Hey, who’s hungry for dirt soup? Remember a few months ago when I made dirt soup from a smoked pork shoulder and some split peas? Last week I managed to do it again with a dried nine-bean assortment, some fresh veggies, and the eau de soil, dried thyme. It wouldn’t be so bad to have a bowl or two of dirt soup, but I make soup in Dickensian soup kitchen proportions. This last batch was easily fifteen pounds, and now we’ve got scores of carefully-labeled bags of dirt soup in the freezer, awaiting a desperate moment and some flavor-masking grated cheese and olive oil. I guess I’m learning from my own mistakes, which includes knowing that smoked bones don’t taste like smoked meat, and dried thyme is absolutely no substitute for fresh thyme.
Oh, but there’s more. When trying out a new recipe (or making one up), it would best to stop halfway through and ask yourself, “Are you sure about this?” Last night I decided to make zucchini bread from this guy, one of the green aliens growing with disturbing speed and fertility in our garden.
Most recipes for zucchini bread call for up to 2 ½ cups of sugar. Hell, I could make shoe leather bread and it would taste good with enough sugar and butter. So I decided to make a savory zucchini bread so you could actually [gasp!] taste the zucchini. I found a good base recipe and basically winged the rest. Eggs? Check. Grated Parmigiano? Got it. Buttermilk? [silence] Buttermilk? We had a long-expired carton in the back of the fridge that I taste-tested once, paused, tasted again, then passed over to my wife.
Me: “Does this taste weird?
Her: “How’s it supposed to taste?”
Me: “Not sure.”
Her: “Well then how do I tell if it tastes weird?”
Me: [silence] “Okay, I’m using it.”
Into the mix it went, along with some honey, baking soda and baking powder, a mix of organic white and whole wheat flours, chopped fresh rosemary, a whole onion, two cups of grated zucchini. Wait, did you catch that? Yeah, I put an entire onion in the bread. In one loaf. I guess I was so excited about using the grating wheel on the food processor (aka spinning wheel of DEATH!) that common sense escaped me. So now I have onion bread to go with my dirt soup.
But it’s not all mistakes. I am proud to say I have enough bread-baking experience that I can experiment with pretty good results. If I’m anywhere in the world with access to wheat flour, salt, and water, I can bake up bread for one person or a hundred. I now have a skill that can transcend language and requires very few tools or equipment. Here is a pair of loaves that were conceived when I realized we were out of oatmeal. Scottish oat bread becomes molasses-flax wheat sandwich bread!