04 April 2008

Daubière and tomatoes

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Last weekend I was alone with the kids, and by taking Friday off I had time for chores, playing, and cooking. We started with a big pot of baked beans, cooked for hours and hours in my homemade daubiere, something I made almost twenty years ago (!) when I first read about the old traditional cooking pot. I’ve still never seen one other than my own, and when I look at the saggy terra cotta clay I kind of laugh, but it’s served its purpose well for all these years. My son loves baked beans and because winter seems to be an intermidable season this year, I thought beans would be good. There’s nothing fancy about baked beans, really. I used great northerns, a hunk of salt pork, an onion, ground mustard, brown sugar and molasses, and cooked it all at 250°F for the better part of a day. Then I did the same the next day and the resulting $2.00 dish was awesome.

One of our favorite desserts is pots du crème au chocolat, and my kids regularly chant “Pots du crème! Pots du crème!” in declaration of this awesomely rich dessert. But, the other day I discovered that all our eggs had been boiled and dyed, so we had to adjust. Our chocolate craving can also be satisfied by a quick batch of chocolate pudding. Lacking the eggs and slow water bath, chocolate pudding is nearly as quick as the store-bought instant pudding, and infinitely better. We make the flavors rich by a combination of baking cocoa, semi sweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate. A bit of milk and sugar and some corn starch to thicken it, and it’s done in ten to fifteen minutes. We used pretty simple chocolates – all regular supermarket varieties, and the richness of the pudding is great. We brought it to a friend’s house so we added a dollop of whipped cream, and we licked the bowl clean.

I usually start my tomatoes in mid-March, but something sidetracked me this year. Luckily, schools closed early yesterday so I had to leave work early to get home. With a few spare hours I got the break I needed and started a few trays. In years past I’ve started as many as a dozen different varieties of tomatoes, and have planted tomatoes strategically to avoid cross-pollination. Last year, I planted only my two favorite varieties and had such good results that I decided to focus on the same two again. My hands down favorite is Brandywine, Glick’s strain. I started growing this variety in 1998, and got my first seeds through Seed Savers Exchange. There are several strains of the Brandywine, and William Woys Weaver, food historian and author of Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, can trace the pedigree of this specific strain pretty far back. I got my seed from him, and it’s been a great tomato. Last year the fruits were stupendous - big, pendulous fruits that were as full and round as a nursing mother’s breasts. Warm and heavy in the hand, the fruits from which I saved seed were in the vicinity of 20 ounces. But! but! but! but! - tomatoes aren’t about size! And true, it’s the taste that sets the Brandwine apart from its peers. A great acidity that wakes up the mouth and prepares it for the astral vibrations that follow. Rich, deep flavor with currant, tar, tobacco and brambles, a smoky finish that echoes the best Barolos. Hah! The Brandywine is a long season tomato and in our Minnesota summers I’m never sure how they’ll turn out. I’ve been selecting seeds from early ripening fruits, hoping that eventually I’ll have a plant that thrives in Minnesota’s short, hot summer. Last year our autumn was extended for so long that the tomatoes I usually pick green all ripened on the vine. My other favorite is the 1x6, a tomato that has so few seeds I usually can’t offer them through SSE. The 1x6 is a rather difficult tomato for me, and I’m afraid that my seed selection hasn’t been great because the fruits are beginning to grow away from their name: they’re a long tapering pepper-like tomatoes that are about 1” diameter and about 6” long. Mine have always been more like 1x5s but of late they’re ballooning out to pudgier 2x6s. I saved seed from good fruit last year, so hopefully I’m on the road back to seed salvation. But throughout, the tomato is a wonder. It’s a low-acid tomato that makes the sweetest sauce I’ve ever tasted, an almost carrot-like orange suffusing the rich sauce. The plant begins very spindly, with sparse foliage that makes each plant rather anemic looking. But the plant grows and grows and eventually the regular-leaf foliage catches up and while not a heavy producer, the plant bears clusters of four or five fruits. The 1x6 is rather thick-skinned and when I don’t peel the skins for sauce I’m usually reminded to do so by the many clumps of skin on my plate. So, I’ve got a tray of each started.


  1. Just discovered your blog, Patrick. Beautiful writing combined with deep knowledge of your subjects -- fantastic. I've added Duck Fat and Politics to my blogroll on Penelopedia.