Thursday, March 31, 2011

Winter's Last Soup

  Sometimes I plan my cooking, and sometimes I just cook what's thrown at me. Case in the latter point: carrot apple soup. Things turned rather hectic around here last fall, and organization of the root cellar sort of fell by the wayside. We store our root vegetables in a large crawlspace cum dirt-floored cellar, separate from the rest of the basement. We call it "The Dungeon," kind of a creepy place, lots of spider webs, dank. But it keeps a temperature in the mid-40s through the winter, pretty much ideal.

Into this dungeon/root cellar last fall I unceremoniously shoved a couple of boxes containing potatoes, garlic and shallots, and a bin of carrots. When I needed any of these things, I would go down with a flashlight and rummage around, quickly, for the required vegetables. I don't like spending more time in there than I have to. If I wanted a carrot, I would just grab one off the top of the bin, and vamoose. At a certain point, a few weeks back, I noticed the carrots becoming kind of...grotty, I think is the word. Some were sprouting, some rotten at the core, some generally slimy. But there seemed to be a lot left, and quite a few still good, so I eventually had to screw up my courage and address the situation.

I pulled the whole bin out into daylight. I regarded it a bit askance, one eye half closed, pretty sure I was not going to like what I saw. And...

...And it wasn't that bad. I probably deserved to punished for my poor management of root cellar resources, but I dodged the bullet on this one. It took a good half hour to trim and clean up the salvageable carrots from the bin, and when I was done I'll bet I had around fifteen pounds of nice, sound, sweet carrots. And since the weather here continues soup-worthy, that is what I did.

I was afraid of the soup becoming too sweet, so I paired the carrots with some tart apples we had in storage (those are just about done, and the apple trees will soon be blooming). I had also thought to finish it with buttermilk, but the carrots were not ultra-sweet, the apple tartness really came through, and it wound up needing rounding off more than tarting up. So I stirred in a little cream at the end.

I’m not sure if it’s a  positive or negative that the finished soup looks and tastes remarkably like a luxe version of Campbell’s tomato soup. The sweet carrots and tart apples create an amazing trompe-bouche tomato effect. The garnishes are inspired, if I say so myself. The carrot and shallot shreds reprise flavors already in the soup, the cheese and garlic bring different depth and richness. I'd recommend using one of the other. Both would be over the top, I think, but maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing. If you don’t want to make it fancy that way, just drop some croutons in--or crumble on some saltines.

Carrot Apple Soup
Serves four as a starter, two as a main course

1 shallot sliced
4 1/8-inch slices ginger
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 ½ teaspoons canola or grapeseed oil
3 ½ cups excellent chicken or vegetable stock
2 small tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (1 1/2 cups)
3 medium carrots(12 ounces), peeled and chopped (1 ½ cups)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 sprigs thyme
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup heavy cream

Garnish #1:

½ a small carrot, cut into fine shreds or grated
1 small shallot, sliced very thin
2 tablespoons olive oil

Garnish #2:

1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup grated swiss or gruyere cheese

Cook the sliced shallot, ginger slices, and crushed garlic in the canola oil over medium heat until they take on a good bit of color, four to five minutes. Be careful that the garlic does not burn. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer partly covered for 30 to 40 minutes. Strain the stock and discard the vegetables. You should have at least 2 ½ cups of liquid left. Add stock or water to make up the difference if too much has simmered away.

Return the stock to the saucepan. Add the carrots, apples, thyme, minced garlic and ginger, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook covered until the carrots are very tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the soup cool for ten minutes or so, then puree it in a blender or food processor until it is very smooth. Pass it through a sieve or food mill back into the saucepan. Add the cream, and reheat gently just before serving. Taste for salt.

For garnish #1: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the shredded carrots and cook until they become shrunken and a bit brown. Remove them from the oil. Add the sliced shallot and cook until lightly browned. Remove from the oil, reserving the oil. Place a spoon of the carrots on top of the soup, and a spoon of shallots on top of that. Drizzle some of the olive oil around the edges.

For garnish #2: Place a half teaspoon of minced garlic and a couple tablespoons of grated cheese in the bottom of each bowl. Place the bowls on the table, and--carefully!--ladle the very hot soup into the bowls. The aromas of garlic and cheese released by the hot soup will make your guests swoon.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On the Reluctant Season & Plans for the Warm Months to Come (with a Whacking Good Maple-Calva Cocktail)

We were out pruning apples trees, clearing brush, and setting a few taps in the maple trees at Bide-A-Wee last weekend. The temps had hardly dropped below freezing all week, and the snow was melting steadily. We could watch the snowline creep down the southern exposures day by day. Problem was, there was so much snow accumulation over the winter, only those southern slopes were clear, and everywhere else the snow was close to knee-deep, and degraded by the warmth into corny, icy pellets, so walking without snowshoes was like slogging through a vast white Slushee . Even Lily, our five-year-old griff' and a gentle beast of prodigious strength, was having trouble getting around; senior dog Annabel, just a couple months shy of 13 years old now, struggled mightily, but she's a gamer and kept up throughout the day.

Besides the receding snow we noted other signs of the changing season: Saturday morning a vanguard pair of Canada geese flew honking right over the cabin, and while pruning we heard, though did not see, migrating tundra swans on the other side of the hill. We noted red-winged blackbirds trilling in the cattails of the marsh down the road. Most thrilling of all, Lily flushed several woodcock off one of those snow-free hillsides on the first day of spring. It seems remarkable that they return this early, dependent as they are on finding insects and worms in the barely thawed ground, probing with their elongated bills. And when a late-March snow descends, as it has today, I worry that they'll all perish. Thing is, this kind of storm in March, even into April, is not at all uncommon, and the timberdoodles have been dealing with this sort of thing for millenia, I reckon. You have to grant some wisdom in Great Nature's design. (Last year the male woodcock started their odd and charming mating dances on March 24. More on that annual ritual in a future post.)

And there were green things springing forth, though barely. Little sprouts of this and that, nothing I really recognized. Back at our house in Saint Paul I saw one thin sliver of sorrel pushing up, though half the bed was still in ice, and dandelions getting started. When we tapped the maples on Monday the sap flowed freely out the spiles, such a treat to taste that clear, cold liquid, just slightly sweet yet somehow distinctly maple-y (or perhaps I imagine...).

Other phenological observations, cultural and domestic, pointing toward the changing season: The Hay River Transition Initiative announced educational and support meetings on the topic of Lyme Disease as tick season impends, and I found that our composting toilet which resides in an unheated barn-red outhouse (the Tardis) had thawed. You've seen those backyard compost tumblers, big black drums that turn with a crank to speed the breakdown of yard and kitchen waste? Our composting loo works exactly the same way, except the drum is contained within something that looks like a very large, awkwardly shaped white toilet. When it gets cold in the fall the composting action stops, the contents freeze in winter, and that's probably TMI right there, but when spring brings the thaw to the loo, it's a day of joy.

As I write this I feel like I'm reminiscing about a happy time long past, as Great Nature has turned her bitter white back on us AGAIN, and the snow sweeps past the window, some flakes big and lacy, some small and pelty, and it piles up, and schools close, the freeways clog. With a forecast for below average temperatures for the next few days, it will be a week before we see substantial melting again (good news for those in the path of spring flooding; bad news for gardeners and everyonesickofthisfreakinendlesswinter).

Just a little patience is required now, dears. When spring does arrive I think it will arrive with a vengeance, with all the pent-up energy and inexorable vigor that that little spear of sorrel showed, slicing up through the frigid turf. With more winter calamity in the forecast I finally got around to sorting out my garden seeds and setting up my seed-starting table. The many packets of beans, melons, and squashes unplanted last year showed that my hobby farmer ambitions got well ahead of our capacities. I just planted one five-by-ten plot at Bide-A-Wee last summer, late, and hope to put another in this spring. Perhaps I'll do a little stealth guerrilla gardening out there, too, popping some melon seeds into the loamy mounds that the pocket gophers throw up all over the land, let the vines spread into the meadows where, perhaps, the critters will not find them. Hey, ya never know....

I'm going to be reasonable in what I plant here in Saint Paul, too, not crowd so much in that the whole thing becomes one big grotesque slug farm. We have wonderful farmers markets in town and in the country, and neighbors out there who really know how to grow, and charge too little for their produce. I'm happy to support that economy as we move gradually toward a greater self-sufficiency. But I would like to put up a hoop house at Bide-A-Wee, to extend the growing season a bit on either side. And we've put a hitch on our Jetta wagon so we can borrow Mary's folks' little trailer to get manure from our livestock-owning friends and neighbors, and really get the gardening going out there.

Regarding the aforementioned apple trees, we're in our fourth year of clearing, pruning, and assessing the dozens of severely overgrown trees that came with the property. And frankly it doesn't seem that we've gotten a hell of a lot done in that time, until I remind myself that the actual pruning is just the icing on a big gnarly cake that also involves scything through tough blackberry canes, pulling out encroaching prickly ash, and fightinig off the box elder jungle. After all that, we can almost reach the tree--all that's left is wriggling in to the trunk through a maze of broken branches, dead wood, grape and Virginia creeper vines. That process usually takes us until lunch, just one tree at a time. And after lunch, man, I need a nap....

So it goes a bit slowly, but it goes. Our big ambition for this year is to clear most of the brush around our North Meadow trees so we can scythe as the meadow plants start to grow, to create a sylvan glade of pastoral splendor. Mind you this is all done by hand, but we may try to find someone with power equipment to mow some paths around the land for us, and maybe mow the North Meadow, too.

We have big hopes for the apple crop this year, and not much we can do about it but wait. Our trees tend to be "on" in odd years, though some bear fruit every year. Last year, an even, "off" year, saw a hard frost in mid-May, reducing the crop even further. Luckily a few of our better trees did bear fruit (better meaning less susceptible to insect and disease, longer keeping), and we pressed enough cider that we still have fresh (from the freezer) and some keepers good enough for baking (getting to the end of those).

If this year is anything like 2009, the cider press will be humming from September into November. I want to ferment a lot of cider this year, and explore other areas of apple preservation and cookery, too. Apples were once such an important food crop in this country. In a 1990 Whole Earth Review article, Richard Sassaman wrote:

Americans today probably don't understand how much the early settlers appreciated apples, which in Price's words are now "relegated in normal modern diets chiefly to side dishes and casual eating." Apple butter would keep for winter use, apple brandy was a cash export sent downriver to New Orleans, apple cider a social favorite, and apple vinegar the basic pioneer preservative.

We'll never know for sure exactly what varieties of apples are growing on our land--and some, the wild seedling trees, are unique to Bide-A-Wee--but I'm eager to really get down to seeing what we have there and what the various apples are good for. This summer of 2011 will be our first without farmers market baking since 2003! I'm not sure that has quite sunk in for either Mary or me, but I think we're both eager to see what it's like.

Another goal of mine for this year is to delve deeper into the world of wild foods. With the help of the excellent books by local authors Teresa Marrone and Samuel Thayer (both are linked as "Bide-A-Wee Neighors & Friends" at right) I've expanded my knowledge of wild edibles quite a bit in the last few years. Flipping through their books, I realize how much I still have to learn--cattails, wild chervil, butternut, serviceberry, nannyberry, highbush cranberry, and I haven't even thoroughly explored the possibilities of the ubiquitous nettles. The forest starts to look like a splendid delicatessen! No need to take a number, just dig right in.

Phew. I'm thirsty now. With all the talk of apples, and given that it is maple syrup time, here's a lovely sip with local flavors. Make it with just maple syrup, lemon juice, and sparkling water, and it's a refreshing spritzer. Add a tablespoon to a shot of Calvados, the French apple brandy, and you've got something else altogether--a very tasty, very grown-up sort of apple juice. It'll make the blizzard outside seem a lot more tolerable.

Maple (Calva) Spritzer

Per drink:

2 tablespoons maple syrup
Lemon juice to taste
6 ounces sparkling water
Calvados or applejack, a tablespoon to 1 1/2 ounces, optional

Combine the maple syrup and sparkling water in a glass (& Calvados if desired). Add fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste. Drop in a couple of ice cubes and imbibe.

Copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw

Friday, March 18, 2011

Am I Blue?/Treasure from the Larder

To end the week simply and cheesily: A lovely wedge of Ader Kase Reserve from Seymour Dairy Products over in eastern Wisconsin, Outagamie County. Salty, tangy, rich and creamy. Nice cheese. Accompanying, pickled crab and ramp chutney, a snap to make if you have the pickles.

Here's how you do the ramps.

And here the crabs.

We'll be back in the woods harvesting ramps again in no time. The crabs will be a bit longer. Pruning is on tap for this weekend; tapping is on tap, too, as it's maple syrup time.

Sappily yours,


Pickled Crab & Ramp Chutney
Makes one half-cup

Treasure from the larder. Excellent with a wedge of blue cheese at meal's end, as consort to a grilled cheese sandwich, or alongside pork any way.

5 or 6 pickled ramp bulbs, rinsed, cut in half the long way, sliced 1/4-inch thick (1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon canola or sunflower oil
4 or 5 pickled crabapples, cored and chopped, 1/2 cup
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons liquid from the pickled crabapples
2 teaspoons liquid from the pickled ramps

Cook the ramps very gently, without browning, until they start to soften, four to five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, and simmer very gently, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the chutney thickens, three to five minutes. Remove to a small bowl, cool, cover, and refrigerate. Best if it sits for a few hours before serving.

Text and photo copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


This is the kind of dish at which our Haggis woodstove excels. Do not ask Haggis to stir-fry--that is not in the Haggis genes. Haggis will sear a steak only reluctantly. Haggis is a phlegmatic creature; sudden changes in mood do not suit Haggis. Haggis can cook an egg, or an assemblage of eggs, like a frittata, very well, slowly brown a piece of meat or fish, render bacon solicitously.

But where Haggis really shines is in the long, slow simmer. On a winter afternoon still deep in the white but leaning toward spring, Haggis emanates a gentle heat for hours, coddling a pot of chicken and vegetables flavored with homesmoked bacon. The pot never comes to a boil--it's kind of a backwoods half-assed sous vide, if you like. In the end the broth is deeply, beautifully imbued with the flavors of all the components, yet the meat and vegetables retain their integrity--the vegetables are still a bit crisp, the chicken is not stringy or washed-out tasting.

This is the kind of simple food I love, and I think one grows to appreciate this kind of cooking over time. It's a good thing that some benefits come with age.

Chicken Bacon Hot Pot

Very slow cooking produces a succulent broth and meat and vegetables that retain excellent flavor and texture.

2 ounces slab bacon, in 1-inch chunks
4 chicken thighs or a small chicken quartered
1 large carrot, quartered the long way, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 medium onion, sliced
1 rib celery, halved the long way, cut into 3-inch lengths
4 small potatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole, unpeeled
1 turnip, peeled and quartered
¼ cup white wine or dry vermouth
2 sprigs thyme
A light vinaigrette
Brown the bacon in a heavy dutch oven. As it starts to render fat add the chicken and brown well on both sides. Remove the bacon and chicken from the pot. Drain off excess fat, leaving about one tablespoon in the pot. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic cloves. Sauté until lightly browned. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Return the chicken and bacon to the pot. Add four cups of water, the thyme, and ¼ teaspoon of salt.

Cook at the lowest simmer, the surface just shivering, for 60 minutes. Do not let the liquid boil. Add the potatoes and turnip. Simmer 60 minutes more, or until the vegetables are tender. Serve with dijon mustard, cornichons, and a bowl of vinaigrette on the side, if you like.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Got all the recipes for the book rounded up, a hundred-forty-plus: two desserts, and one of them was toast. I'm not joking.

Me, when I hear "dessert," I translate that to "cheese." It is not that I don't like sweets; indeed, at certain points in my life, like my entire childhood, I liked them too much, just ask my dentist. Little will power issue there, so over time I backed away until today I hardly ever eat dessert. But I felt that a whole wide-ranging cookbook with two desserts, one of them toast, would be sort of lame. So I cooked a few up, and I'm glad I did. In the last couple of days I made two takes on maple, apple, cream and eggs: maple flan with maple-calvados sauce, and maple-apple custard pots (pots de creme, en autres mots). Maple and apple go really well together, and hey, it's what I've got.

Then today, an apple-blackberry galette, darling and delicious, with our own apples and blackberry jam, a triumph. So lately I am taking that good advice about eating dessert first, and then eating it again, just for good measure. Pictures here of two of those three, recipe for one. I gotta go walk the dogs for a couple of hours.

Maple Flan with Maple-Calvados Sauce
Serves four

The custard is rich and light at the same time, just barely sweet. The caramel and syrup are intensely mapley, quite sweet; the Calvados and vinegar cut the sweetness and complement the maple flavor beautifully.

The Syrup:
¾ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons Calvados or applejack (or, in a pinch, brandy or rum)
Good pinch salt
2 teaspoons unsalted butter

The Custard:
3 yolks from large eggs
1 whole large egg
6 tablespoons maple syrup
1 ½ tablespoons Calvados or applejack
Pinch salt
1 cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream

Heat your oven to 300.

For the syrup, reduce the maple syrup by half in a small saucepan over medium heat, taking care that it does not boil over. When it is reduced, very thick and dark, spoon one tablespoon into each half-cup ramekin, and turn and tip the ramekins to distribute the syrup partway up the sides. To the remaining reduced syrup add the vinegar, Calvados, and a pinch of salt, and stir to mix. Set aside.

For the custard: In a mixing bowl whisk together the egg yolks and whole egg. Heat the milk and cream to boiling in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat and let sit for two minutes. Very slowly whisk the milk-cream mixture into the eggs yolks, a couple of tablespoons at a time at first. When half the milk and cream have been added, pour in the rest in a steady stream, continuing to whisk. Add the six tablespoons maple syrup, Calvados, and salt. Strain the custard into a large measuring cup, then pour it into the ramekins. Place the ramekins in a cake pan and add hot water to halfway up the ramekins. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. The custards are done when the sides have firmed up, and there’s just a wee wiggle in the center. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, reheat the sauce over medium heat. Stir in the butter and bring the sauce to a boil. It should have a syrupy consistency; if you want it thicker, reduce it a bit more.

Run a paring knife around the edge of the ramekins, and invert each onto a plate. Spoon a bit of sauce over the custards, and bring the rest to the table.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stoked About My Crock (and about a lot of other things, too, though winter will not loose its icy grip, and there's a lot of crappy stuff going on...)

...still, there are encouraging signs, and this weekend past at Bide-A-Wee was full of all the things that make us love west central Wisconsin:

* A foraging outing to a sweet little spring near the cabin, which showed that the watercress is still winter-scorched but coming along, starting to green up, just needing a few days of warmth and sun to push into the air and thrive. About that time the snow will melt along sandy stream banks, and we'll see stinging nettles start to pop.

* Great food, including a delightful enchilada lunch at Darlene's Corner Cupboard, a gem of a little restaurant in Boyceville; and dinners of maple-glazed bacon on spaetzle with greens and Haggis-roasted sweet potatoes, and simmered supper of beef shanks and tasty local root vegetables.

* Appetite-building treks around the land on foot, skis, and snowshoes.

* Fun & invigorating activities with other humans: A full day at the Hay River Transition Initiative's Traditional and Green Skills event; a field trip to Downsville for pottery and tea; and lovely visits with neighbors, some of them new acquaintances as of last weekend.

The Hay River Transition Initiative event was extremely enjoyable, enlightening, inspiring. This was the inaugural Traditional and Green Skills Event, and I'd say that everyone involved can count it a singular success. When I looked at the roster of classes--everything from solar hot water systems to rag rug making to wind power, home cheese making, horse hoof maintenance, blues harmonica--around 25 different classes in three sessions, I sort of wondered if everyone involved with the group would be occupied teaching classes, and no one left to attend them. That turned out not to be the case--while there was preregistration for the event, the walk-in crowd was huge. There must have been 200-plus people packed into the cafeteria at Prairie Farm High School once everyone had arrived. All my classes--cheese making, backyard chicken and rabbit raising, solar food dehydrators--were full up, and Mary reported the same from hers--the solar hot water and wind power, and blues harmonica.

With only 50 minutes per class, there wasn't time for in-depth detail, but all my classes provided compelling introductions. Beyond that, it was just incredibly heartening to see such a large and diverse group of people gathered for an event like this--from recent back-to-the-landers, CSA farmers, long-established transplants, and true "locals" of all ages (those names we see over and over in Hay River Review articles, keeping the 4-H going, the pep squad, the Ridgeland Fair, the volunteer fire department).

From the group's website, the goal of a transition initiative is "to bring people together to plan for changes in our future, rather than waiting for a crisis. The challenges of peak oil, climate change, and economic instability can be better met by building a positive local response." Beyond those quite pragmatic goals, the spirit of this day seemed to be one of working in a really positive way to make connections that will strengthen the community, carry forward a sense of a vibrant and sustainable rural life along with the traditional skills that interest so many people these days.

And get this: the fee for the whole day, including three classes, coffee and snacks in the morning, and lunch, was a whopping $6 per person. We offered up a twenty and said keep the change. You can't even get into a half-assed movie in town for $6.

That was Saturday, and the buzz we caught from the event kept us going through the weekend. Sunday we made a little road trip south, looking for a honey pot. We knew of a potter in the town of Downsville, south of Menomonie on the Red Cedar River. John Thomas is the potter, and with Kathy Ruggles he presides over a charming collection of buildings--their house, the pottery workshop, kiln shed, a small retail shop, and a recently renovated octagonal schoolhouse, which is now the Oasis events center for Simply Dunn . (John referred to this little hamlet as "my edifice complex.") So we got a tour of the place, a cup of tea, and a slide show of photographs from the demonstrations in Madison--John and Kathy are friends of our friends and neighbors Don Roberts and Joni Cash (aka Otter Creek Growers). And we bought a teapot, a honey pot, and most exciting, with its prospect of wonderful fermented things not yet born, this awesome crock.

I am absolutely ready to get seeds started, till up the garden, plant, mulch, harvest, feast and preserve. Of course, we will first have to get rid of this deep snow pack that keeps hanging around. In the meantime, a weekend like that helps enormously in keeping one's spirits up. My crock is speaking to me, saying Soon, very soon, it's bound to come soon....

The crock holds about five quarts. I'm thinking a mixed-veg ferment would be a good way to break it in this summer.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fat, Sweet, Salt, & Smoke

Bacon makes me happy.

I could almost end this dissertation right there, but perhaps you'd like to hear a little more. There's a traditional song, "In My Time of Dying," which in a Be Good Tanyas rendition includes the line: "Ever since I've been acquainted with Jesus, we've never been a minute apart." That's how it is with bacon and me. Ever since I got a handle on the basics of home smoking, and honed (I won't say perfected; there's always room for improvement in some way) my bacon-makin' method, there is always a piece of that salty sweet smoky porcine goodness in our fridge or freezer. It's a staple of the Trout Caviar home economy, like homemade chicken stock and home-baked bread--if any of those things is missing from the larder, something is wrong with the rhythms of my life.

While some bacon lovers will contend that the only bad bacon is no bacon, in reality there's a lot of wretched stuff out there, chemical-soaked, faux-smoked, over-salted pork of dubious provenance whose only virtue is that it's cheap, if that can be considered a virtue at all. There's also very good bacon to be had commercially, but it's so easy to make your own, with all known, local ingredients, that I'll risk repeating myself to encourage any and all to give it a try.

There are exactly four ingredients in my home-smoked bacon, including the smoke:

Pork belly
Maple syrup

I laid out the bacon basics in a very early, incredibly long-winded blog post, and not much has changed in how I go about it, except:

1) I don't write 5,000 word blogs posts anymore,
2) I've learned to ask for nice big slabs of pork belly at the co-op or Asian market, instead of already cut-up pieces, as I apparently used to, and
3) I've changed my standard cure, settling on straight maple syrup, and much less salt than I used to apply.

Now, to two pounds of pork belly, I add 1/4 cup of maple syrup, massaging it well into the meat. I used to reduce the maple syrup, until one time I turned it into maple candy. Then sprinkle three tablespoons of salt over the meat. I use the fine sea salt I get in bulk at the co-op. Any salt will do. In place of maple syrup, you could use 1/4 cup of brown sugar. In that case, mix the salt and brown sugar together, and rub it all over the meat.

Let it cure for 24 hours. Turn it over a few times during that time, and spoon the juices evenly over the meat. Then just before smoking, rinse the belly under cool running water, and set it on a wire rack to dry for an hour or so before smoking.

Now that I have access to loads of apple wood, that's all I use for smoking--oh, well, some oak might get in there, more as a charcoal function than for flavor. I think there's a magic synergy among the pork, maple, and apple smoke flavors. Since this bacon is fully cooked in the hot smoking, you can eat slices of it straight off the slab, and I do. It's the best charcuterie around, in my opinion.

When the bacon has smoked for a couple of hours at 200 to 220 degrees, I take it off and let it cool, then cut it into half-pound portions and freeze all but one.

I just took the bread out of the oven, and the bacon has another hour in the smoke. The freezer has plenty of chicken stock, a few weeks' worth, I reckon. I'm thinking about a bacon, cheese, and apple sandwich for lunch, and I'm feelin' pretty good.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw