Thursday, March 4, 2010
Posted by Kate at 10:43 AM
Once again, I have snippets of news to share, but no one item meriting a post of its own.
I'm attending a three-session class on soils given by the Extension Office in my area. Last night was the second class meeting. I'm learning some interesting things. I was surprised to learn, for instance, that the county I live in has 183 different soil types as defined by the US Soil Survey, a higher number than any other county in Pennsylvania. That's a lot of diversity! I also learned that visiting the website of the Soil Survey will give you a fairly detailed report of the attributes of soils in nearly any part of the US, for free. (Even though it's got a "shopping cart" - it's really free.) You can look up parcels by address or by navigating to them by a map. I also learned about Sudax, a cover crop I'd never even heard of. It's some sort of cross between varieties of Sudan grass, and it loves heat. The idea is to mow it several times during the season, so that it sloughs off parts of its extensive root system into the soil, adding organic matter each time. If it's not mowed, it gets tall and almost woody, like corn (maize). We get a free soil test with the class enrollment. Just as soon as the snow cover melts away from the garden, I'll get in there for some samples.
I've started some seedlings indoors. Let me tell you, this is a challenging endeavor with two young cats in the house. I've already chucked a couple of cell packs of tatsoi in the cold frame, figuring they had even odds on surviving the cold nights versus the depredations of two rampaging young felines.
It's that tantalizing time of year when the air is full of promises of spring. Birdsong has returned, the bulb flowers are pushing up leaves, and the dawn is coming earlier each day. As much work as spring is, it's stunningly beautiful, and well worth the wait, in my part of the world.
I've begun my second experiment with home curing. Really, I think I've caught some sort of cured pork bug - the ease and the success of the guanciale drives me to do more. I bought ten pounds of fat back from a grass-based farmer in my area, and I started a batch of lardo last Friday. That's pretty much what it sounds like: cured pork fat. Though in some circles, the euphemism "white prosciutto" is used. Lardo is not rendered fat, despite the similarity with the English word "lard." Lardo di Colonnata is a centuries old traditional product, which was eaten like a lunch meat by quarry workers at the source of Italy's finest marble. In fact, lardo di Colonnata is traditionally salted down in rough hewn marble troughs. Sadly, all our rough hewn marble troughs were spoken for. My lardo is progressing nicely in a ceramic crock pot. I went heavy on the seasonings, with fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, sliced garlic, black pepper, and dried bay leaves. It smells really good. In a few more days I'll remove it from the curing mix and find somewhere to hang it to dry down. I plan to use it in place of cooking oil for certain dishes, especially pastas. As a cooking medium, it will have the benefit of adding a great deal of flavor. It'll probably also grace the occasional homemade pizza. If the lardo works out well, I may try salo next, which is a more simply spiced Ukrainian/Hungarian version of lardo. I'll keep you posted.