SOLE Food Meets Soul Food: Hashbrowns

Growing up, hashbrowns equated to tater tots for me.  Specifically that bag out of the freezer from which we’d spill a good layer onto a cookie sheet and warm in the oven til they acquired a decent tan at which point they would accompany such meals as sloppy-joes, breakfast-for-supper or fish.  I don’t think I even had a hashbrown proper until some time in my teens – that is, if McDonald’s serves a ‘proper’ anything.  In fact, it may be that hash browns are a by-product of the popular French-fry; when the potatoes go through the fry-slicer, the little shredded bits and odds and ends need somewhere to go to.  We always just had our potatoes mashed (well ok, and as flakes out of a box for the most part), in fact, I don’t particularly love potatoes. 

I think potatoes are a great and reliable crop to plant and cultivate, it’s fascinating that there are over 4,000 different varities from all around the world, and one of the best dishes I’ve had as a dinner guest was a pan of olive oil and rosemary new potatoes.  Other than that, I could pretty much take them or leave them (sweet potatoes are an entirely different story – both for flavor reasons and the fact that they aren’t even remotely related.)

So where did this craving for hashbrowns come from?  Actually, from the fact that I had both a rutabaga (from Red Dog Farm – 4 miles away) and some Jerusalem artichokes (Nash’s Organic Produce – 30 miles away) waiting for me in the fridge.  Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) are usually compared to potatoes when being explained to people unfamiliar with this indigenous food, but that really doesn’t do justice to the ‘choke; they’re much more like a water chestnut when raw, crunchy and thin-skinned, and when cooked gain a sweetness and intensity of flavor that comes forward in a meal, rather than play a creamy but supporting role like potatoes do.  Not overpowering, but not demure either. Plus, because they’re a native food to our country, they are adapted to the climates nationwide and are one of the best foods to rely on during the winter – they can last all winter underground and are usually one of the only remaining fresh foods in the early spring when crops are being sown and last year’s food stock is becoming depleted.

Rutabagas, being in the brassica family, have a taste similar to cabbage and a texture similar to sauerkraut when shredded. They’re in season right now and are a good root vegetable to last you the winter, either in the ground covered with mulch, or root-cellared. Why not shred both together and create a neo-hashbrown? 

This was so quick to make – the longest part being grating by hand the two veggies.  They browned nicely and still maintained a pleasant crispy-ness while the flavor of the rutabaga really melded well with the eggs.  After offering a taste to my housemates, our minds immediately went to omelettes (of course made with the local eggs we get every week from Spring Rain Farm – 4 miles away); beside, or even in which they’d be wonderful.

Sounds a bit odd ball, but try it – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Neo Hash Browns
1 medium rutabaga
2 small or 1 medium Jerusalem artichoke
2 eggs
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter

Grate/shred the veggies, beat 2 eggs and mix in along with salt and pepper for flavor.  Melt half the butter in a cast iron skillet.  When hot enough to sizzle a dash of water, scoop in half the mix and press into a pancake form to cover the bottom of the skillet.  Let cook for a good 5 minutes on one side before flipping in pieces to brown the other side, which will need about 2-3 minutes of cooking.  Fold onto a plate and melt the remaining butter and cook the rest of the hash browns.

Though the butter wasn’t local, it was organic and from a co-oped organization of farmers; with the eggs being from chickens I’ve helped raise, water, feed and house and the veggies coming from the farmer’s market, soul food can (and by definition should!) be SOLE food.

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Mulching with Seashells

I know it’s been a while since my last post – travelling, visiting friends back home and generally taking a break from farming/gardening has kept me from the typed page and, more specifically, information for the terroir-tracing blogosphere.  But now, on vacation at my parents’ beach house with them on the Outer Banks of N.C., I have both topic and time to report.

Two-year-old Vern's Brown Turkey

Ocracoke Island, N.C., is rather known for its fig population; grown here since the 1700’s, most old-time islanders have a few sitting in their backyards, fig preserves are among the most rampant of local fare and nearly every local church and restaurant recipe book contains a recipe for Ocracoke Island Fig Cake (with a Buttermilk Glaze).

Last winter while on vacation for the Christmas holiday with family and friends here at the beach house, I brought with me a Vern’s Brown Turkey fig tree that I had purchased from a local plant nursery in Asheville.  Figs are best transplanted in the late fall/early winter when they are dormant.  And so my fig tree has been in place for nearly one year and produced one fig over the summer (so I’m told) that became a local snack for a local bird.

But my spirits continue to press on and I’m trying to take care of the tree the best I can in hopes that one day, I’ll be able to whip up my own backyard fig cake.  And one of the ways I’m caring for the fig tree is by mulching.

Mulch has come to mean so much more to me than when I was younger and dump-truck-loads on the side of the highway boasting chips and slivers of wood and bark was all I thought of as ‘mulch’.  But mulch encompasses so much more; from wood and sawdust, to cardboard or newspaper, to uprooted weeds or mown grass, to broken pottery to leaves and pine needles, to even plastic.  And out here on the island the most prevalent, handy and useful mulch item is seashells.  Clams, mussels, oysters and a host of other sea-dwelling creatures retire their shells all the time, and they can be easily found on the beach, on the shores of the Pamlico Sound, even in the woods and on paved parking lots in the middle of the island (flooding tides are a norm here on Ocracoke, where tropical storms and hurricanes are known to ravage through, mostly from August to October).

Seashells offer calcium in the form of calcium carbonate and are a fairly balanced (if low source of) fertilizer, offering about 1.5-1-.5 (N-P-K).  They can be crushed for a more uniform appearance and duty, or left in broken bigger chunks; I chose to leave mine larger because a) it’s a perennial fruit tree that I’m mulching and will therefore benefit from a longer, slower, constant release of minerals, and b) because of the inherent sandy-ness of the soil, anything to weight it down will help hold moisture and ground better (whereas, if I was mulching with seashells on clay soil, I’d want to chip them up as much as I could and maybe even mix them in so as to offer more aeration to the clumpy, heavy clay).

Fig trees do so well on the island because they can thrive in the sandy soil conditions, like a bit of winter chill but prefer the more moderated climate of a coastal location and the naturally more alkaline offerings of an area surrounded by mineral-rich seawater and seashells (I’ve also read that powdered or crushed seashells can be a substitute for lime in the garden as they raise and moderate a higher pH level).

Depending on the weather extremes between now and the next time I visit the island I may have to reapply the mulch or do some refreshing to it, and probably over the winter or some time next year I’ll have to do my first pruning job on the tree – mainly cutting off any new growth that threatens to grow towards the inside of the tree or one of two branches that may rub up against each other.  But for the most part, there won’t be a lot to do except wait and have patience; and perhaps explore some of the many options for keeping pesky and hungry birds at bay (or, Sound :).