Grim's Grub: An underrated but still high priced kitchen tool
This invention paved the way for new types of cooking
Today, we fawn over various gadgets like the air fryer, the digital pressure cooker, blenders and stand mixers.
But we really overlook what was likely the first real kitchen gadget — an important tool that led to a great deal of variety in what we cook and eat.
For a significant portion of our early cooking history, human beings favored cooking using radiant heat. They would create a fire and then take the things they wanted to cook and put them somewhere near the fire.
The heat did the rest of the work except for occasional turning.
You could bake small things, such as flatbreads or even small loaves. You could even toast that bread.
You could skewer fish and other meats on sticks and put them next to or over the fire. Otherwise a wood plank or flat rock might be a good place to put your squirrel or trout.
Regardless of what you were making, it was roasted and that was it. That is, until about 16,000 years ago.
In Jiangxi, China, hunter-gatherer humans were experimenting with early clay cooking techniques. A common technique still used in "beggar's chicken" is to cover meat in aromatic leaves, then a layer of clay before placing the item near fire to be cooked.
When done you crack it open to find a hot, juicy feast.
This was an early precursor to cooking pottery. In Jiangxi, fragments of the earliest known pottery were found by archaeologists in a cave. Not only was this pottery shaped and baked, as all clay pottery is, but it appeared to have marks from being placed directly into the fire a second time.
The best explanation was for cooking. Some very traditional chefs in China still use beautiful clay or stone pots for cooking following the same tradition.
Native Americans were some of the most inventive when it came to the way they used cooking pots. While various indigenous people in the Americas did indeed make pottery, which they used for fat frying foods, at times they made cooking pots from organic materials.
Louis L'Amour (apparently an accomplished historian as well as cheesy novelist) said Native American tribes would sometimes weave pots from thick leaves and boil water in these pots over open fires.
So long as the flames didn't lick the leaves above the water line, they would not burn.
More often, however, they cooked with pots in a different way. Their cooking pot would be filled with water, root vegetables and meat and then they would place red, hot rocks inside of the cooking vessel.
The water would protect the vessel while also holding the hot water, which would boil.
It wasn't until approximately 5,000 years ago in the Bronze Age that the first metal pots were invented, then likely made of copper, as the secrets to smelting iron and efficiently working iron wouldn't come around for another 1,000-1,500 years.
The metal cooking pot has since spread throughout the world and taken various shapes, making new cooking methods and even more cooking gadgets possible today. They were immediately recognized as important by indigenous tribes in other countries.
Large metal "trade kettles" became the most important heirlooms among many Native American tribes in Minnesota. They revolutionized the way indigenous people processed their most important foods, including wild rice and especially maple sap, which they would previously concentrate into sugar in hollowed out logs using hot rocks and overnight freezing.
They kept them safe at their "sugar bush" camps. These kettles, rather large and heavy, would be buried deep in the ground at camp to be dug up and used again the next year.
The cooking pot made cooking what it is today. Instead of being stuck roasting everything, you suddenly had the ability to make tea, soften noodles, cook soup, bake runny batters into cake, fry meats and vegetables in deep oil and much, much more.
That's why the good ones still cost an arm and a leg.
Venison Fritters with Dipping Sauce
- 1 pound venison stew meat cubes (or beef)
- 1 cup Bisquick or similar pancake mix, or flour
- 1/4 cup cornmeal or breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan powder
- 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
- 2 eggs, beaten
- Oil for frying
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- Salt to taste
Make sure all the venison cubes are approximately 1 inch in size. Use any method you like to flatten each cube to about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thickness. This will tenderize the meat and make it cook faster.
Combine the Bisquick, cornmeal, Parmesan and lemon pepper well and place it in a wide bowl. Add the eggs to another plate.
Prepare a pot of hot oil. While it is heating, combine the sour cream, mustard, horseradish and garlic salt.
I like to line up my cook station so the meat is on a plate farthest to the left, then the plate with the eggs, then the plate with the breading, followed by the pot of oil and a large pan with paper towels for draining to the right of the pot.
Use your left hand to pick up the meat and dunk it into the egg mixture, then without touching the breading, drop it into the breading bowl. Use your dry right hand to scoop breading onto the meat and cover it, then pick it up and put it into the fryer.
Do not overcrowd the fritters. This will go a long way toward keeping your hand from caking with breading.
When the meat turns golden and floats, use a slotted spoon or tongs to move it to the plate. Add salt if needed. Serve with the sour cream dipping sauce.
Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler
Inspired by wellplated.com
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 3 pounds ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and thick sliced
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the butter in the bottom of a Dutch oven and place it into the oven until the butter has melted, then remove.
In a separate bowl, combine the peaches, honey, cornstarch, vanilla extract, cinnamon and ginger. Mix gently. In another bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Then whisk in the milk.
Gently pour the batter into the dutch oven with the butter, but do not stir. Gently spoon the fruit mixture over the top of the batter, but do not mix it.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top has turned deep gold in color and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.