AUTUMN OVENS AND A STYLE OF ROLLS
Rains in the early morning have a kind of gastronomic compass quick at work. It’s like a persuasion of sorts, this rain. I can practically see the colors change across the hardwood tree canopy in this last bastion of woods in Clarke County. Turning over and looking at a lone rose in my backyard, a rabidly budding rose hips bush gives it’s wild best to keep me in citrus-y tea all winter.
But that’s just the start of a great morning. The flavors of a classic Sunday beef pot roast and yeast rolls shakes me out of bed. You and I both know it builds a pretty strong case to get in the kitchen early.
The cut of beef is the rump roast which is above the round on the haunches of beef cattle. It is a tough cut of meat that tenderizes in the Dutch oven as it roasts with the vegetables, stock, seasonings and vinegar or wine. You can use an iron Dutch oven or clay. I like both but am using the cast iron version as it is closest to what my Mother used to make hers, and I am personally more comfortable with iron. Giving the secret to her recipe was part of my brother’s requirement for my sister in law when he married. He loves it that much, we all do, actually. Fresh pearl onions are key. This is not her exact recipe.
The yeast rolls were intoxicating. They would sit in front of heater vents with cheese cloth laid over the top like a blanket of mist. The timing for the rise perfectly matched our return from Church. Come home, change cloths, wait for Mamaw and any other guests to arrive, then it was time for pot roast, gravy, mashed potatoes, English peas, yeast rolls and sweet tea. This was Sunday in Autumn. This is a purely American meal with nods to the West African and French culinary sources that permeated the South during her formative years.
Depending on the corn, peas or beans in season we would shuck them all week off and on while sitting on the front porch, waving at neighbors, my buddies on their 3 speed bikes with banana seats and butterfly handlebars, watching my sister’s boyfriends drive by and give a honk of any number of Mustang Fastback, Camero, Firebird, Cutlass 396, Shelby Cobra, Ford Torino Cobra, Mercury Montego MX, Buick GSX, Dodge Super Bee, ‘66 Corvette, Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda, Pontiac GTO, or Dodge Challenger, muscle car set of wheels that would make any kid drool with excitement over these gas guzzling wonders of the back roads, Plymouth Road Runners spinning out doing doughnuts at the ball park, her eventual husband driving up in a Oldsmobile 442 ragtop, my brother running off to pitching practice, me just running off, our crazy beagle/fox terrier dog Bob chasing every single car that turned onto our street, Mother talking about her sisters and the history of our town. “Just what is the other side of the tracks?” Yeah, this was sitting on the front porch as it was meant to be, shelling peas for supper and watching the coolest cars in Tucker stream on by through the warm autumn afternoons. Slow Food? We lived it then and we can live it today. The easiest place to start is with local produce, the flavors will send most memories into family meals and occasions free of discord or time. That was our home during the twilight of sleepy neighborhoods, scenes that we alone have the power to continue and evolve.
SOUTHERN POT ROAST (because I just cannot call it Yankee)
Use a 3 pound round, chuck or rump roast for this dish. Cooking time is approximately 2 ½ hours start to finish. Cook in 300 degree oven, allowing 12 minutes per pound. Start on stove top. You can use either iron or clay Dutch Oven, this recipe is for cast iron. If you cannot find pearl onions then use cipollini onions which are flatter than round. They are perfect for roasting and I like them both equally but have used the cipollini more professionally than the pearl variety.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, high quality here
5 strips Bacon or guanciale (smoked/cured jowl)
3 to 4 pound Boneless round
12 Black peppercorns
24 Pearl onions, peeled, whole
2 Bell peppers, seeded, diced
1 1/2 cups Butternut squash, peeled, 1 inch dice
1 1/2 cups Pumpkin, peeled, 1 inch dice
2 cups Red potatoes, 1 inch dice
4 large Tomatoes, chopped
1 pint Beef stock
1 cup Burgundy or balsamic/red vinegar blend
1/3 cup Dale’s Marinade
1 tablespoon Rosemary, fresh
1 ½ teaspoon Thyme, dried
5 Bay leaves
6 cloves Garlic, smashed
3 tablespoons Leaf parsley, chopped, washed
3 tablespoons Cane or Date molasses
3 ounces European Butter
Everything takes place in the Dutch oven.
Heat the olive oil and bacon together over medium high heat. When the bacon is rendered remove it from the pan and add the beef. Brown it on all sides.
Add the potatoes, pumpkin and bell peppers, cook two minutes. Add squash, onion and tomatoes, cook three minutes and then add rest of ingredients except the butter. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. This will be roughly 20 minutes on the stove top. Baste the roast before putting in oven. Put bacon on top of roast. Cover and cook for 60 minutes at 300 degrees. Remove. Keep covered for 10 minutes. Check tenderness and temperature. This will not be rare or even medium rare, it is a pot roast which means it will be cooked completely in the juices and vegetables held in by the design of the Dutch oven.
Remove meat and vegetables. Skim fat. Add butter and stir into the liquids. Stir in 1 tablespoon flour to thicken into consistency of a gravy. Serve in gravy boat at the table during supper.
Yeast rolls are exactly what they sound like, rolls made with yeast as the ingredient to give it rise and body. Biscuits use baking soda and baking powder for this effect but is not as light or flaky as can be found in yeast rolls. Yeast rolls take time, a bit of work and an accurate oven. There are dozens of recipes and techniques. I am using a recipe that best approximates that of my youth.
A few words on yeast: we have dry active, fast active, compressed fresh yeast cakes, and brewers yeast. Yeast dies over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Brewers yeast is used for the nutritive benefits as ingredient, gravy and for brewing beer. Dry yeast keeps a long time in the pantry and requires about 20 minutes to foam and rise in warm water. Fast acting dry yeast has very small grains, can be added to flour when warm water is later added to mix or will rise within minutes when mixed into warm water. Yeast is a living thing. Salt inhibits yeast. High heat kills yeast after it has risen and holds the flours in tight or big bubbles for rolls, pizza and various bread doughs. When making basic yeast breads you need to have your yeast mixed into 80 to 100 degree Fahrenheit water for 15 minutes or until it has doubled, even tripled in size but not much more than that as it will become too loose and will not have enough binding molecules.
Yeast is a single cell organism. A pound of yeast has 32, 000,000,000 cells of fermented sugar cells known as yeast. Yeast requires bread so it is not gluten free. Recall that the glutens given to intolerance in some individuals are wheat, barley and malt. Some people are sensitive to oats as well but in general oats are safe for those who are gluten intolerant.
Makes 20+/- rolls. Use a 9 x 13 pan. 375 degree oven, cook 15 minutes.
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar/baking stevia
2 eggs (large)
1 teaspoon salt
4 cup bread flour (finer and higher gluten content than all purpose style)
2 1/4 teaspoon yeast
Warm the milk to between 90 and 110 degrees F.
Mix all of the ingredients either with electric mixer dough hook or by hand.
If it is dry add a tablespoon of warm water or warm milk.
Knead until it is smooth and pliable, elastic and not sticking to your hands.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled metal bowl, cover with a damp towel and place in a warm area to rise for an hour or so.Butter the pan.
Split the dough in half, then into 4 equal parts. Divide again, then divide into 3 balls. Cut into 24 pieces. To form rolls, hold a small dough ball inside both hands, cup with opening between index finger and thumb, squeeze into a ball as it emerges from your hands. Sort of like playing but with great results. You are making little balls with just enough air introduced by the gentle squeeze so that they will rise into smooth rolls. Line them up in the greased casserole or baking pan so that they are barely touching, at best not at all. Cover with warm, damp towel. Dough will rise by half before they are ready to bake.
Remove cloth, bake 15 minutes. Very light tan. Brush with softened butter. Serve warm.
Morning rain on the gutters,
Poplars and elm, waterfall
Rattling attic fans and me.
Morning rain rumbles cloud-side down,
Each drop chasing the other,
Faster and faster into lawn and waterway,
Into deep aquifers and the starving Oconee,
A thunder clap snaps Polaroids
Of me awake into one dream in the 8 a.m.
World alive, there is more than this.
Red Mule grits swimming on the stove,
Pale white Vesuvius ready to blow.
The smell of turkey sausage
And French red hen eggs,
A touch of curry
And I’m ready to go….
Go where? Go here?
Already now the day is clearing,
Footfall in the pines so light and steady,
Rosehips, acorns, mushrooms
And sweet peas line the trail,
Trails down river where darters and perch
Fight for water time with catfish
And snapping turtles.
This is morning. My morning here.
A beautiful Georgia morning
In the land of the Creek and Cherokee.