As others made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, I vowed to bring more bacon into my life. I put on my 2013 goal list to buy a 4-H animal this year and learn how to make salted meats — bacon, pancetta, prosciutto.
It was pure coincidence that I found myself, two weeks into the year, at Rudy’s — A Cook’s Paradise watching Hailey chef Chris Kastner rub a salt cure into a large pork belly. The class was announced in the Times-News Food section under the headline “Cure Your Own Bacon,” and I bought a ticket right away.
The class was a nice mix of farmers, foodies and food nerds. And me.
As Kastner prepared the meat, he talked about food — about the alder chips he gets from his carpenter friends to smoke meats, about the fermented salsa experiment using peppers grown by a friend in Hagerman, about the goat leg hanging in his friend’s wine cellar that was a failed experiment in preservation.
In so many ways, the Magic Valley is all about food. It’s grown and raised all around us. It is our scenery. The bumper sticker “No Farms, No Food” has an almost patriotic tone in the Magic Valley. To eat fresh food, grown by our neighbors, is a luxury we have that is the envy of anyone who loves to eat.
But in October the canals go dry, the fields lie fallow, and by this time of year, snow begins to drift against the back door that used to lead to the garden.
Winter hits Idaho hard, and the other side of the fresh food coin is preservation — storing, smoking, canning, fermenting.
Beyond bacon, also on my list of goals for 2013, is to start a hive or two in my backyard for honey and learn to make cheese.
I bought a gallon of milk from the Cloverleaf Creamery in Buhl, and I’ve learned a college degree’s worth about chemistry and food preparation from that one gallon of milk. Before I opened my one-person kitchen classroom, I did not realize that the Magic Valley was a hotbed for this kind of learning. It’s probably the only place you can lead a conversation with the question, “What should I do with all the extra whey in my fridge?” and get a serious, informed and passionate answer.
It’s the kind of place where someone asks, “Where can I buy a whole pork belly?” And several people in unison shout the memorized phone number for Oop’s City Market in Jerome across the room.
As Kastner talked about how he would never eat canned sauerkraut now that he’d tried the traditional, homemade, lacto-fermented recipe, the woman sitting next to me said, “These guys are experimenting with food in their garages, following traditions that people have done for thousands of years.”
There was a nostalgia in her voice, in all our voices, as we talked. As I made yogurt, I remembered my mother — when she was young and happy, with her hair pulled back loose — doing the same thing in her kitchen. And no doubt, she remembered her grandmother, a Czech ranch wife, doing the same thing in her quiet Wyoming kitchen.
As Kastner’s class wound down, I asked the woman next to me about a problem I was having setting up a draining system for the whey. Is there an idea better than the zip tie system my husband rigged in our fridge?
She said her grandmother always hung it from the faucet. “She just tied the muslin around the faucet and let it drain into the sink,” she said. “I don’t know any other way. That’s the way it’s always been done.”
Autumn Agar is the editor of the Times-News and Magicvalley.com. She can be reached at 735-3255, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter at @autumnagar or stop by the newspaper office at 132 Fairfield St. W. in Twin Falls.