Smoked Chops

When I was younger our summers always meant smoked pork chops.

I didn’t appreciate it much at the time, but my father had access to bulk buy cases of delicious, thick chops direct from the local processing facility. He did this once per year, ensuring that in our chest freezer lived a cardboard box containing about forty of these special treats, setting our family up for seven or eight really great summer meals.

Then I moved away, went to University, lived my life, started a family, and…

It turns out that these specific smoked meats are not as common in the local grocery store as my easy access to these delectable slabs of not-quite-pork chops seemed to be in my youth.

It also turns out that my wife had a similar experience growing up. Her family also caught the summer vibes of a slab of smoked pork. Her youth was also one of barbecued pink meats and camp meals made from this exclusive, elusive delicacy.

The ties that bind us, eh?

What’s up with smoked pork chops anyways, you ask?

Well, imagine a regular pork chop, but infused with a subtle smoky flavour resembling bacon, edging towards the succulent tenderness of a slice of ham, and all grilled over the hot flame of a barbecue or to a tasty crisp finish in a cast iron pan. Moist. Aromatic. A piece of meat nudged towards the perfection one imagines from a great barbecue, but heated and ready to be eated in less than fifteen minutes.

For some reason we were lamenting our inability to find these chops locally in recent a family conversation. Then last week it was my wife’s birthday. Not thinking anyone remembered that first convo, well, it turned out I was wrong… in a good way. Her folks showed up and (jokey gift kind of people that they are) cracked open a cooler full of smoked chops.

It turns out that if nostalgia could set off the smoke detector as it cooks in a thin layer of hot oil, my nostalgia would be shaped like a pork chop.

It was as good as I remembered. And I appreciate it now.

Local Flours Sours: Peace Country Rye (Part Two)

If you read my weekend article about the Peace Country Rye flour blend that set the stage for my sourdough effort, you may recall how much I was anticipating baking a great-tasting rye bread from my sourdough process.

By Sunday evening I had two hot loaves, fresh from the oven.

Then one of these sourdough loaves took a two hour drive southbound shortly after it came out of said oven. It somehow snuck into the arms of my mother-in-law who, having driven up for a Sunday visit, couldn’t escape without some bread from her favourite son-in-law, lucky-for-her timed to come out of the oven just in time for her departure.

Timing is everything with this process, after all.

The split dough proofed on the counter, shaped directly in my pair of loaf pans for nearly twelve hours prior to baking. I was up at 6am to prepare for my run. To give it the best chance for a long day of big rise, 6am is definitely not too early.

Yet twelve hours seemed long, especially considering how warm (in the high twenties Celsius) it has been outdoors this week.

Some insight from the web: I was watching a Youtube video last week about capturing wild yeast for sourdough. (The general topic tends to pop up in my feed with some frequency these days, go figure!) This particular vid had some information (among other topics) about The Science of Sourdough project that has been trying to answer the age-old question: Sourdough? How does that work? Specifically, the project seemed to be digging through an attempt to collect thousands of data points from global participants kicking off a homemade starter with the goal of discovering “how geography and different flours affect microbial growth over time, and how those microbes affect the taste and texture of bread.”

In other words, how does sourdough work, and why does my bread take twelve hours to rise while someone else might have a loaf ready to bake in half that amount of wait time?

The answer might simply be because of the yeast I caught, or the place I live, or the flour I use. Flours, yes. Yeast is everywhere after all. And it grows better in some places than others. I’m feeling that this playing around with locally milled flours may not just result in some new varieties of breads, but give me some insight to my own two-year-old starter and how viable he is. How he reacts to new things. His favourite flours, even.

Of course I kept one loaf for myself, and I can report that despite the long rise (maybe because of it) the Northern Albertan rye flour produced a great loaf with a lovely crumb, a warm hue to the bread, and the expected slightly-nuttier taste I was hoping for from a rye-white blend.

Definitely one of my favourite blends so far.

Worth the work. Worth the wait.

And since I gave one loaf away, probably a blend I’ll be repeating in a day or two. I should probably get started.

twelve hours!

A Gift of Bread

Since the pandemic began I’ve been baking a lot of sourdough.

In fact, on my way home over a year ago from my last day in the office and even as we transitioned into working-from-home mode, I stopped at the grocery store and restocked my flour supply. Then as I checked into my kitchen and fed my starter, I kicked off the first of what now accounts for almost two hundred loaves of bread.

All of it was practical. All of it was a kind of food security during a time of uncertainty. All of it was for ourselves.

And then about a month ago as we were passing through on our way to the mountains and stopping for a brief puppy-pee-break at the in-laws house, I had bagged a loaf of fresh-from-the-oven sourdough and handed it off to my mother-in-law.

A gift of bread.

The practicality of that gesture was simply that a loaf of bread was best eaten fresh by someone who would enjoy it, rather than left on our counter while we spent the weekend on mini-holiday.

The emotional aspect was that my mother-in-law had been halfway teasing that I should stop bragging about all my bread and posting photos of it on the socials if I wasn’t going to start offering to deliver to their house (an hour and a half drive away!)

So I delivered.

And this resulted in a text message the next day thanking us for the short visit and the gift, and suggesting it was probably the best bread she’d had in about a year. Great!

Food of any kind, but particularly food one has personally made, is linked to a long history of human gift giving. It is probably one of the most foundationally human things we do: make something worth eating, then give it our family, friends, or… everyone.

I had been baking bread casually in the years leading into the pandemic, and often the loaves I created were shortcuts to contributing to communal meals: something to bring to a gathering or a picnic or a thanksgiving dinner. And apart from a few gluten-adverse acquaintances, sourdough is simple enough to satisfy almost anyone, like the friend who cannot eat eggs, or my vegan pals, or even the picky folks who don’t like spicy food. Sourdough is just so basic… and yet robust enough to hold its own in that long human tradition of sharing your food with others.

There is both a universality to bread and an implied effort with sourdough. Almost everyone’s eyes light with an “Oh! You brought fresh bread!?” as you pull it from a bag and start slicing it up.

That same mother-in-law (though I only have one) put in a request earlier this week. One of our extended family just got some sad medical news (details redacted) and she was hoping we could make a delivery this weekend.

A gift of bread.

Of course we can.