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Native Cooking

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Winter has a way of making us daydream about luscious fruits and vegetables that we have in supply in warm weather. You can have anything you want at any time of year if you live where there are huge supermarkets and don't mind spending an arm and a leg for a lemon or something else not in season. We have those kinds of supermarkets where I live, and we are more than fortunate to have a family-owned farm market with excellent products in the next town over.

This is all great, but some prices are outrageous. For example, Jerusalem artichokes grow all around our property and are fairly reasonable in season at the stores. I needed some for a recipe recently; they were $6 a pound! I said, ''Fuhgeddaboudit.'' A few years ago, I could have just gone down into our cold cellar and found plenty of sunchokes, some butternut and a few onions, maybe a bunch of apples as well.

This confirms the need to pay attention to your food supply and not let it lapse as we did. Root, or cold, cellars retard the growth of those microorganisms that allow food to rot easily. The temperature is usually a cool 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and it needs some moisture to keep some food from dehydration.

Many old houses have them already built in the northwest corner or a cold spot, usually in the basement. I have even seen a small stone addition on an antique house's kitchen for this kind of storage. Some people just use the bulkhead entrance to their cellar; this can work well, especially in areas where temperatures range around freezing or below in winter. It's a good thing to have for keeping things you grow or buy fresh and crisp well into the cold depths of winter.


Potato Soup

3 pounds potatoes (any variety), washed, not peeled, cut into cubes

1 large onion, chopped

1 tablespoon butter or oil

1 bunch watercress, chopped

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine

6 cups chicken stock

Pinch each: salt, black pepper, nutmeg and cumin

Grated Cheddar cheese as garnish (optional)

Use a small saute pan to melt the butter or oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until golden. Cook the potatoes in the chicken stock in a 3-quart saucepan for about 15 - 20 minutes until they are soft. Add the watercress, parsley, onion and the seasonings. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cheese if desired.


Native cooks are known for their ability to utilize all of a food product, whether it is meat, vegetable or a grain. None of us would consciously throw away meaty bones or anything but the fat of an animal; and sometimes, even the fat can be utilized. Even mixing two types of meat bones can be outstandingly delicious.

For example, venison scraps, nicely trimmed and simmered for hours with oxtails, can become an incredible soup when you add carrots, onions, potatoes, wild rice or even barley toward the end of the meat's simmering time. If you have a small amount of odd meats like buffalo, lamb or game of any sort, there is no reason why you can't simmer them all together in the same pot.

Variety is the spice of life. Same goes for bones: they make great stock that is freezable. It's a good opportunity to try out herb mixtures.

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Lamb Shanks with Barley

4 pounds lamb shanks, trimmed

2 cloves garlic, sliced thin

2 cloves garlic, whole, peeled

1 large onion, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups barley

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

4 cups water

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut small pockets in the lamb shanks and stuff each with a thin sliver of garlic. Use a large heavy pan to heat the olive oil and brown the meat on all sides. Set aside. Turn down the heat and brown the whole garlic cloves in the oil, then discard them. Add the onion to this oil and cook about 5 minutes.

Put the barley, bay leaves, oregano, parsley and water in this pan and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste and put the lamb shanks back in the pan. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Check after 30 minutes in case the barley needs more water. Continue cooking until the meat is very tender. (A small peeled and cubed butternut squash, added with the barley, gives an added dimension: but add more water.)


Notes and Tips

-- When storing potatoes, put a cut-open apple with them to absorb moisture. This helps retard sprouting by absorbing moisture.

-- Try not to buy potatoes with green on them. That is caused by overexposure to light and a chemical reaction may produce an alkaloid called solanine. This solanine gives the potato a bitter taste. Eaten in large amounts, this can cause stomach discomfort and nausea. Always store potatoes in a dark place so there is no solanine buildup.