Voice of Bruck News Service

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Rhymes with Organ

The Exquisite Mrs. Bruck (EMB) and I spent this year’s President’s Day weekend not buying a discounted mattress. We also did not avail ourselves of the occasion to order siding or replacement windows, nor did we exploit any other blowout, extravaganza, blockbuster, or holiday madness. Instead, we did the next best thing to honor our greatest president George Washington, and other presidents  whose birthdays landed in mid- to late-February, including Abraham Lincoln, by taking a self-guided North Carolina BBQ tour.

“Self-guided” is the operative term here, as in next time we’ll know what we’re doing. The first thing we discovered was that President’s Day weekend is not the ideal weekend to cruise BBQ joints in NC, as everything is closed that Monday. We also discovered that the conventional western weekend (Sat-Sun) is not the best timing. Either due to observance of the traditional Christian sabbath, or to maximize the ability to enjoy professional football, everything’s closed on Sunday in northern NC. The Muslim weekend (Fri-Sat) would have afforded more opportunity to enjoy BBQ, or for that matter, would any other sequence of days not including Sunday or a national holiday. Nonetheless, we did manage to hit a variety of southern cooking establishments, and a surprisingly comprehensive pork dispensary, which I’ll describe in excessive detail anon, but first I’ll cover a few of your basic questions.

1) Why do a BBQ tour?

A few years ago, the EMB and I read an impressive volume on the subject of southern BBQ and the diverse and geographically disperse purveyors thereof. It wasn’t impressive enough for me to remember its title or author, but it was impressive nonetheless. We decided at the time that we needed to experience it firsthand, by embarking on a tour of smoky establishments. Life got complicated for a while, but we finally got around to it this year.

2) Why NC BBQ?

Because NC is a lot closer to VA than Kansas City, Memphis, OK, Austin, etc., plus, we dig the NC style(s). Flip side, why not tour VA BBQ joints? Well, we’ve already done our share of that. Results: none of the chain BBQ restaurants are noteworthy, and some of the independent places are pretty good. However, I would say their pretty-goodness is proportional to how well they duplicate the NC style. The VA style, if you could call it that, is basically just a variety of sauces that smother the meat flavor.

3) When did you figure out that Jussie Smollett was lying?

Within half a second of reading the first paragraph of the first article I read on the subject. How long before you figured it out?

4) How did you plan your trip?
The BBQ volume we read indicated that Lexington BBQ in Lexington, NC was particularly good and fairly established, so we made that the “destination,” and planned the rest of the trip around it. Since our time was limited, we hit one other well-reputed BBQ place, Wilber’s in Goldsboro, prior to which we did some pork shopping at Nahunta Pork Center in Pikeville. We were planning on a 2nd day, but, as mentioned above, that would have been Sunday and everything was closed.

5) Why is pig appendix sausage called Tom Thumb?

No idea, but I agree that it’s not particularly appetizing.

The pic to the right is sliced Tom Thumb frying in a pan according to its traditional preparation method.

OK, enough with the fake interview questions.

A parallel quest to sampling real NC BBQ was finding real country ham. Country ham is probably not the ham you’re used to – it’sdry/salt-cured and aged on the bone, as opposed to the conventional sweet/wet-cured variety that you likely had last Easter. It’s actually difficult to find real country ham, but our friend CBA (not his real name) pointed us to Nahunta in Pikesville (https://www.nahuntapork.com/), which is near his parents’ home town. We had to get up a little early, as we noted that Nahunta closed at 3:00 pm on Saturday, and was closed Sunday.

Check out Nahunta’s website, and specifically, take a look at its offerings. We bought some:
-          Country ham (a variety of cuts, not the whole leg)
-          Country ham end slices (somewhat richer flavor)
-          Country ham trimmings (good for seasoning beans or collards)
-          Cracklings (next best thing to original sin)
-          A Tom Thumb (had to. Just had to)
-          Souse (vinegar-based head cheese)
-          Liver pudding
-          About 16’ of semi-dry sausage (yes, feet)

We did not buy:
-          Spleen
-          Brown skins
-          Fresh pig head

We also picked up an order for our friend CBA, a subset of the above minus the exotic items.

Not too far from Pikesville is Wilber’s BBQ, or rather, was. Wilber’s closed recently, making us among their last customers, historically speaking. It had been in business since 1962 and went out of business about two weeks ago. We had lunch there after shopping at Nahunta. It was definitely old-school, and offered a wide variety and generous portions for low prices. I had deep fried liver while the EMB had chopped BBQ. Both were quite nice, but alas, none of us is getting any more of it any time soon. I hope they can work something out to get back in business, because I seriously doubt their creditors know how to run a BBQ restaurant.

Wilber’s BBQ was of the eastern NC variety, which is “whole hog” and has a vinegar-based sauce with a little hot pepper thrown in. Lexington BBQ, on the other hand, where we dined that evening, has more of a western NC style, which is pork shoulder (front thigh, y’all) with a vinegar/ketchup-based sauce, also somewhat spicy.

Lexington is a couple hours’ drive west of Goldsboro, which passed uneventfully. Coincidentally, the illustrious Mr. Smollett was being indicted for a number of infractions including lying to investigators. The preceding weeks had seen an outpouring of sympathy from his compatriots in politcs and media while those of us not completely drawn in by the post-truth culture watched knowingly as his story unraveled.

Mr. Smollett’s legal process has apparently concluded at this time with the dropping of state charges, the dual justice system being alive and well in Chicago, and the media outlets and personalities that supported him have moved on, understandably unwilling to discuss it any further. But what doesn’t get much play is the fact that Mr. Smollett, in contriving a fake hate crime against himself, perpetrated one against the very people he was accusing, namely supporters of President Trump, and in at least one version of his story, white people. He was also perfectly happy to let two innocent people take the rap for his fake attack, up to the point of learning that the police’s “persons of interest” were in fact the Nigerian brothers he had hired. In other words, Mr. Smollett attempted to smear Trump supporters as homophobic, racist, and violent, in accordance with the caricature created and perpetuated by the conventional media, entertainment and editorial establishments, and strident political partisans.

Notwithstanding the laughably preposterous fantasy that white Trump supporters in a ritzy section of Chicago would even exist, let alone attack a gay, black actor as an expression of their support for the President in the middle of the coldest night of the year, the places we visited in NC were what I would call actual “Trump Country” – rural, working class, racially diverse, no apparent outward political affiliations, friendly, helpful, outgoing, you get the picture. Even with our somewhat diluted northern accents, we encountered nothing but genuine southern hospitality.

Exhibit A: Great customer service and a free BBQ sandwich at Nahunta.

Exhibit B: Great food and customer service at Wilber’s and Lexington BBQ.

Exhibit C: The waitress at Cagney’s Kitchen in Lexington, where we had breakfast on Sunday morning (with Joel Osteen on the TV, LOL), informed that they had no peanut butter when I asked. Over my protestations, she had her husband run out and get some for me! She got a good tip.

So I’m thinking, how could Mr. Smollett get it so wrong? Answer: intersectionality. Being a wealthy, politically-connected, youngish,  gay black Hollywood actor living in an upscale section of a large American city, he’s probably never personally encountered a Trump supporter. And, due to same intersectionality, he probably believes in the violent, racist, ignorant, craven media caricature of Trump supporters. When you consider the narrow little bubble he lives in, his actions almost make sense.

With the state charges dropped, Smollett’s legal troubles may or may not be over. The FBI is considering charges based on the powder-laced hate letter he mailed himself, and the City of Chicago is considering a lawsuit to recover wasted police resources. Personally, I don’t expect much to come of these, dual justice system and all. But if I were the judge, I’d give him 5 years’ probation, to be spent in Davidson County, NC, where he would be required to:

  • Live there full time,
  • Get a job (outside of the entertainment field),
  • Attend church,
  • Participate in civic/community activities, and
  • Stay out of social and any other form of media.

And oh yes, I almost forgot, formally apologize to all Trump supporters and the Chicago Police.

Friday, June 03, 2016

A Pasty Caught Fire in a Cornish Tin Mine – You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next!

OK, I’ll tell you. According to legend, the fire spread to the support timbers and caused a collapse. I’m not sure what transpired thereafter, but mining disaster stories rarely end well. A mining story with a happier ending brings you today’s dispatch, how to make the Finnish Pasty.

The Finnish Pasty is a regional specialty of northern Michigan and the surrounding environs, derived from the traditional Cornish pasty, which was imported by miners who emigrated from Cornwall to the Upper Peninsula during the 18th and 19th centuries. The art and skill of homemade pasty fabrication have been passed through generations of American Finns, with recipes honed and optimized over time, but never departing too far from the original.

Not all American Finnish families participate in the passing of this cultural tradition, but your faithful editor is happy to hail from one that does. Normally, conventional gender roles and all that, cooking traditions pass through the maternal/female line of a family. Not so here – the otherwise excellent but questionably Finnish sister of Bruck (OEBQFSOB), who is incidentally one of the more prominent ribs chefs in the family, has declined to carry the pasties standard, therefore it must be borne by yours truly.

As this is a proper technical dispatch, I must make a couple of points about scope and nomenclature.

1) The singular form of “pasties” is “pasty,” not “pastie.” This, and its pronunciation, distinguish it from the tassels attached to the mammary organs of burlesque dancers: the “a” in “pasty” is short.

2) Pasties are not part of European Finnish cuisine. This is strictly a tradition of American Finns.

3) The Finnish pasty is composed of an outer pastry filled with beef, pork, potatoes, onions, carrots, rutabaga (yellow turnip), butter, salt, and pepper. The traditional Cornish pasty does not contain carrots, and is seasoned with parsley. There may be other variations that I’m not aware of. There are some construction differences as well, but that’s outside the scope of today’s dispatch. And to clarify things for the pasties tourist, here are some things that do not appear in a proper Finnish Pasty:
  • ·         Chicken or other meats
  • ·         Hamburger or other ground meat and filling
  • ·         Gravy
  • ·         Peas or other vegetables
  • ·         Tuna
  • ·         Other seasonings
  • ·         Pretty much anything not listed above.
Now I’m fully cognizant of the loose tolerances that have been placed on the definition of pasties over the years, particularly by restaurants specializing in same, and I’m also aware that quibbling over esoteric details does not get you invited to the after-party party, therefore instead of taking up arms in the matter, I would encourage pasty purists to simply deal with the matter by forming air quotes in their heads when someone purports a non-conventional pasty, and keep the eye rolling as discreet as possible.

For my faithful readers not currently engaged in the debate, I would say this: if a nuclear physicist apprises you of the contents of reactor fuel, you wouldn’t debate it, right? You wouldn’t think, well, can’t we save a few bucks by substituting copper for uranium, would you? All I’m asking is that you afford the same respect to the Finnish Pasty chef.

Here’s the recipe from the archives of the Ancestors of Bruck:

 Well, obviously not directly from said archives - we put it into a doc file. If you are over 40, you may need to blow this up: right-click on the image, select "view image," and hit ctrl-plus or command-plus as needed.

If this were all there was to it, we could stop here, but critical aspects of the all-important technique are not specified. There are three main steps: pastry dough, filling, construction, and cooking (okay, that’s four steps, just seeing if you’re paying attention).

If you’re still reading by now, I figure there’s some chance you’re thinking about trying to make some yourself, so let’s discuss timing. Working backwards from meal time, pasties take about an hour to cook. Prior to that, they take an hour to assemble (budget more for your maiden voyage); and preceding that, it takes about an hour to cut up the meat and vegetables. The pastry dough is best made the day before – it should sit in the refrigerator at least four hours but ideally overnight, and then it needs to come to room temperature. If you’re making the pastry dough and the pasties the same day, budget about an hour to make it. It’s best to cut the meat while it’s partially frozen, so it should also freeze overnight, then thaw about a half hour to an hour prior to cutting.

Step 1) The Pastry Dough

Note about ingredients: “oleo” is also known as “margarine.” Fleischmann’s margarine is recommended, if your grocer carries it. In addition to the ingredients, you’ll need a pastry cutter, a large bowl, measuring cups and spoons, other utensils, and nine raisins (nuts, candies, or shots of tequila may be substituted for raisins).

Measure out nine level cups of flour into the bowl, eating one raisin after each, to help you keep count. Add the salt and mix evenly.


Next, cut in the shortening and margarine, in approximately tablespoon-sized chunks. Agitate with a mixing spoon, but not too thoroughly – stop when the granularity looks to be about 1/2” to 1/4” on the average, and no tangible amounts of shortening remain. Be sure to scoop from the bottom up, so as to mix in all the dry flour.

Meanwhile, prepare about two cups of ice water. To complete the dough, form a depression in the flour/shortening mixture, add a few tablespoons of cold water, and mix it in until a portion of the flour/shortening turns into firm dough and push it to the side. Repeat until all the flour/shortening is converted to dough, which will consume about two cups of ice water. Make the dough a little drier than your instincts would advise – it will cure in the refrigerator.

Form the dough into a ball as shown, wrap it in a few layers of waxed paper, pressing out as much air as possible, and put it into the refrigerator. Overnight works best, but at least four hours are required.

Step 2) The Filling

At this point, you should take your dough out of the fridge, to let it come to room temperature by the time you’re ready to use it.

Note, the actual number of individual items shown may differ from the recipe shown above – onions and potatoes don’t come in standard sizes. This is where the judgment of the inestimable mother of Bruck (IMOB), with her experience making thousands of pasties comes into play. In my more limited experience on the order of dozens, I’ve always ended up with extra filling. The important part is the ratio of components, and we’ll talk about how best to use the leftovers later.

Peel the carrot, onions, and potatoes, and cut the rutabaga into quarters. Retain and peel one quarter of the rutabaga. Notwithstanding all that talk about starving children in India, the IMOB discards the rest. I have a favorable alternative that I’ll share later. Cut all ingredients into 1/4” to 3/8” cubes and mix. This includes the meat. As noted above, it helps to freeze the meat and then allow it to partially thaw before cutting. I also recommend an electric knife if you’ve got one (and if you don’t, they’re only about $20 on Amazon).

Step 3) Construction

You’ll need a rolling pin, a rolling sheet, small bowls of flour and salt, and a shaker of pepper. You’re going to be placing the constructed pasties on cookie sheets for baking, so line two full-size cookie sheets with aluminum foil.

Cut your dough into approximately 12 equal pieces. Take one piece out, form it into a ball, and roll it into a squarish circle (or circlish square), about 1/8” thick. Be sure to lubricate the rolling board and rolling pin with plenty of flour, and roll from the center of the ball outward.

Place one cup of filling on the bottom half of the circle (not all the way to the edge), then sprinkle it with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a couple shakes of pepper, and top it with a 1/4” pat of butter or margarine.

Carefully fold the upper half of the pastry over the mound of filling and press its edge into the bottom edge. Remove any bits of filling that find their way between the edges. Trim off any edges exceeding 1”. Crimp the edges by gently squeezing approx. 1” sections and twisting (to this day I can’t make crimps like mom’s, so I’ll show you one of hers). If there are any gaps or splits, you can roll out a small piece of pastry to patch them – make sure there are no openings in the edge or they will leak while cooking. Poke three 1” slits in the top of the pasty, about 3/4” apart.

Very carefully, put the pasty on a cookie sheet. It’s best to cup it in both hands, then slowly roll it off of the board from one hand into the other, and place it onto the cookie sheet. Arrangement: ideally, you will want to put six pasties on a sheet, four in parallel on one side and two in the remaining space of the other side, and not touching each other. If circumstance preclude this, or if you end up with more than 12 (this is not always an exact science), put the extras on a third cookie sheet and cook them separately.

Step 4) Cooking

Preheat the oven to 375F. Your oven racks should be in the middle two positions. Put one sheet on each rack, close the door, and lower the temperature to 350F. Bake for a half hour, then swap the sheets’ positions (upper to lower, lower to upper) and bake for another half hour.

Serve and enjoy! A popular side dish with pasties is “chow chow,” aka mustard pickle. Beverage pairings are the same as for red meat, which for most American Finns means beer. I tend to deviate from tradition by eating mine with ketchup, which never fails to elicit a sidelong glance from the IMOB.

Final Advisories

1) What to do with extra filling: make a pasty pie.

2) Rather than discard 3/4 of a perfectly good rutabaga: make mashed potatoes/rutabaga, with about equal parts of each.

3) The pastry doesn’t like humidity, which is why winter pasties tend to turn out better.

4) Commercial pastry: you can save a lot of time and effort by using it, but there are a few downsides:
- It doesn’t taste as good.
- It’s expensive.
- You’ll feel cheap and tawdry, having compromised your principles in the name of expediency.

5) Pasties are not health food. If you attempt to make them “lite,” by recklessly using leaner/less fattening ingredients, I can’t be responsible for the results. Full disclosure: the Finnish great-grandmother of Bruck who spoke no English (FGGMOBWSNE) used lard for shortening.

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