February 10, 2014

Points East: Starting a garden in winter

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Every year, just before the winter holidays, for the past 12 or so, Loretta and I have been getting a big country ham from Jimmy Robinson at Robinson Premium Meats in East Bernstadt.

Cooking and baking a country ham is a three-day job, the way Loretta goes about it.  We used to hire Loretta’s now-retired coworker, Adella Stevenson there in Lancaster to do up our seasonal ham, but Loretta finally decided Adella had divulged all her secrets so she’s been doing it herself over the last decade or thereabouts. 

Don’t be asking me how she does it. I have neither the time,  space nor inclination here to write a book. I will say the process involves many, many hours of soaking in such things as vinegar and Dr. Pepper and several hours of boiling in a canner and then hours of skinning, trimming and deboning before it finally goes into the oven.

We eat on it for days and then stash bags of it in the freezer to season beans and mustard greens from now until next year.

 Last summer at the height of gardening season, I dried half a bushel of white half runners into shuckey beans.  I didn’t properly string them up with a needle and twine and hang them out to dry on a clothes line, the way we had to growing up. I simply broke them up and sun dried them on cheese cloth that I’d placed over an old window screen. 

I’m the only person in our household who loves them, because Loretta is afraid that a fly may have lit on them while they were drying.  Please don’t tell her that rabbits probably peed on her green beans before she picked them.

Anyway, shuckey beans are not fit to eat, in my humble opinion, unless they’ve been simmered for several hours and then cooked down with a big chunk of country ham.  Ditto for turnip and mustard greens.  I buy a lot of canned greens in the store.  I like to drain the water they are packed in into a microwave safe bowl, add a chunk or some ham trimmings to it and nuke it for about 5 minutes.  Then I pour the water and ham back over the greens in a kettle and bring it to a hard boil on the stove.

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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