Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mardi Gras Farm Table Dinner

The Mardi Gras season has always been one of my favorites times of the year, with its emphasis on conviving with loved ones & enjoying delicious meals in preparation for the Lenten Season.  This year I hosted a small group of friends for my annual Mardi Gras dinner: the Mistic Krewe of Ro Bo.  A "Krewe" is a social group that celebrates Mardi Gras, and I have been fortunate to host many wonderful friends to the farm for this event over the years!

One of the items I always serve is Robey's Red Beans and Rice.  Red beans & rice is such a simple yet hearty dish, and it can be flavored in many ways.  To make a pot, I start with cooking two cups of rice in four cups of water, following the instructions on the packet.  Once the rice is simmering, I watch it to add the red beans before all the water cooks down.  For this quantity of rice, I use three cans of red beans -- and I pour them in with the juices from the can.  This allows for plenty of liquid to enrich the flavor of the rice . . . And it allows you to simply leave the pot on a low temperature until you are ready to serve your guests!  

I like to flavor the dish with lamb sausage.  I use one pound of delicious Harrison Farm ground lamb, and brown it on the stovetop with onion salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.  I serve the lamb sausage on the side so that my guests have the option of the carnivore version or the vegetarian version of Robey's Red Beans & Rice.  It is such a simple dish to prepare, and I received many compliments on it this year.

As a tradition, I enjoy serving the red beans & rice in a dish that has been in the Harrison Farm Family for generations.  The note that sits inside of the dish when it is on the shelf reads (in the handwriting of Ina Marie Harrison dated January 14, 1970): "Tureen belonged to John Lum Harrison and Phebe Thrapp, his wife, married July 6, 1851, parents of James Virgil Harrison, grandparents of Frank Edwin Harrison, great-grandparents of Virgil Grube Harrison, great-great-grandparents of Janet Susan, Rebecca Jane, and Virgilea Ann Harrison".  In a line at the bottom of this note, dated March 23, 1983, it reads further that they were the great-great-great-grandparents of Katherine Harrison Haley and James Virgil Davidson.  Props to The Grandmother for her labeling abilities!

I shared this story with my friends who attended the Mardi Gras dinner, as well as the information that John Lum Harrison had been fortunate to survive an arsenic poisoning that had killed some of his siblings.  From family legend, David Harrison took his four oldest sons (including John) hunting one day, while the younger children stayed home with their mother Mary.  She baked biscuits for them, using "baking powder" which she had purchased recently from the store -- sadly, she had been given arsenic instead of the baking powder she had requested.  My grandfather Virgil had always told the story that the younger children eventually died of arsenic poisoning because they ate the biscuits while they were hot, but the older children survived because they did not have the biscuits until they were cold.   I can recall my grandfather telling this story whenever we would visit the cemetery at Martinsburg, where these children were buried, but I never knew the veracity of this poisoning situation.

I owe great thanks to my Emma, who investigated the scientific properties of arsenic, and was able to share this information with me after the Mardi Gras party: "So, I looked it up and arsenic poisons you by creating oxygen radicals that interfere with oxidative phosphorylation (how your cells create energy). Thus, your cells cannot create energy and die. It stands to reason that this would happen more when the arsenic was hot because heat is a form of energy. It takes energy for electrons to be displaced from the arsenic atom and create radicals. Thus, if some of your relatives ate the biscuits when they were hot there would, in theory, be more radicals that could lead to a more severe reaction (i.e. more cell necrosis). Then, when the arsenic cooled down it could be less toxic because the arsenic atoms had less energy so there were less free radicals bouncing around and messing with the cell's energy production. Another reason could be that there were antioxidants in the biscuits themselves (e.g. nuts, ground cloves) that "soaked up" some of the free radicals as the biscuits cooled down. Thus, they were less toxic to your great great great grandfather when he came back from hunting."

Family history means a great deal to me -- and my friends mean even more to me -- so bringing all of this together to celebrate one of my favorite holidays was extremely wonderful!  I hope you will have an opportunity to enjoy my recipe for Robey's Red Beans & Rice with Harrison Farm lamb sausage . . . And I encourage you to serve it with crusty French bread, and NOT homemade biscuits!