There's a place just up the road from me that I make a point to visit at this time of year.
It's the kind of spot that embodies the bucolic scenery of rural New England.
There are pastoral rolling hills...
...moss-patinaed stone walls...
...ancient gnarled trees...
...steep stone steps...
...and a lake with tiny islands.
It's a magical place at any time of year, but for a few weeks in April it becomes an enchanted land of earth, water, stone, and daffodils.
Daffodils have an alluring aroma with sweet notes of honey, citrus, warm spice, and exotic fruit. However, they contain the alkaloids galanthamine and lycorine that render them highly toxic if consumed. Even deer won't touch them.
Uncle Willie's is a small restaurant in Waterbury, Connecticut that features "real down home pit bbq". It is an unassuming place, located in a strip mall and the decor is nondescript. The food is the real draw there and has garnered it many accolades; among them, Jane and Michael Stern's proclamation "one of America's top ten barbecue restaurants". Those are some big shoes to fill for a bbq joint in the Northeast, but Uncle Willie's not only fills them, but runs triathlons. In addition to their bbq, which is cooked for 12-18 hours over oak and hickory, they offer award-winning fried chicken and volcanic wings. I go there for the "like velvet" pulled pork--deeply flavored, sensual, complex with the mysteries of smoke--it is the stuff that elevates pork to mythical heights.
The pulled pork that I make at home does not even try to compete with Uncle Willie's, but it is satisfying nonetheless. I rub pork shoulder with a blend of dried herbs and spices and cook it long and slow in the oven. While it is still warm, it lends itself to compression, as I've done here. When tightly wrapped in plastic, the unctuous juices and fat will bind the shreds into a compact shape, which then releases with the pull of a fork.
The sauce is made from a butterscotch and vinegar base, to which I added pomegranate molasses and ground ancho chilies that were reconstituted in OJ. The balance of flavors hit the right notes: caramelized sweetness up front, fruit and acid roll over the tongue, grand finale of heat and spice kick in at the back. I had intended to turn this into a fluid gel, so I added agar, but then decided to present it as a sheet. The agar allows it to be heated.
The fried coleslaw brought in the elements of my favorite way to enjoy pulled pork at Uncle Willie's--the Carolina pork on a bun. Can you guess what makes it work? I'll be glad to dish if anyone can answer this riddle:
What can you add to something to make it lighter in weight and lesser in mass?
About once a month, I make a trip to Stone Wall Dairy in Cornwall Bridge. The drive takes me along some of Connecticut's most scenic roads; it winds through pristine lakeside communities, pastoral countryside, and quaint colonial villages. The scenery changes dramatically with the seasons. In autumn, the roads are clogged with "leaf peepers" in rental cars, and the landscape is licked with the colors of flame. In winter, after a snowfall, the scenes appear to be painted by Currier and Ives in monotones of black, white, and gray. In spring and summer, the countryside becomes profuse with life; crops bask in the sun-baked fields, herds of cattle loll in bucolic pastures. It is easy to lose oneself in time among these scenes. This is a landscape void of Walmarts and strip malls, where villagers shop in General Stores and cheerful attendants pump gas and wipe windshields while chatting about the weather.
Stone Wall Dairy embodies the simplicity of its' idyllic setting; the salesroom is located in a red and white painted barn, in which the door is always open, and a wooden courtesy box serves as a cash register. Their product, raw milk, comes from Jersey cows that they have chosen to raise without the use of antibiotics or synthetic hormones, and is unpasteurized. Raw milk is a living food rich in health-promoting enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial bacteria. Pasteurization sterilizes milk by exposing it to high heat, and destroys or diminishes much of what makes milk a healthy addition to our diet. Raw milk will sour naturally, while pasteurized milk will rot. Despite the transparent benefits of raw milk, it is not without controversy. Proponents of pasteurization have used fear tactics to achieve consumer acceptance. Extensive evidence and records show that raw milk from healthy cows has a high safety record and that pasteurized milk does not, having caused thousands of bacterial diseases and many fatalities. Pasteurization laws favor large, industrialized milk producers, and squeeze out the small dairy farmers. By giving farmers the right to sell unprocessed milk, they are able to make a decent living, even with small herds. Currently, the sale of raw milk is legal in 28 out of the 50 US states. I am grateful that Connecticut is among these. If you are interested in the current laws regarding your state, you can view them here.