butter, melt it and then cook the hell out of all the protein in the milk.  It will brown and separate from the fat.  And foam will form on the top. You will think that it’s ruined, but all that foam and the browned particles will strain out.

You can do this in a pot on the stove, but the crock pot is so much easier it’s not even funny.  I typically make ghee in the evening, set the crock pot and go to bed. In the morning, it’s done.  It won’t burn. I cannot mess it up.  I don’t have to watch it.  I’ve tried this both ways and the crock pot wins, hands down.

In the morning, I strain the fat out of the pot into mason jars and immediately put lids on them. The heat will cause them to seal.  This is an extra step I take which might not really be necessary, but it’s easy so I do it.

ghee So, how do you use ghee?

It’s fat.  It’s just like oil, only it’s a solid at room temperature.  I make lard the exact same way.  I cut up the pork fat, put it in the crock pot, let it heat. Identical.  There are more solids to strain out of lard.  Lard is white, not yellow.

lardonshelf

Beef fat?  Identical. The result is called tallow. It is very hard, even at room temperature.  I use it in French fries. (So did McDonald’s until the vegetarians threw a fit and they quit.  That’s why McDonald’s fries used to taste so good.)

tallowonshelf

Chicken fat? You guessed it. Identical. It’s called schmaltz.  I use it to fry chicken.

But ghee is hands down our favorite.  We use it every day.  Dave had no idea what in the world I was making and no idea how to use it, but is a convert now.  He fries eggs with it.  He pops popcorn with it.

Ghee has a slightly buttery taste. It’s not pronounced, like butter. But it’s there.  It does not brown.  It’s fat.  You can get it to a much higher temperature than butter, which means you can fry with it.

You can also bake with both ghee and lard. I have made cakes with both. I use either in biscuits, or pie crusts. Schmaltz is good in baking too, but I typically don’t have a lot of it and I’m sort of stingy with it.

In fact, the only use I have for oil is in mayonnaise and salad dressings.

We typically store these fats in mason jars, just like the jar in the photo. They are on the shelf in the basement.  Our basement stays at about 55 degrees year round. And they are sealed with mason jar lids (although I’m not certain that’s necessary.)

This drove me a little crazy in the beginning. I worried about the lard/ghee/tallow/schmaltz spoiling.  I still generally store schmaltz in the frig just because, well, it’s chicken.  None of it has ever gone rancid or spoiled, and I have stored it for more than two years.

Once the jar is open, we generally keep it in the frig for no reason at all except that is where Dave inevitably hunts for it.

So, now, what do you do if you don’t have a cow?

You wait for butter to go on sale and buy some. Unsalted.  Render it.  That’s certainly what I would do.  I’m sure that’s way cheaper than hunting for and buying commercially made ghee.

Health issues

Inevitably, somebody asks me if this is not a terrible, awful thing to do. You know to use, gasp, animal fats instead of lovely extra-virgin olive oil.

The answer is pretty much no.

Dave is soon going to be 78.  He just recently went off his blood pressure medicine. We’re monitoring his blood pressure now pretty closely so he can report back to his doctor, but we all think (doc included) that he can come off it safely.  He takes cholesterol medication, but even the necessity of that is debatable. At his last checkup, his doctor told him that he’s in a cohort of a very tiny percentage of men his age who take almost no medications.

I am on no medications of any kind and never have been.

Neither of those things means that our very good fortune at having good health up to this point is a result of our lifestyle. It’s much more likely a result of our genes. We both have parents who lived into their nineties.  But my point is that we don’t just drown in these fats. We use them reasonably.

Harvard weighed in on this debate, and takes a sort of middle position.

Remember, we eat very small portions of meat. We eat lots of vegetables and whole grains and beans.  We also raise the pork and the beef and the chicken and we milk the cow.  The sheer work of doing all that makes a difference, I suspect.

It makes no sense at all to me to toss away all these lovely fats that are by-products of animal husbandry and go buy olive oil that is not in any way sustainable.

This is one of my favorite cookbooks in the whole world.  It’s not just that the recipes are good. It’s that it is so beautiful.

So get some butter and try it. If you already have a crock pot, you’re in business.

gheeinstoreJust in case you wondered, this is what ghee was selling for in the last couple of days at a regular large chain grocery store.

I am not going to tell Frances. She’s insufferable as it is, and knowing this would make her worse.