Mississippi Catfish and Black Mountain Mutton

Oh my goodness, life has been busy recently. Work is intense.... I end each day feeling like my head hurts from thinking too much.

That, plus it's late September, and I've been busy preserving the last of the summer bounty for our winter use. Tomato season is officially over - I pulled up the plants on Saturday, and canned the last three pints of sauce on Monday. I picked up a big load of ground-fall apples on Sunday from Door Creek Orchard, canned 9 quarts of apple sauce on Monday, and I've got a big batch of apple butter bubbling on the stove right now.

I was up late last night finishing the apple sauce, and feeling a little stressed when Stanely said something like "You know you don't have to do all this stuff. You seem to have decided the apocalypse is coming this winter!" He's right. I'm the kind of person who likes to stay busy and active, but I've been really stressed out this month! I think my goal for next year will be to consolidate my efforts. I plan to dig a dig garden in my front yard and not be working plots scattered around the city. I also will try to share my food preservation with others as much as I can rather than do it all myself.

Now to the food. We've had a few meals recently with new and exciting local proteins. the first was a treat we picked up at the North Side farmer's market.....

Catfish cheeks! These tasty morsels were caught from the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien on Saturday and sold to us on Sunday. We ate them Monday night.

Now before anyone comments and chides me for eating Mississippi catfish let me say that I know catfish is a bottom feeder, and eating lots of fish from a wild source like the Mississippi river isn't the best idea. The DNR says that it's safe to eat these fish once a month, so I won't eat more than that. If I were pregnant I probably wouldn't eat it at all. There's a certain defiance in me too, that spurs me to eat what's local and wild and tasty. People have been eating these fish for thousands of years, and I want to be part of that.

The breading didn't stick as well as we hoped, but my gosh was this a tasty meal. Catfish breaded with cornmeal, salt, and pepper and fried in sunflower oil; perfectly baked purple potatoes with butter, and a simple cabbage and tat-soi slaw made with mayo, salt, and pepper. The fish was just awesome - a great treat from a great river.

Interesting and wonderful meal number two:

In addition to an awesome array of heirloom apples, Door Creek Orchard raises Black Welsh Mountain Sheep for wool and mutton. When I went for my annual apple haul this weekend I also picked up a package of mutton chops. At $15.99/lb, they're not cheap, but I've always wanted to give them a try. The black mountain sheet mutton is purportedly very high quality and it has a long history going back to The Middle Ages.

I've never cooked mutton before, and surprisingly, I couldn't find many recipes online to help guide me. Most of the references I found agreed that it's like lamb (not surprisingly), but a little stronger in flavor and tougher. I knew I'd have to slow cook it with some kind of sauce to keep it moist.

So, I looked at what I had in the fridge and started cooking. This was the kind of meal that I love to cook - blind, trusting my instincts and hoping for the best - it's exciting! I browned an onion and a few cloves of garlic, dredged the meat in flour and browned it in the cast iron skillet.

When the meat was nicely browned, I added these beautiful veggies: purple potatoes, yellow carrots, and summer squash from the garden, along with a Italian frying pepper from Tipi produce.

I cooked the veggies briefly with the meat, and then added a bunch of olive oil, a few cups of spicy tomato sauce that I was getting ready to can (the last of my homegrown tomatoes, hot peppers, and garlic cooked down and put through a food mill), and a dash of cream. It all went in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour or so.

Success! I was a little unsure of the sauce, but it turned out beautifully and both the meat and veggies were awesome. The mutton was awesome. We found it to be milder than most lamb we've had. The texture was very fine and lean, but not dry - almost like good venison. A few parts were a little chewy, but overall it was great. I just love discovering new foods like this!

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