Winter at Anson Mills
I view newsletters past and future the way a mom with a brood of kids and a new one on the way might view her pregnancy: knowing what’s coming doesn’t make the delivery any easier. And this, my friends, has been an unusually difficult birth.
I grew up in Cincinnati. When I was a child, Cincinnati was so taken with its “Germanity” that the most popular book in town was titled Vas You Ever in Zinzinnati? Instead of “Excuse me?” people said “Please?” (Bitte?). Until the 1960s, its residents swilled only local German beer—and staggering amounts of it. Cincinnati was so German that even a little squirt like me born in Evansville to a couple of Hoosiers grew up eating goetta.
Goetta is an oat and cooked meat loaf whose slices take a crisp, shiny finish in a frying pan. In addition to being richly marbled with minced pork and beef and bouncy with the insouciance of oats, goetta races with black pepper and trills with laurel and allium. A uniquely satisfying winter breakfast along with a couple of fried eggs, goetta is available at butchers in Cincinnati, in grocery stores, and at diners. You can even get it at IHOP! As kids, my brother and I ate goetta with maple syrup, but I have to say, it’s pretty great with ketchup as well. No matter how it’s served, when you grow up eating goetta, you develop a real taste for it.
The fact that Cincinnati holds fast to goetta when German settlements elsewhere homogenized their heritage into mainstream America is charming, and it begs for a tale to explain goetta’s persistence. We have such a tale right here.
In the 18th century, Kentucky’s elite racehorse culture adopted farming and milling systems associated with a premium oat variety the French Huguenots in Charleston grew to “hot up” horses so they could win at the track. (You’ve heard the expression “feeling your oats”? The question was addressed to a horse—metaphorically, of course.) In the mid 1800s, when hundreds of independent brewers went to work in Cincinnati, Kentucky’s oat culture basically jumped across the Ohio River. Nice arrangement. Cincinnati was already the nation’s leading pork-packing center, the brewing industry was consuming whole oats like mad, and broken oats were leftover for goetta.
We have wanted to make goetta for years. Anson Mills actually grows the Huguenot Peelcorn Oats referenced in the story I just narrated. These oats are substantially smaller than commercial oats and are milled on the bias. Some kernels remain whole, but most are broken. See a connection? They’re perfect for goetta! But hang on, why do goetta recipes invariably stipulate “pin oats,” and what the hell are pin oats, anyway? Folks seem to think pin oats are large chunks of whole oat groats. But true pin oats come from the two rounded ends that fall away from a whole kernel when it is choked through the teeth of a gear. The remaining oat cylinder is cut into two even disks, then usually squished between two rollers and named Quaker. Pieces that elude the rollers earn the title “steel-cut oats.” Rarely, if ever, do we find true pin oats or see goetta produced from them. But never mind. The point is that classic goetta recipes require coarsely cut oats that cook much differently—and much longer—than ours. The distinction is important: traditional goetta undergoes trauma in the form of repeated simmerings: simmering pork ribs (or, in modern versions, ground pork); simmering bones with herbs and aromatics; simmering oats in stock; simmering oats, meat, and onions. Try that with Anson Mills oats and the party is over.
The number of tweaks and turns our oats demanded and the sheer volume of goetta I produced—coupled with my awareness that in recipe testing trials, one ultimately reaches a point of diminishing returns—made this the toughest newsletter child ever.
Yet in the end, Houston, we have goetta—goetta with an unsurpassed balance of toasty satiny oats and deep meatiness from minced roasted pork and beef. Sliced and fried it goes straight to patent-leather crispness. In addition to traditional loaf goetta, we offer a goetta sausage patty made with ground meat and oats. It’s a bit more approachable.
One thing I came to appreciate over the course of my long and difficult pregnancy with goetta is what a splendid contribution our small heirloom oats make to a fairly prosaic grind of sausage. I baked a meatloaf with oats in lieu of breadcrumbs and got juicy, almost buoyant, slices with a lightly chewy, satiny oat texture. Trial by goetta also drove straight into my consciousness the impact a deeply reduced homemade beef stock can have upon a humble little forcemeat, providing juiciness with extraordinary flavor depth. I drafted goetta elements and ingredients—with a key substitution of raw ground pork and beef in lieu of roasted pork spareribs and beef shanks—into “goetta sausage,” which uses rich beef stock instead of extra fat. Mix it, press it into patties, lay them in a hot pan, and you’ve got crisp, hot “goetta light” in one quarter of the time. These little toddlers are terrific.
Skip the homemade almond milk if you must, but do not skip the müsli. This raw soaked-oat cereal takes Anson Mills oats to their purist form of expression, in my view. We all know rolled-oat müsli: dusty, flinty, flavorless. You might eat müsli because you think it’s a good old-fashioned health food, or you might allow yourself to be tricked into Nestlé’s über-processed apple and cinnamon müsli—which is about as wholesome as a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats. In our müsli, soaked overnight in milk or almond milk, nothing intrudes upon the warm toasted flavor of our heirloom oats, which soften but stay pleasantly coarse, and from whose whole kernels you can drink in the natural sweetness of the milk, be it cow or almond. And homemade almond milk, oh my land! If you’ve never made it from scratch, you’ll scratch your head in wonderment. We recommend using only the two principal ingredients—oats and milk—plus some fruit and a touch of salt and sugar. More would be an insult to the innocence of this beautiful morning repast.
Finally, a postscript on our recipe for Sticky Sorghum Pudding. Dawn and I both worked diligently on this recipe, swapping it back and forth like kids on alternate weekends. The recipe itself was a wee prickly, but we’d each purchased dates of wildly different calibers, the decorative Bundt pan demanded a different approach than the standard 8-inch square, and we wanted to give the sorghum a real presence in the pudding. Ultimately, we were pretty thrilled with the results. Over the holidays I had occasion to make this dessert a couple, three times. Once it was flawless, but the other two times it weren’t so great. The steaming wasn’t doing for me—it couldn’t be relied on to produce consistently textured cakes. So we took the recipe off the site and back into the kitchen. We changed some ingredients, a couple of techniques, and, well, now we can’t wait for next holiday season. We hope you’ll give this puddn’ a fresh look. You won’t be sorry. Promise.
Here’s to the season of the umlaut, y’all, and GOOD FOOD!