Thursday, September 13, 2012


About 2 months ago, I made a a massive batch of Kimchi, which is quite possibly one of the greatest things on the face of this planet. Actually, anything fermented is quite possibly the greatest thing on earth! Where would we be without fermented foods? No beer, no bread, no kimchi, sauerkraut, sriracha, chocolate, coffee, the list goes on... It would be a sad world indeed.

Anyhoo, back to the kimchi. Amongst the many things that we planted this spring was a 50 foot row of napa cabbage, and all of this was planted for the sole purpose of making kimchi. Mid June rolled around and the Napa was just about perfect; nice tight heads that had lots of moisture and tasted great! 

How do you make kimchi? Well its actually quite simple, the hardest part is sourcing the Korean ingredients, but with the magic of the internet, that’s not too hard these days. And for those of you living in big cities (suckers, kidding, sort of) you can go to your local Asian market and pick it up there...

Because there is no point in making this in small amounts, start with about 10 pounds of napa cabbage. Cut the cabbage into quarters length wise so that the root end is still holding the leaves together. Place this in a large bowl or some other container that will easily hold the cabbage and sprinkle with half a cup of kosher salt. toss the cabbage and spend a little time working the salt in between the leaves of the cabbage. Let this stand for one hour and then toss again, and then cover and let rest for a further 3 hours or even overnight. This process will start to soften the cabbage leaves.

While your cabbage is salting, make the spice mix. For this you will need:

1 cup Korean chili powder, make sure its fine and meant for Kimchi
1 cup sweet rice flour
2 cups water
1 cup fish sauce
Half cup of sugar
10 cloves of garlic
3-4 oz of fresh ginger
10 or so green onions
3 carrots, grated
1 medium size daikon radish, grated

Whisk together the sweet rice flour and the water and bring to a simmer, whisking the whole time. This will create a glue of sorts that will make the spice mix “stick’ to the cabbage. Let cool once thickened.. (side note, this is a bitch to clean)

In a food processor, blend the garlic, green onions and the ginger into a paste with the fish sauce and the sugar. Mix in the spice mix, the carrots and daikon and once cool, the sweet rice “glue.” Taste to see where its at. Remember that this will be diluted once it gets added to the cabbage. It should be pretty spicy and a little salty.

Give the salted cabbage a quick rinse to remove excess water and squeeze, yes squeeze out any moisture and let drain. In a very clean container, add the drained cabbage and mix in the spice mixture, hands work best for this but do make sure you use gloves, as the chili can burn you hands. Once mixed well, over the container and let ferment at room temperature for at least 3 days, 5 is better and if you want it really sour, let it go for a week. After this time, pack it into smaller containers and enjoy over the next month. It will continue to ferment in the fridge, so after a month it will be really strong, but great to cook with. So are all the juices left over, but that’s for another time.

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment box.


Somehow we ended up with a slaughtered piglet that had nowhere to go, so we decided that the best thing to was to build a small pit and have an impromptu pig roast, not such a bad thing, if you ask me. I wanted to do this one a little different from the roast we had in the early spring, and because this was a much smaller pig, I decided to go it Porchetta style. This meant deboning the  whole animal while leaving it in one piece and the skin intact. I’ve done this many times before in my last life as a rocking New York City chef. 

Its quite a fun process, deboning a whole animal, especially cause this one was going to keep it’s head! I start by laying the piglet on its back and running a knife, very gently as you don’t want to pierce the skin anywhere, along both sides of the rib cage, slowly exposing the ribs and then the belly. (wow, thats sounds kinda naughty....) This gets pretty delicate because at some points there is only about a quarter inch of meat between the bone and the skin. I keep the knife pressed against the bone and follow the rib cage till I get to the spine. The tricky part is the hip bone, I separate the ball and sock joint, and then work my way around the hip bone. Once this is all free, I can then remove the whole ribcage/spine by pulling up at the neck and cutting along the top of the spine, being very careful to pot cut the skin. 

One this whole piece is removed, it gets pretty easy, just boning out the two shoulders and the two legs. After this is done, you have a whole hog that has been deboned from the inside out. I then cut off about half the hams, both for infill purposes and for to square off the end. I butterfly the ham meat that I removed and lay it on the area of the belly that is the thinest so that every slice has a good meat to skin to fat ratio. I then season the whole inside with salt and pepper and then add a thin layer of pork sausage, to add fat and flavor. The real excitement comes when I roll the whole thing back up into a tube and presto, we have Porkpedo!! 

We cooked this beats on a small cinder block pit that I built heated with charcoal and pieces of apple and oat wood. I kept the fire pretty low and let the Porkpedo cook for about 10 hours, basting it for the last few hours with garlic, maple syrup, mustard and vinegar wash. The result was epic!! Perfect tender meat encased in a shatter crisp skin...

My brother and my buddy Andy came up just for this and we had a good group of farm friend and volunteers to help it it. I was a truly fabulous meal and something we will be doing again, maybe for the October party! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Escape at the Slaughter House!

Today was slaughter day, which actually happens almost every Wednesday, as thats the day the local slaughter house does pigs. We had put the trailer in place last night, had a plan for which pig was going to meet its maker and a plan for getting him on the trailer. Dan and I have done this many times before and have gotten pretty good at it, and our confidence ended up biting us in the ass this morning. 
The load went great, this pig actually had a name, Socks, and was one of the first that I got to know when I got here. We have him some treats after we got him in the trailer and then drove him to the slaughter house. On the way I mentioned to Dan how smooth it went and that we never have any problems....I think you can see where this is going.
We get to the slaughter house, back the trailer up to the back door, (usually there are 55 gallon drums full of cow heads, but not today) open it up and start shooing the pig down the ramp and into the slaughter room. We had his nose in the room when he decided he wasn’t going in. They never really do, but today we had let our gaurd down just enough and ole Socks took full advantage of that. He spun around, and headed for the parking lot, I was able to hold him back for a second,  but at 220 pounds or so, he pushed right by me. I grabbed his ear to try to steer him back the other way, but he just drug me along with him, scrapping the crap out of my knee in the process, and I had to let go.
He took off at a slow trot across the parking lot towards the woods and the river; Dan, myself and 3 guys from the slaughter house in tow. We tried one more time to get a hold of him, but to no avail, Socks had plans of his own. He made his way into the woods, which were thankfully really thick with brambles, so we were able to contain him while one of the butchers ran off to get the inspector and a .22  
Socks was pretty calm though out this, I guess he wanted to go out on his own terms. We finally got him in somewhat cornered, and the butcher then shot him in the head, slashed his throat and let him bleed out. He was on a slope and bucking and kicking a lot, so I had to hold him down so he didn’t roll into the river, getting a lot of blood on me as a result. When his nervous system had stopped firing and he was totally gone, we drug him back on the trailer and then into the slaughter house.
This only goes to show that you always have to be on your toes around animals, they are smart and can get the better of you. We sure won’t make that mistake again...

I'm back!!!

Holy moly, its been way too long since I put anything up on this site, embarrassingly long.... its just been so busy here, so now I will start bombarding you with lots of short posts. First, turkeys!! Its hard to believe its been this long, but in early may, we got a call from the Clearville Post Office saying that we had a box that was making peeping noises. So I drove down and picked up a box of 15 Bourbon Red turkeys. They were tiny and made a super cute peeping sound. We had a box ready for them with a layer of straw, water, feed and a heat light over them. Poultry hatchlings need a very hot environment for their first couple weeks, somewhere around 110 degrees F. They lived in this box for  about a month at which time they outgrew it and they were ready to move outside and get some real sun. 
We did loose one of them quite unexpectedly, it was sick in the morning and by the afternoon it was dead, so now we are down to 14, and they all look great.
I built a large pen for them out of PVC pipe, chicken wire and some mesh netting and moved the birds out to their new home. They get moved daily so that they have fresh grass, bugs and roots to eat and a clean area to poop and pee on. Let me tell you, they are messy birds! They are also really big right now, which is great and it means that they will be huge come Thanksgiving! 
They are probably the dumbest animal we have on the farm. From what I can tell, they have two thoughts: “can I eat that?” or “that’s going to kill me!” Which must make for quite the dilemma for them come feeding time.....

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Garden

The garden is looking great. The main reason that there has been such a gap in posts is that we have been crazy busy for the last month or so getting the garden planted, weeded, watered and maintained. My days have been easily 12 hours long and that at 7 days a week, so once I get done work, it’s dinner, a few beers, maybe some target practice with the .22 and then off to bed. This leaves little time and energy to write, that’s reserved for rainy days, like today...
Lettuce field number one is in full swing, with field number 2 being a few weeks behind, meaning that we’ll be in lettuce for the rest of the summer, and there aren’t many things as tasty as fresh greens from the garden simply dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. The beets are looking amazing, as is the chard. Yesterday I picked an English pea which was so good! Unfortunately the pea patch had bad germination, so we will only have peas for house use, pea risotto anyone? 
We have plenty of potatoes now, with more on the way and our cabbages are looking great. We have a whole 50 foot row dedicated for Napa cabbage, which is destined for Kimchi, which I cant wait to make. The regular cabbage will be eaten fresh and turned into sauerkraut, another of my favorite things in the world.
We now also have just over 300 tomato plants in the ground and over 500 pepper plants, both sweet and hot. I think it will look great in a few months when all the different shapes and colors of peppers and tomatoes hanging off the plants, not to mention the amount of tomato salads, and grilled peppers we’ll be eating!

The sweet potatoes, asparagus, carrots, onions, garlic and kale are all looking very good, and we will start to harvest some of them soon. We removed all the scapes, the flower shoot, from all of the garlic and have been making pesto and using them instead of garlic for weeks now. The garlic is starting to dry out and I think we are only a couple weeks away from getting it out of the ground. We have about 17 different varieties, and about that many 50’ rows, so we will have garlic galore....

Monday, June 18, 2012

First Harvest and a Recipe

Last week Thursday was out first harvest day! It wasn’t huge, but it was really great to pull some food out of the garden and to see some fruits to all of our labor. Friends and local farmers go to Cumberland every friday for the weekly farmers market, and they called us Wednesday morning asking us if we wanted to send some stuff along. It was a bit short notice, so we had to scramble to get potatoes, red and golden beets, spinach, chard, scapes, and lettuces pulled from the garden, cooled and packaged in time, but we made it happen.  
Like I said, it was really cool to get some food pulled out of the garden for market. I remember planting the seed potatoes a few months ago, burying the plants in after they reached about 6 inches tall, checking them daily for Colorado potato beetles, and then finally pulling them out of the ground to find 5-6 beautiful potatoes per plant. I cooked up some for dinner that night using my favorite technique for roasted potatoes, and they were simply amazing...
Super Tasty Roasted Potatoes
(serves 6)
2 Pounds small new potatoes
3 Tbsp butter, olive oil or lard
1 Tbsp Thyme (fresh or dried)
1 Tbsp Rosemary (fresh or dried)
1 Tbsp Paprika
Salt and Pepper
Pre heat oven to 450. Put all the potatoes in a suitable pot and cover with water. Add a bit of salt and bring the water to a boil then turn down to a simmer, once simmering, cook the potatoes till they are about half cooked. Drain through a strainer and let cool for a little so you can handle them. Using a small pot, crush the potatoes a little, so they crack in a few places and have lots of rough edges. Toss the crushed potatoes with all the spices, salt, pepper and fat and place in a single layer on a roasting sheet. Roast in the oven for 45, turning them half way through, making sure they get really nice and crispy. Enjoy!


We have so many piglets! Both Fern and Willow have given birth in the last ten days, and we now have 22, we have two more pregnant girls in the barn that are due by this weekend! We will be swimming in piglets, so much cuteness shouldn’t be allowed.
It hasn’t all been easy and fun however. Because we have four pigs pregnant at the same time, we decided that the two senior sows, Fern and Willow, who had already farrowed once before, were to give birth in the woods, while Juniper and Strawberry would be moved down to the barn to farrow. We prefer having the girls give birth in the barn as it’s close to the house and we can keep a good eye on the pigs and piglets, as well as start the socializing process of the piglets. Accidents do happen, the piglets are really small compared to their moms, and they like to hide under the hay and they run the risk of getting stepped on or squashed. This happened twice with the infamous Ruby farrowing, but because this happened in the barn, Dan and I were able to get there fast enough to save the pigs. Unfortunately with the pigs in the woods being so far away, we have had more piglet mortality than we would like. Willow lost five of her seventeen piglets and I found two dead piglets this morning in Ferns den, leaving her a total of ten.
It’s hard to see these tiny little dead bodies, and I think in the future we won’t be having pigs farrow in the woods. There are just too many variables and there is too much risk. 
The surviving piglets are doing just great! They are super cute and soft and smell like babies...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Well, after a long delay since my last post and weeks of really hard work, we finally have a rainy day which is giving me the time to write. Lots and lots has been happening here, so instead of a long post, i am going to divide all the excitement into a few shorter ones. First, we have turkeys! Just over a week ago we got a call from the Clearville Post Office saying that we had a box that was making peeping noises. So I drove down and picked up a box of 15 Narragansett turkeys. They were tiny and made a super cute peeping sound. We had a box ready for them with a layer of straw, water, feed and a heat light over them. Poultry hatchlings need a very hot environment for their first couple weeks, somewhere around 110 degrees F. 
They are now just under 2 weeks old, and are at least twice the size. They are also getting bolder and whenever we open their box, they try to fly out. I think these birds are going to be a bit of a handful once they reach full size, but they will be oh so tasty come Thanksgiving time! 

Friday, May 25, 2012


I briefly mentioned our tomato planting system in my previous post, but thought i would give  a little more detail about the whole process.
We received the plants this week from Goodness Grows who did an amazing job with them and grew some very healthy and happy plants for us. We had them grow eleven varieties of tomatoes with such great names as Black Prince or Jeanne Flamme or Brandywine. We have a total of 325 plants to put in the ground, so we will be working on that for a while as each plants gets a lot of attention, so the process is a bit slow. 
First off, we have laid out lines in the market garden so that the plants are all planted in a straight line. This doesn’t just look good, but it makes watering, weeding and harvesting much easier. Plus, we are going to lay down drip irregation, and the straight lines will make that an easy job to accomplish. 
We are planting the plants in rows of fifty plants, spaced at 4 feet apart, and the rows spaced at 15 feet apart. This might seem like a lot, but we are going to plant all of our peppers in between the rows of tomato plants, and we want plenty of space for the afore mentioned watering, weeding and harvesting. 
Once we had the lines all laid out, the planting process begins, and this starts with a hole. And its a pretty darn big hole for a plant that;s only about 8 inches tall. We go about 16 inches deep and 12 inches wide. We want this hole to be so big because we want to amend as much soil with nutrients as possible to give the tomatoes the optimal environment. But before we do that, we fill the hole with water and let it drain. This ensures that there is plenty of water deep into the ground so that the roots will grow down. If the soil deep down is dry, and we water the plats, the roots will curl and grow up to the surface, which is bad for the plant and therefore bad for us.
While the holes are draining, we transfer the soil that we removed to a large, shallow pan, and remove all the large rocks. We can’t get them all, as we would never be done with it, but we try to get the majority. We then add a custom fertilizer mix consisting of a 2-4-2 nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous mix, some more rock phosphate, kelp meal and oyster shells. This mix provides  a wide spectrum of nutrients for the tomato plant. We mix this in very well, and then dump a small amount into the bottom of the drained hole. We then sprinkle a small amount of mycorrhizae fungus directly on the root ball. Mycorrhizae?? This is a naturally acuring fungus that lives on almost all plants roots. It works with the plant to increase it’s ability to absorb water and nutrients from the soil and through that help, it increases the health and the yield of the plant. So even though it takes quite a while to get one plant into the ground, it will be totally worth it when we are swimming in tomatoes come August! 

Once this is is all done, we give the plant a final watering and move on to the next. we have done 50 thus far, so there are a few more holes to dig yet, but we have new volunteers with more on the way, so we have plenty of hands to make this go quickly. If it would just stop raining....

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quick Update

Well, its again been way too long since I posted anything, and for that I apologize. I tend towards long posts, and I think I need to just do more, and keep them short and sweet, as there is plenty happening here to write about. But there is so little time!! 
Anyhoo, so things are happening!! Tons of stuff has germinated and we now have tiny lettuce, pea, chard, spinach and beet plants. I cant wait till they all get big enough and we can start eating them. The few kale plants that made it through that April cold snap are looking great and we should be able to eat some in a week or so. The Napa Cabbage is looking great and we are hopeful that they will get large enough to use before it gets to warm. As soon as it gets hot, the cabbages stop growing, that’s why we wanted to get them in so early and gambled with the weather, which only sorta worked out for us.
We also have apples! Well, they are marble sized growths that will eventually become apples, but it’s just nice to see that the bees did their work and that we didn’t loose it all to the cold days we had while the trees were in bloom. Another thing to be looking forward too! 
Our tomatoes have arrived on farm. I drove out to friends farm a few ridges over to pick them up. They have a greenhouse business and started all of our tomato and pepper plants, as we don’t have the space or the time to deal with 325 tomato and 325 pepper plants. But they’re here now, and we have been planting them. We have fifty in the ground now and a good system worked out, but it’s raining now, so we will have to wait till the weather improves before we can get back to it...
More to come soon........

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Aaaaaah! Mange!

We are pretty vigilant here on the farm with checking the pigs overall health. This is easy to do because we spend so much time with them, so if there is something seriously wrong, or even slightly off, we notice it almost right away. There are a few things, however, that are only noticed through a more thorough inspection. Two of these issues are worms and mange. Worms are pretty easy to notice as they will be visible in and around the anus. Once we see this, the whole group will get some de-worming medication added to their feed and it goes away pretty quickly.
The beginning stages of mange are hard to find. It usually starts in the ears, and we  therefore check the inside of the pigs ears on a regular basis. Upon one such inspection, Dan saw signs of mange in two of the eldest piglets. It appears as a white and flakey crust (if I were writing about pie, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing) rather deep inside the ear. The mange is caused my a small mite similar to scabies. It’s usually carried by one pig (or other animal) and spread to the rest. It’s relatively easy to get rid of; a medication called Ivermectin does the trick. But this is administered as inter-muscular injection, so we had to prepare ourselves to give the pigs a round of shots.
The piglets weren’t going to be the problem, they are small enough to wrangle, and Garnett hasn’t been given a shot before, so she doesn’t know what’s coming. But Ruby, poor poor Ruby. She still kinda hates Dan and myself, and she can tell when things aren’t right. Thus the chase began, and after 10 minutes of running around, trying to pin and tackle her, we finally got her into a corner and gave her the shot. Garnett, on the other hand, behaved like a champ! 
Giving the piglets the shots was easy, catching them was very tiring. They are darn fast and there is a lot of room for them to run around in. But all you gotta do is get a good grip on one back leg, and you’re golden. Then you need to pick it up by both back legs and take it to the other side of the electric fence all the while trying to avoid to a pair of very angry mothers! I was a bit worried as Ruby had actually cut Dan’s leg yesterday when she got cranky with him, and I was thinking that this was the moment when she was going to get her revenge: get the guy with the screaming piglet in his arms!!
Yet we were successful and the medication should take care of the mange in a matter of days. We are off to the woods now to see if any of the larger pigs have mange, if so, we are in for an exhausting day, as none of those pigs are small enough to wrangle and there are almost no spots to pin them down in, so I have my fingers crossed...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


So, if you were wondering why there hasn’t been a post in a while, it’s because I have been off farm for the last 5 days. I went down to DC to do some marketing, you see. I spent two days making sausage, pate and slow smoked pork shoulder, as well as packing up really nice pork chops and canning lard. We wanted to send down a very nice sample package so that any potential buyers could try as many parts of the pig as possible so they could get a really good idea of what our pigs are all about. 
I had appointments at seven different places across DC. Some were small, local spots and others were huge restaurants that are part of large restaurant groups. The majority of them seemed very excited about the product and the story behind it, so hopefully we will get some business out of it. If nothing else, we now have an outlet for all of our eggs, so that’s pretty fantastic.
I spent the rest of my time away in Riner Virginia at my friends square dance workshop weekend, which was more fun than should be allowed. It will energize me for months to come.
When I got back to the farm sunday afternoon, I could immediately tell that things had changed quite a bit. The potatoes have sent up their greens, and once they are all a bit larger, we will start mounding the dirt up and over the greens. Potatoes grow upwards, so we want to mound the soil over the emerging plants to give them ample room to grow those tasty tubers. 
The peas, chard, spinach and beets have all germinated and are looking great in their neat little rows. Dan and Ed also spent a day planting sweet potatoes. These grow in the opposite direction of regular potatoes, and are therefore planted in raised beds so that they have extra room to grow down. If all goes well, this planting could potentially yield a thousand pounds of sweet potatoes. Sweet potato pie anyone?
The onions and garlic are also looking great, and with the rain we are currently getting and the warm sunny days that are forecasted for later this week, hopefully we’ll have our first garlic scapes very soon. Once we do, I’ll let you know all about these tasty treats...

The piglets look great! They all grew a lot, especially out little runt, Tiny. His color has changed and he looks like he’ll catch up with his bigger siblings pretty quickly. They all came running over when I went to see them and I would like to think that they missed me, but in reality they probably just thought that I had food for them, and once they realized I didn’t, they proceeded to eat my shoelaces, as they are want to do....

Friday, April 27, 2012

Life has been plugging along very nicely here on the farm. Last weekend was very exciting, with the pig roast and all and lots of people coming out to eat copious amounts of pork and to support the farm. We had decent weather, with some rain, which was kind enough to come while we were all in the barn and stop in time for us to have a massive bonfire.
I had been thinking and stressing about this roast for so long, that by then end of the night I wasn’t able to stay awake and I was exhausted the day after. I lost quite a bit of sleep thinking about all the things that could go wrong with the pig. Mostly the flipping of the pig, what if it had fallen apart over the ashes and coals?! But none of the things I was worried about happened, and the pig tasted so very very good!
Dan and I got up and four-thirty to get the pig started, we had built a square pit the day before, using cinder blocks staked two high. We made two racks from rebar tied together with wire. We need two so that we can flip the pig half way through the cooking process. The pig had also been prepped the day before, we used a hatchet to break the spine from the inside so we could flatten the pig out as much as possible. I made a marinade of citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime) lots and lots of garlic, black pepper, cilantro, basil and oregano. We let the pig marinate overnight and we reduced the marinade to a glaze for basting the skin. 
We built a large fire from charcoal and once it was all hot and glowing, we moved it to the four corners of the pit. The idea is to cook the pig for a very long time over indirect heat. We had fashioned a lid out of ply-wood covered in a few layers of heavy duty tin-foil, and this was placed on top after the pig was placed over the pit. Then it was nap time, as we knew it would be a long day. 
We added fresh coals to each corner every 90 minutes or so and supplemented the fire with apple wood scraps, to add a smokey flavor to the pig, and after 10 hours, it was done. I, for one, was very happy with the way it turned out; sweet, salty, crispy, fatty and tender as hell. I stood over the pig for a good half hour, picking meat with my fingers and relishing every morsel of porky goodness....
The rest of this week has been full of the usual, seeding beets, carrots, spinach and chard. Getting row after row of onions into the ground, as well as planting cherry tress and strawberry plants. Hopefully we will have enough strawberries from our dozen plants to make a pie! But I’ll settle for enough to snack on, we’ll have to wait and see.
The piglets are also doing great, they spend their days sleeping, playing and scratching themselves on just about everything. They are also getting more and more social with us. I had two of them sleeping in my lap yesterday, which was pretty darn amazing, they are just so sweet! 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Slaughter Day

If you have been following this blog from the start, then you know that one the experiences that I am most interested in is the slaughter and processing of a pig. I have butchered many whole animals at the restaurant, from pigs all the way down to quail, and many tasty creatures in between, but I have never killed anything warm blooded before, that was until yesterday. 
We are having a pig roast and season opening party this saturday, and the focus of this party is a whole roasted pig. We are building a cinderblock pit on the back field and we are going to slow roast the pig for about 10 hours till it is crispy on the outside, and fall off the bone tender and juicy on the inside. It’s going to be really freaking tasty, and if anybody wants to drive out on Saturday, please do, the pig will be ready around 4PM, message me for details.
So how do you go from a live pig, running around the woods to a perfectly roasted pig? I’ll tell you.... We have had an eye on the group of fourteen for the last two weeks trying to see which one of the pigs would be a suitable candidate for this roast. We didn’t want one that was too big, nor did we want the smallest. Our aim was to pick a pig that was about 100-110 pounds live weight, giving us a pig that’s somewhere near 75 pounds hanging weight. We knew it would be a boy, there are only 5 girls in the group of 14, and they are all slated to become mothers once they reach maturity. Out of the nine boys, there were three that were the right size, so yesterday morning, Dan and I drove the truck out into the woods with the dog carrier and a bowl of food. What’s a pig’s  death meal, you might ask? Well, freshly cooked oatmeal, lots of fruit and tons of weigh, of course.
Our plan was to lure one of the three chosen ones into the box with the food, close the door and walk off with him. This was going ok until all the other pigs caught on that there was food, and the plan went out the window, so we had to resort to wrangling him into the box, which went ok, not ideal, but ok. Into the back of the pickup he went, and we drove him back to the barn where we had everything set up and ready to go: A table for cleaning, a trough in which we could lay the pig after slaughter to do the gutting and  de-hairing, knives, gloves, a bucket to catch blood and guts, something to hang him from and a 55 gallon bucket of hot water for scalding. 
Scalding? Well, to get the hair off a pig, or chicken, turkey, or any other creature whose skin you would like to remain intact, you need to dip the whole animal into 150 degree F water for 5 min. This loosens the hair and a layer or two of skin enabling you to scrape the hair off with a sharp knife or razor blade. 
With the water at proper temperature, all our tools set out and the .22 loaded, there was nothing left to do but proceed. We opted for the .22 over a .38 or .44 based on local advice. Our neighbor uses a .22 to kill his cattle, which seems small to me, but I guess it works. The optimal spot to shoot the pig is found by drawing imaginary diagonal lines from one ear to the opposite eye so you get an X, then shoot in the middle of the X. The pig was dead instantly after Dan shot it, but it’s nervous system went into overdrive and the pig kicked and twitched a lot, getting blood all over our pants and boots before he finally settled down and remained still. We wanted to get a clean bleed, and to do this, you need the help of the heart. So as his nervous system died, we tied his feet and hung him from the rafters in the barn and quickly cut his two main arteries on either side of his throat. We knew we would get a clean bleed when the blood came out under quite a bit of pressure, which was exactly what we wanted. 
The bleeding doesn’t take too long, we let him hang about 20 minutes. Fresh blood acts in really cool ways, it sets into a gelatin seconds after it leaves the body, some cultures will even salt this blood and eat it fresh, but I don’t know enough about that to try it. Once bled, it was time to scald. The water was at 150 degrees F so in he went. We let him sit in there for a full 5 minutes and then hauled him out, which sounds easier than it was. Like I said, he weighed about 110 pounds, and dead lifting him straight up out of a 55 gallon drum set on a gas burner was no easy feat.
When we got him out, into the trough cradle he went and the de-hairing started. This was the most tedious part of the whole process and it took us about 3 hours to complete. Gently scraping, shaving and cutting away the hair with a knife, taking the utmost care not to nick the skin. The elbows and faec were the hardest parts, lots of folds and loose skin. We had sore hands and backs at the end of the day. 
Once he was just about fully hairless, we moved on to gutting him. I had done a lot of reading about this, but never seen or done it myself. You start by cutting a circle around the anus, taking extreme care not to cut the intestine, you do not want any fecal matter to touch the meat. After the anus has been cut loose, you make an incision all the way along the length of the pig, again making sure to cut shallow, as the intestines and stomach are just under the surface. Once this cut has been made, and all the intestine are exposed, it’s time to remove them. Let me tell you, it was fascinating to see what’s inside these animals. Their intestine and stomach are massive!  The whole package was about 20 pounds, which is a huge chunk of the 110 total pounds. 
We got the intestine and stomach out, and dropped them into the same bucket that had the blood. Now we moved onto removing the other organs. We have plans on eating the liver, kidneys and heart on Saturday, so those were cut out gently and cooled down. The lungs can be eaten, but I don’t have the time to learn how to cook those at the moment, so they went into the scrap bucket. Once the lungs were out, we had an empty pig. All that was left to do was clean him and cool him down. We sprayed him down very well with the hose, then wrapped him in plastic and into a cooler with loads of ice. 
I was exhausted when we were done. The act of taking a life and then concentrating very hard for 5 hours while processing the pig really takes it out of you, but I learnt so very much and I feel very good about having done it.  Nothing of this pig will be waisted, we are eating almost all of it, and what we aren’t will be taken care of by the chickens and the critter that live in the woods. It was truly a fascinating and incredible experience and something I am sure I will be doing many times again. If anybody reading this would like to see something like this, let me know, and we can figure something out.  
Lastly, I am not one for new-age, hippy non sense, but we did thank the pig for giving his life so that we can eat him, and I assure you that from the moment he was born, till the last bite is eaten, he was, and will be, treated with the utmost respect....

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In defense of the Ramp

For those who don’t know, ramps are a wild leek that is indigenous to the Appalachian region of the US. You can find them up and down the east coast starting in late March and early April and they are a very sought after vegetable for chefs and home cooks alike, especially chefs. They have a very unique flavor that has hints of garlic, sweet onion, leek and nuts. They really are very delicious and can be prepared in many different ways, the most popular being simply sautéed or pickled. I like eating them raw or pickling the bulbs and sautéing the greens as you would do spinach or chard.
There is a problem, however. Between chefs, there is a bit of a friendly competition to see who will be the first to have ramps on their menu, and this means that people start harvesting ramps when they just start poking up out of the ground. They are still premature at this point and conventional wisdom form all the locals I have spoken to, is that you shouldn’t eat them before mothers day. By that time they have developed the best flavor, the bulbs have grown to a nice size and there will be plenty for the taking.
They problem with this obsession to get the very first ramp is that it is causing a rapid depletion of the wild ramp population. It takes six years or more for one ramp plant to propagate to where you can actually start harvesting them without setting the plant back or damaging it. So, if you start taking the plants too early, you will irradiate that particular ramp patch pretty quickly. 
We have some ramps that were planted 2 years ago, and this spring we got 16 ramps. We planted another 25 or so given to us by our neighbor who has a nice patch that he started over 25 years ago with ramps he brought from West Virginia. Its a very nice ramp patch, but one restaurant in NY could use up the entire patch in one weekend, and it would take another 25 years for the ramps to re-grow to the same amount they are now! 

So, chefs, lets try to serve ramps with the respect they deserve, not just because it’s spring and you HAVE to have ramps. The ramps will thank you.....