Old-Fashioned Cooking: Garlic Pie

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In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

Some food historians trace the origin of pies to the Neolithic period (10,000 to 4,500 BC). It was about the same time that agriculture began to play a major role in human cultures, along with raising grains. It was not until sugar became readily available that sweet pies began to appear on the table. The original pie crust may have been meant primarily to provide a container for the filling, in the same way we use a bread bowl today. Most food historians seem to think the crust was discarded, but I’m not buying that. Primitive societies rarely waste food – it’s too hard to grow, raise or hunt it. Not to mention that all it takes is one bad year and you’ll go hungry.

I think it’s more likely the “cofyns” for dishes like garlic pie were eaten by servants or pets, or fed to chickens and pigs. Small birds such as crows were often baked whole in these pies. Early pies were also made of various meats, cheese and vegetables and served as main dishes. Sweet pies typically contained fruits alone, or included a few spices. In some cases, a pie might have both sweet and savory elements, such as the garlic pie below.

Torta d’agli (Garlic Pie) Anonimo Veneziano, 15th century

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 7/8 cup butter
  • ½ tsp salt
  • water
  • 3 cups fresh cheese
  • 1 cup peeled garlic
  • 1 cup lardons
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 3 eggs
  • Pinch saffron
  • 1tsp ginger
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Make the shortcrust pastry dough. Cook the peeled garlic in boiling water for 10-15 minutes and then place in cold water to stop cooking. Mix drained garlic and add cheese and spices. Mix with lardons, then eggs and raisins. Fill a pie mold with a portion of the shortcrust dough, pour in the mixture, and cover with the remaining shortcrust dough (seal the edges). Bake in a hot oven.

Modern Version

  • 2 or 3 heads of garlic (depending on your personal tastes)
  • 1 ½ cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 ½ cup grated Swiss cheese
  • ½ lb pancetta, diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 pie crusts

Cut tops off garlic heads and place on a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap loosely. Place in cold oven and turn oven on to 400°F. Roast garlic for 30 minutes and then remove from oven. While garlic is roasting (and oven is preheating), mix together two shredded cheeses in a bowl. Set aside. Dice the pancetta. The easiest way to do this is to get the deli to slice it 1/4″ thick. You can then easily cut it into tiny cubes. Saute the pancetta (don’t add any oil) for a few minutes. Saute until the fat has rendered a bit and the meat is starting to take on color. Drain well and allow to cool to room temperature. Mix eggs and cream well in a bowl and stir in salt and pepper. Set aside.

Remove garlic cloves from bulbs and cut any large ones in 2-3 pieces. Place one pie crust into a pie plate. Add pancetta in a layer on the bottom. Top with garlic cloves. Sprinkle cheese mixture on top. Pour egg/cream mixture carefully over the top. Wiggle the pie plate a bit to allow the cream to get down under the cheese. Top with second pie crust and flute edges. Cut a few small vent holes in the top crust. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. After removing from oven, let sit about a half hour. Serve while still warm.

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California Floods

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This is the house orchard; standing water eventually kills fruit trees.

If you spend any time looking at the news on the California floods these days, it looks as though most of California is underwater. While it’s not quite that bad, there is no question that billions of dollars of damage has occurred to residential and business areas. The bigger issue, to my mind, is the damage to agricultural production.

California Floods and Agriculture

California farmers and ranchers provide the US with one-third of its vegetables and three-quarters of its fruits and nuts. The state of California produces 100% of the commercial almond crop for the US and 80% of all almonds worldwide, 90% of the world’s avocados, almost 100% of US broccoli, 20% of all US milk and 70% of US peaches, 96% of US prunes, more than 70% of US plums and 80% of US raspberries. The state is also the world’s 5th largest supplier of cotton fiber and agricultural commodities outside of food. Most of those crops are grown on the flat, low-lying ground of the Central Valley. In other words, the land most susceptible to flooding.

Impact of California Floods

Even if the rains quit today, the impact of this winter will be felt for years. Uprooted fruit and nut trees or perennial plantings such as grapes, berries, artichokes and asparagus obviously won’t be producing anything. Topsoil is eroding into various waterways and out to sea. Animals that can’t be removed from flooded areas or excessively wet soils will be prone to disease and their hooves will chop up soil. The flood waters quite likely contain various chemicals that will further damage or pollute the remaining soil. Damaged levees and irrigation systems may mean less water to grow crops in the heat of the summer. Damaged transportation infrastructure (train tracks, county roads, bridges and major highways) will mean difficult access and delays getting workers to the fields or crops to market.

Looking at the Future

Centralizing food growing activities for an entire country is bad enough. Relying on a massive, complex transportation system that is dependent on large quantities of fossil fuels makes it worse. The combination becomes a recipe for shortages or outright disaster in the face of catastrophic weather. You’re going to feel the effects for years and this scenario will be repeated in the future. So what can you do? Plant a garden, get some chickens, support local food growers, farmer’s markets and CSAs.

Do it NOW.

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The New Diet – Ho-Hum

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Freezing home-grown apples.

So scientists are waving “The New Diet” flag in a Lancet article (the original article actually appeared in 2019 but this post got lost somewhere in the thrash of daily life). The basic tenets: it should be primarily plant-based, you can eat more calories and it will save the planet. Ho-hum. Where have we heard this story before? As with so many scientific studies, much of this is just a presentation of the prevailing biases.

New Diet: Grains

Item: we should stop using grain to feed cattle. OK, this makes really good sense. But instead of taking it to the next step – having cattle eat grass – the report says we should feed that grain to people instead. Hello, it’s eating too much grain and its various byproducts that has created, or at least fueled, the obesity epidemic in the US and much of the rest of the developed world.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Item: meat and dairy are the two biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions. Nope – it’s energy production and consumption (electricity, heat, travel) at 66.5% compared to the 13% for ALL of agriculture. And beef production is less than 20% of that 13%.

New Diet: Fruits and Vegetables

Item: eating more fruit, vegetables and nuts can decease your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Not if you eat more grains to supply the additional calories you previously got from meat and fat. Supposedly we could feed 800 million people on the grains we feed to livestock. In other words, we would continue to use conventional farming methods, strip away the topsoil, pollute the rivers and oceans, cause erosion and other damage, but it would be OK because we’re feeding people.

New Diet: Low-Fat, High Carb

Item: the diet would be mostly unsaturated fats, plant proteins and carbohydrates from fruits, whole grains and starchy vegetables.” Again, this is the low-fat, high carbohydrate hypothesis that has proven so spectacularly unsuccessful in helping people lose weight. No to mention that your body needs saturated fat, because of the omega-3/omega-6 ratios. Saturated fat is particularly important for optimum brain development in children. I’ve been wondering for quite a while whether the increases in children’s mental health issues over the last 30 years or so is connected to the low-fat/unsaturated fat diet we’ve been feeding them.

Calories

Item: you can eat more calories. The caveat – you have to have moderate to high levels of physical activity. For a nation of couch potatoes, more calories is going to be a disaster.

Food From the Oceans

Item: this new diet plan requires that humans “manage” the oceans – if we can’t even manage the land on which we evolved, how the heck will we handle the sea? Land agriculture is already causing huge problems due to pollution and fertilizer runoff.

Good Ideas

One thing I can give a thumbs up to in this new diet plan is to eat less sugar (I say preferably none or next to none). Another part that gets a thumbs up is stop putting more land under the plow, especially in places like the rain forest. To which I would add we need to take a LOT of land back to forests and grasslands. Finally, the authors recommend we decrease food waste, which is a very good point, as it’s a big problem.

There are several points in this article where one of the scientists quoted says something along the lines of “everybody knows.” I’m reminded of Robert Heinlein’s comment: “If ‘everybody knows’ such-and-such, then it ain’t so, by at least ten thousand to one.”

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