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..... 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Piglet Update

So, our little group of monsters, better known as the piglets, is growing up pretty darn fast. Ruby’s three have started eating solid food, stealing it from the two moms and it’s pretty hilarious seeing a five pound piglet with an chunk of pear in it’s mouth. What’s even funnier, however, is when we bring orange slices to the fourteen pigs out in the woods and see them with an orange in the mouth, just like you or I used to do when we were kids. Plus, they make a squeaking sounds when they chew on the orange peel. So adorable...
Anyhoo, back to the piglets. As I said, they are doing quite well, as are their mothers. Garnett never had a problem, except that she got so exhausted during her farrowing that she lost one baby because she simply couldn’t get it out in time. And we all know the struggles Ruby had. But she is doing amazingly well; she has become more vocal, grunting and snorting and squealing all the time and she is producing plenty of milk and taking fine care of both her and Garnett’s offspring. She is gaining weight and looking like a fine and healthy pig once more. And thank goodness for that!
The piglets are hilarious! There is no better way to describe them, besides cute and adorable of course... One of my favorite things they do is as soon as they notice you coming, they all stop in their tracks, lift their tiny noses up, face their tiny ears forward and stare at you, trying to figure out who you are. They can’t see very well, but their smell is second to none. I will write a little about their noses sometime soon, as they are fascinating to watch. As soon as they figure out you are known to them and they feel safe, they scatter,  darting here and there, squealing and grunting as they go. They can run very fast on those little legs of theirs...
They seem to love company, and when I head down to see them to refresh their water or bring a snack for the moms, the piglets always come running, nudging you with their noses, grunting and oinking, trying to eat you pants, shoes laces, gloves, leather knife sheath and anything else that might, no matter how remote, be a tasty treat for them. They will also crawl all over you, scratch themselves on you, fall over for belly rubs, close their eyes in delight when you scratch behind the ears.... and, this is sometimes the cutest of all, they sleep in an ever changing pile. Once a piglet has made it out to the edge of the pile, he or she will crawl to the very top of the pile and wiggle themselves in. It’s hours of entertainment...

Sunday, April 8, 2012


So you know what happened with the two shoulders that came from the pig we had slaughtered a little over a week ago, but what’s happening with the rest of the pig? Well, I’ll tell you...
On Tuesday, I spent all day processing the rest of the pig. I deboned the hams and cubed the meat and fat, keeping them separate, for sausage. I cured the bellies for bacon and the loin for a Spanish style smoked pork loin, kind of like Canadian bacon, but better (sorry Canadians). I turned the cubed meat and fat into 30 pounds of sausage, in three different flavor profiles. It was a busy day of butchery and charcuterie work, so needless to say I had a great day!
I am going to give you all a basic lesson in bacon curing and sausage making, one at a time. First lesson, fresh sausage.....
Sausage making is really not that difficult, as long as you stick to a few very important rules. And buy stick, I mean strictly adhere! These rules are, in no particular order:
  1. Keep everything very very cold, the meat should be bordering on frozen, all your equipment should be kept in the freezer for at least 2 hours before you use it and all mixing, measuring, etc should be done with the meat set over a bowl of ice. Cold is key! It keeps the fat from melting, which will cause your sausage to be greasy and mealy. You want that fat to slowly melt as you cook the sausage so it basically bastes the meat inside the casing as it heats up...mmmmmmm
  1. Speaking of fat, don’t skimp! For every four pounds of meat, you will need 1 pound of fat. If you decide to go less, than you might as well not even bother to make sausage, the results will be one big disappointment. Plus, if you are using pasture raised, well sourced and non commercial pork, the fat is actually good for you, so eat your pork fat people!!
  1. Use plenty of salt. As with the fat, don’t skimp, besides a sausage that’s dry, the worse thing is a sausage that’s under-seasoned and bland.
  1. Work it! You need to emulsify, (suspend the fat in the liquid), your sausage meat to create the proper texture. This isn’t hard, but it does take a little bit of elbow grease...
You will also need some specialized equipment, mainly a meat grinder and sausage stuffer. You could get you meat ground at you local butcher, but DO NOT, under any circumstances, buy ground pork from the grocery store. If you do not have a stuffer, a pastry bag and with a stuffer attachment works OK, and you can always make unstuffed sausage for you patty and sauce needs.
OK, so here we go....
4 pounds of pork shoulder meat
1 pound of pork back fat
2.5 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp fresh ground black pepper
2 Tbsp ice water, as in, a pint glass full of ice and 2 Tbsp of water
Following the rules I have set, mix the meat, fat, salt and pepper so that the seasoning is well distributed. Grind it through your grinder with the medium plate into a bowl set over ice. Once all the meat and fat have been ground, pour in the 2 Tbsp ice water a,d start to mix vigorously. This can be done by hand, my preferred method, with a wooden spoon or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. What you are looking for is a uniform, sticky mass of sausage meat. I always with it well with both hands, then grab the whole mass of meat and slam, yes slam, the meat down into the bowl. This really works and usually only takes 3-4 good slams. The whole emulsification process should take no more than 90 seconds. 
Take a small piece of the meat and make a small patty, fry it up and taste it for seasoning. This recipe is very simple and adds little to the flavor of the pork, so it’s a good recipe if you have really great pork, for it will highlight the flavor of the meat and nothing else. 
Describing how to stuff sausage is tough, its really one of those things that somebody should show you, and I bet there are some videos on youtube that can give you a general idea. And if that’s all too much, simply use the sausage unstuffed, it’ll still be super tasty! 
If there are any questions, please let me know and I will answer them as well as I can. Bon appetite!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Smoked Pork Shoulder and BBQ Sauce Recipe!

I think it’s about time that we talk about eating some pork. All these pictures of cute little piglets has gotten us off track form the reality of this farm, which is that we raise these pigs for food, both for our own consumption and for the general public through the restaurants we sell to. 
Last wednesday, amidst all the chaos of Ruby’s horrific farrowing, Dan and I corralled one of the medium size pigs from the group of six into the trailer and drove him down to the slaughter house in Everett. We were hoping to be able to sell this guy, but that didn’t end up working out, so he is now a farm use pig, and to good use he will be. He was about 240 pounds live weight, so we got approximately 160 pounds of usable meat, which is a very manageable amount for us here. We had the butchers break the pig down into hams, shoulders, bellies, jowls, hocks, leaf fat, back fat, and one loin cut into chops, the other kept whole. We also got a bag of offal, liver, kidneys, heart and tongue. The bellies will be cured for bacon, the jowls are curing already for guancialle, the hams have been broken down for sausage, into which we will add quite a bit of the back fat. The leaf fat, this is the fat that surrounds the kidneys and the other vital organs and is the best fat on the animal, will be rendered down for lard. We packed up the chops for eating and I deboned the other loin which will be cured with lots of paprika for a smoked Spanish style pork loin.
We wanted to try some of the pork fresh and right away, so we decided to do a low and slow pork shoulder. We used a weber grill for this process, with charcoal briquettes and loads of apple wood trimmings from all the pruning we did earlier in the season. We simply seasoned the shoulder with lots of black pepper and kosher salt. A small fire, about a third of the starter chimney filled with briquettes, was started and then placed on one side of the grill, a pan of water was positioned on the other and the shoulder placed over the water. We throttled down the air vents on the grill so that the charcoal burned very slowly and the apple wood would smoke and not catch fire. Every 90 minutes or so, we would start fresh coals separately, to burn off any started fluid, and add them to the grill along with more apple wood. You’re looking to keep the temp in there around 225, but it’s hard to do on a weber, so it takes some practice and intuition. 
This process of keeping the ham in smoke at a low temperature went on for about 10 hours, the result of which was to die for. The meat was fall off the bone tender, sweet, salty and smokey. But not too smokey, as the apple wood gives off a very mellow smoke that doesn’t overpower the flavor of the meat, which is great because these pigs taste amazing! I mean, really really really good, some of the best I have ever tasted.... 
We enjoyed this tasty meat with cole-slaw, home made potato rolls and some home made BBQ sauce, a recipe for which is below. 
Sebastiaan’s  Caramelized Onion BBQ Sauce
2 Large onions, sliced paper thin
Half a stick of butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 cloves garlic, sliced thin
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups ketchup
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 heading Tbsp mustard powder
2 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp fish sauce (optional)
1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne to taste
Slice the onions as thin as you can. In a heavy bottomed pan, (cast iron works great) melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat till just frothing and add all the onions. The idea with this BBQ sauce is to start it on a base of very well caramelized onions, so this step is very important, so take your time. Over the course of about 45 minutes, cook the onions till they are super caramelized, you will need to stir it often and scrape up bits from the bottom. They should be a deep dark brown and smell very nutty. Add the garlic and cook just till fragrant. Once this has been achieved, move all the onions to one side of the pan, leaving about half the bottom exposed. To this area, add your brown sugar. We want to make a bit of a caramel with the brown sugar, so let it cook with intermittent stirring till the sugar melts and darkens by a few shapes. Deglaze the pan with the water and stir well to release any tasty bits stuck on the bottom. Then add all the other ingredients and let the sauce slowly simmer for about 30 minutes to let the flavors meld together. If you like a chunky sauce, serve the way it is, but if you like a smooth sauce, blend the whole deal in a blender. Any leftovers, if any, can be kept in the fridge for a few days.

Garnett is doing great!

Starting at about six thirty last night, Garnett starting giving birth to her litter of piglets. I was lucky enough to be there to see them all be born, help them take their first breath, clean off the membrane in which they were encased and help them find Garnett’s nipples so they could start feeding. It was incredible! Most of the piglets were breached, so Garnett had to push a bit harder, but they all came out looking great, albeit covered in that thin aforementioned membrane. 
As soon as they are born, if they weren’t immediately taking their first breath, we would give them a bit of a shake, wipe the gunk from their mouths and faces and help them upright. Within 30 seconds to a minute, they would be up and moving, instinctually trying to find mothers nipples. It was amazing! And after about 5 minutes, they were dry, clean, eating and looking like perfectly formed, tiny pigs! These animals surprise and amaze me on a daily basis. 
I had never seen a birth of any kind before, so this was a phenomenal experience. There are few words to describe it and I am just happy that I was there to help Garnett and the little ones. She gave birth to seven total, one of them, unfortunately, didn’t make it. In the excitement of it all, I got very few pictures, so for that I apologize, but there will be many to follow of the six little ones eating, sleeping, playing and doing all manner of cute piggy activities.....

Garnett herself is doing great! She’s tired, but seems content, is eating and drinking lots of water. Her piglets are nursing away and staying warm embedded in piles of straw....