Something Rotten This Way Comes

Ted’s taking the blog for me this week, and as is his natural bent, he’s exploring the world of food. Thanks Ted.

The journey through the history of food has taught me oh so many unexpected things. I just finished making ¾ of a pound of fresh sweet cream butter. It is SO much tastier than the stuff you get at the store, and easy to make!! Most of the cream turns into butter, but there is about a cup left over of what looks kinda like milk. Most throw this out, but I don’t. This byproduct is buttermilk, and I’m going to use it tomorrow to make some incredibly flaky, light biscuits for breakfast.Something Rotten This Way Comes

I’ve also learned that you can make butter with cream that has just started to go sour, for a more tangy flavor. In fact I’ve learned that so much of our food preparation is really NOT preventing rot, but instead controlling it, as well as learning to use the naturally occurring, healthful byproducts of preparation. Rot. What many a current day cook would think of as failure, and byproducts, what is often just discarded.

Glenda and I get our milk these days whole and non-pasteurized, non-homogenized. We let the cream float to the top for a day or two, and will skim that off, and use it to make butter or sour cream. We’ve learned that, with the non-pasteurized milk, it doesn’t necessarily go bad quickly, it sours.

A very long time ago, people discovered that just when milk was beginning to sour was the best time to turn it into yogurt. With cream, it can be, as mentioned, used to make a more tangy butter, or sour cream. Cheese is milk that has soured to the point of curdling, with the liquid pressed out from the curds, to form a solid. In this manner, people could store their milk products for up to seven years, even more!

Then there is meat. In the curing fridge downstairs I have two five-pound organic pork bellies that, a couple of weeks ago, I rubbed with a mixture of salt, brown sugar, maple syrup, and peppercorns. They have been curing in that mixture for this whole period. Think on that–two weeks, even at 45 degrees, is more than enough time for any meat to go “bad.” Tomorrow I will smoke them for about three hours, which will yield about 9.5 pounds of organic bacon. Tasty, wonderful, organic bacon.

About half a pound of fat will drip off the bacon during the smoking process, which most people think of as waste. That is only the case if one chooses so. To use that fat, tomorrow I will also smoke a brisket, a couple of racks below the bacon, so the fat will drip onto the brisket, making the brisket even more tender and tastier. Sure, the bacon will finish in the smoker several hours before the brisket, but it will have added its magic to the meat, making the tastiest barbecue you’ve ever had, and turning waste into taste!

Sausage, pepperoni, salami, ham, virtually everything you’d find on a good charcuterie tray, are all basically meats that have fermented, or “wasted.” Leavened bread, too, is a means of introducing yeast, a type of fungus, to change the very nature of flour. Yup, all controlled rot. Then there is beer, and possibly the pinnacle of controlled rot, wine.

My point? Today we think of rot as failure, and the byproducts as waste. For most of the existence of humanity, though, man has actually used rot to change the very nature of a foodstuff—sometimes even making the inedible edible, and to preserve it. Yet, today we think of rot as something bad.

We view failure the same way. We think of it as bad, or even as a terminus, and end. We also view the byproducts of having labored towards something that fails as waste. The reality, however, is that each can actually be something quite positive. Sure, if the milk starts to sour, we can throw it out, or we can make yogurt or cheese. It is our choice that makes it an ending point, or a new beginning, that will bring greater flavor and extend the life of the milk.

We have become a society of individuals coddled in instant gratification. As such, society imbues upon us the idea that a failure is always bad, and an end. That is only true if we choose to let it be. Sure, we can throw away our labor, our dreams. Or, we can let what many perceive as the rot of “failure” change both us and our dreams, making them and us better, more savory, even more rewarding and long-lasting

Where would we be as a race if every toddler, after the 20th, 30th, 100th fall said “Nah, this walking stuff is not for me, I’m obviously no good at it, time to quit.” Each of those falls can be seen as a failure. But I guarantee you that one of them turned into a somersault! Nice byproduct, eh?

How silent would the forest be if every bird chose not to sing because they did not think they were the best at it? Like rot, failure is only a bad thing, only an end if we let it be so. Our choice makes the difference. And once we are freed from the fear of failure, imagine what we can actually attain to!

So, my friends, embrace the failure as a point of change, and use the byproducts of your labors to embolden the flavor of life. Embrace it as that which brings more sweetness, more succulence to life. Do not let it stop you! Every good cook knows that peaches that are just starting to go off make the sweetest, best jam. And over-ripe bananas make the best banana bread.

The most successful, most self-actualized among us know the same is true with what appear to be failures in life. The fact is, if we never fail, it means we have never tried. Today is Monday. Meet this week without fear, but with freedom. Live Loved, Give Love, be the change this world needs. And when you trip, turn it into a somersault! Others will think you did it on purpose and be impressed. Press on!!

I just know you're itching to say something. Come on, talk to me.