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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Smoke Ring

Sometimes my mom writes on Sundays and asks what we're smoking. If that question comes up this weekend I'll tell her Mr. Chalmers smoked a brisket, but did it differently this time (thank you, America's Test Kitchen, for inspiring us to load ourselves into the car and go to Hull and get a full-sized specimen—both sections, not just the pretty corned-beef part—so we could try it). Smoked with hickory for about three hours, with his spicy-salty-garlicky rub, then wrapped in foil and roasted in the oven at 300 degrees for another two. I took the drippings, defatted them as best I could, and simmered them with some sherry vinegar and ketchup (somewhere I read that Texas barbecue sauce, when they use it, is just drippings, vinegar, and ketchup), and added the quarter cup of salsa leftover from my canning session. Good sauce, but of course the meat didn't need it at all. We didn't know quite where to separate the two parts of the brisket, and ended up with three, stacked:

I'd like to show you a detail of the smoke ring on this one hunk. It's a blurry picture, but can you see that gorgeous pink?

While that was working, I canned some Uncle Lloyd's Salsa made with the great tomatoes we got at the farm on Sorrow Patterson. (I'm obsessed with this place, been there three times in the last week. It and Your Dekalb Farmer's Market are really all I need to feel like I have the world at my fingertips, as they say in that hot, deprived city up north. Today Mr. Chalmers came too, mostly, I suspect, to meet Sam the dog. It was sprinkling. The two high schoolers minding the tomatoes seemed like the most content and happy people in Madison County to me today.) This is the salsa my family has been canning for years—the vegetables are charred before being chunkily pureed in the blender and simmered till thick. It's a bit sweet, and hot. I like to stir a little into my fresh salsa of chopped tomatoes, onions, lime zest and juice, cilantro, chiles, vinegar, and granulated garlic (I know, I know: granulated garlic? But it tastes so good and metallic here, and fresh just isn't the same!).

Uncle Lloyd's Salsa

I'm just reprinting this almost verbatim from what my mom sent me, because I'm lazy about retyping recipes. My late uncle Lloyd was a little nuts when it came to spicy foods: the hotter the better. After broiling the peppers, I took the seeds out of most of them, and the salsa's plenty hot for me. (Also, the finished salsa is, well, less seedy, and nicer than it sometimes can be if you have extra-seedy jalapeƱos.) And I pulled off and discarded most of the tomato skins after they were broiled, leaving only the charred black bits.

15 to 20 plum tomatoes (I did not use plum tomatoes, but Mr. Chalmers glanced, or blinked—Malcom Gladwell–style, he said, he's so funny!—at the regular-tomato selection I'd laid out and said it looked like the equivalent of this many Romas to him)
15 red jalapeƱos (I used green)
12 cloves garlic
3 onions, cut in half
1 1/2 cups chopped green pepper (I omitted these)
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt

Spread all the vegetables in a large shallow pan and roast under high heat of the oven broiler. Turn the vegetables to roast evenly; some charring is necessary for best flavor. Cool to room temperature. Working in batches, chop the vegetables in a blender or food processor with 1/2 cup water, processing only until chunky. Put the vegetables in a large pot with the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Simmer over medium heat until thick, 20 to 30 minutes. Pour the salsa into hot pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, wipe rims, and adjust the lids; process for 40 minutes in a boiling-water bath. This makes 3 pints plus a half-pint (I processed this for 15 minutes) a little leftover.
The other day I put up some tomato-basil jam, which tastes just like my parents' house in Viriginia in the summer when I was growing up. I'm going to rejigger the recipe a bit and if it works out I'll post it here. (The batch I made is great for my purposes, but it looks a little funny in the jars.)

I'll leave you with a picture of the bug I took a couple weeks ago, when it was much hotter than it was today. For an old house, the air conditioning in this place is pretty damn good, and she knows the best spot.

She's eating a rice cake, and that's Wagner to her left, waiting for crumbs.

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