Tag Archives: Year of the Pig

The Year of the Pig – Part 4: Slightly Past the Half Way Point

Strictly speaking, I have slightly less than five months to go in my year-long pig experiment. To date, there have been half a dozen chickens + a couple of cuts of beef, one duck, and two rabbits (and a lot of lentils) supplementing our pork-focused diet.
 
I cook with lard fairly frequently, and use stock made from pork bones (as much as any other bones – see above) – in fact, I’ve got another round of bone stock in the slow cooker right now – but the majority of the half-a-pig that we picked up last May is still in the freezer. The leaf lard remains un-rendered, the kidneys, tongue, and other bits and bobs un-cooked. Though I did make Creton (Quebecois spread made from ground pork, cream – I used goat’s milk + a couple of tablespoons of lard – onion, and pie spices) from one pound of my ground pork (It makes about 3C when it’s all said and done, is thoroughly tasty on crackers.
 
I’ve learned that there’s not much eating on a pork hock, though the meat is marvelously flavourful and shreds up a treat for pulled pork sandwiches or stew (the next day, after cooking it for 8 hours). I’ve also learned that, as much as I love a good roast or braise, they don’t work so well if you need things to thaw out in less than 72 hours. Next time I buy half a pig in one go, I’ll ask our provider to have most of the hams (which aren’t cured, so they’re just more pork, basically) cut into ham steaks that I can thaw inside of 10 hours and cook like pork chops in the oven. That, alone, will probably mean we go through our half-a-pig faster than we’ve been doing.
 
On that subject: I suspect our half-a-pig will last well past May 30th (so this may become the year-and-a-half of the pig, or similar). When I started this experiment, I was more than a little worried that we would run out of pig halfway through (didn’t happen!) by eating too much meat, too often. So I made a point of cooking lentil and bean dishes once a week or so (using bone stock and poorly-rendered lard to impart hints of umami to them, so I wouldn’t call them vegetarian dishes by any stretch of the imagination) and making sure to stick with stews and pasta dishes that could use limited (left-over) pork augmented with cheese and/or beans for most of the other weekly meals.
 
Now that it’s officially Winter (seriously – December 26th involved getting a solid two feet of snow dumped on our heads, followed by -30 (with wind-chill) temperatures all of a week later), I’m more than happy to slow-cook All The Things (or at least many of the things) and rely on my preserves to get dinners on the table. At the moment, we’re both a little sick of finger food, having been eating Nibblies for the past 3+ weeks, so I’m focusing on stews and pasta dishes that make lots of use of the heaps of left-overs and stocked-up-upon root veggies[1] crowding my fridge, while still being hearty and filling and requiring of a fork to enjoy. It’s working out quite nicely, I don’t mind saying. It turns out that left-over creton makes a really lovely addition to a molee sauce (the pie spices do it), and pot-pie-without-the-pie (parboiled root veggies & nuts, fried onions & mushrooms, leftover meat of whatever variety, and alfredo sauce[2], all mixed up in a well-greased skillet and topped with parmasan cheese, then baked for 20 minutes until everything’s bubbly) is shockingly delicious and an amazing way to use up Leftover Everything.
 
Going forward, I have no idea if I’ll use up the rest of Francis The Pig more quickly, now that it’s winter and the thought of having the oven on for hours isn’t anathema. I confess to hoping that my experiment in economic and ethical eating spills over well past the 1-year point and we are munching on Francis until next October or similar, but we shall see.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] When I did the Big Stock-Up of goodies for Winter Solstice – a grocery-run that includes something like 10L of non-booze-based beverages – I got everything delivered to my door. So, naturally, I made sure to invest in HUGE bags of baby potatoes, onions, and carrots while I was at it. Like you do.
 
[2] which I finally bit the bullet and made from scratch. It’s marvelously easy, and super-cheap even with the parmesan cheese involved, so I’ve been making a lot of it… and wanting to invest in a Pressure Canner that much more as a result. >.>

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The year of the Pig – Part 3: Building a Routine

So, eight million years ago, Calamity Jane (from Apron Stringz) wrote a post about The Incredible Power of Habit. It’s coming to mind frequently these days, as I seem to forever be trying to get myself back into the swing of things.
 
I made bread this morning. After a week or two of seasonally-typical (so 35C+ and very humid) weather, the temperatures dropped back into very-easily-bearable range and it no-longer feels like torture to consider turning on the stove, never mind the oven. But it takes so little time to get out of the habit of doing something. Baking bread is one thing. Cooking dinners is, to some extent, another[1], although you do eventually have to eat, so.
 
In my case, the main difficulty with having ordered the majority of my year’s animal flesh all in one go? Is remembering to thaw it out. Building “Thaw out this Friday’s roast, in a bowl in the fridge, starting on Tuesday” into the routine of my week has so far proven to be a bit difficult. You wouldn’t think it would be. How hard is it to haul a 4lb chunk of shoulder or ham roast out of the deep freeze, chuck it (paper wrapper and all) into a mixing bowl, and set it in the bottom of the fridge where I can forget about it for a few days? And yet I’m still not up to speed on how long it actually takes four pounds of muscle to go from rock-hard-and-iced-over to raw-and-ready-for-the-oven.
 
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a house where we routinely let meat thaw at room temperature, in the sink[2] (and also routinely at chicken legs or pork chops rather than shoulder roasts, but that’s a different story), but I forget that something that’s been in a super-cold chest freezer, one that only gets opened about once a week, if that, is going to take considerably longer to thaw out that something that’s been living in the fridge-top freezer, which gets opened any time someone (i.e.: me) wants berries or ice cream or frozen greens… And it’ll take even longer if I do the thawing at 10C rather than 21C (or 35C, if we’re talking right now).
 
All-of-which is just excuses, of course.
Tomorrow starts a new week and, if I make a point of being on the ball about it, I will haul a 4lb roast out of the deep freeze[3], set it in a mixing bowl in the bottom of my fridge, and let it do its thing (conveniently making it a little easier to keep my fridge cool at the same time).
 
Fingers crossed.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] I think we ate out about three times in the past ten days, and made nachos for dinner one night – as in: we opened up a bag of tortilla chips and sprinkled sliced tomatoes and cheddar cheese, plus the last jar of my 2014 tomato-peach salsa (just in time to make more for this year – not bad on that timing), and then broiled it for 10 minutes. Not exactly a “meal”, but it worked for what we needed and cost about 1/10th of what it would have run us at a pub (plus we didn’t buy beer or anything, so actually less than that. But whatever.
 
[2] You’ll all note that I did, in fact, manage to survive to adulthood in spite of this mode of opperation.
 
[3] Easier to do, at least, now that I’ve sorted the large cuts from the smaller ones (pork chops and ground), and the meat from the leaf lard & bones. I put everything into cloth bags and loaded it all back into the freezer. It takes up more space that way – which is annoying – but at least I don’t have to dig through layers of body parts trying to find the one I want, while wearing oven mitts against the burning cold.

The year of the Pig – Part 2: A Week of Francis (Summer Solstice Version)

So we’ve been eating Francis for about a month now. I can’t say it’s been wall-to-wall pork (or even wall-to-wall Francis). There have been a few sausages from Seed To Sausage, an a roast chicken in there. But this past week, I cooked a 4lb ham and this is what we’ve gotten out of it, so far:
 
Friday, June 19th: Braised ham (with potatoes, parsnips, and Various Cooking Greens)
Saturday, June 20th: I… think that was red-lentil curry with lots of (slightly woody) rappini, since that particular leafy-green/sprouting-broccoli has started bolting like there’s no tomorrow. It was… not a big hit. I mean, it tasted good, but the texture was a little bit… twiggy. This is why I started uprooting the rappini plants. I think they’ve served their time, and it’s appropriate to put some more heat-loving crops in the place they were previously occupying.
 
Sunday, June 21st: We didn’t eat at home, but I threw together a couscous dish (see below) that we ate later in the week.
 
Monday, June 22nd: Couscous with pork and (frozen) broccoli. This was basically “We have had a hell of a weekend and are stressed all the heck out” food. Not comfort food. Just food that would provide a heap of protein and some carbs (and some veggies) without too much effort or thought process needed.
 
Tuesday, June 23rd: Ham sandwiches on home-made bread (clearly) with red onion & rainbow chard, plus a “kale” salad made with the last of the rappini (which I’ve mostly pulled up in the interests of planting more squash) plus some crumbled walnuts and dried cranberries. Partially, this was because it’s easy to make sandwiches and salad for four (technically salad for five, actually), and partly because we had a power-outage yesterday that lasted 3-4 hours (nothing spoiled – the ice cream even stayed solid), right over the dinner period. I figured that sandwiches were a good bet.
 
I’ve still got a fair bit of pork left over, even after making a couple of sandwiches for my lovely wife to take to work this morning, so I’m thinking we can probably make it stretch quite easily to the next Fabulous Friday Dinner (which might be a shoulder roast, this time ’round) by doing a noodle dish tonight (ham + garlic scapes + cilantro + rainbow chard + some egg-drops, fried up with glass noodles in some sesame oil and soy sauce) and maybe a pork-heavy chili for Thursday (that would also use up some of my last remaining tomato preserves and some of the weird “prickly-mustard” that (a) is also starting to bolt, but (b) seems to do best when cooked low-and-slow in a liquid).
 
So that’s what a week worth of Francis looks like.
Other weeks will look different.
Like maybe we have pork chops one night, and/or bacon one morning, but the rest of the week is pasta with alfredo sauce, salads made with garden greens, nuts & dried fruit, or bean-based dishes that include onions and kale sauteed in bacon grease and grain cooked in bone stock. I’m hoping that, as the garden continues to produce delicious edibles, we’ll spend the summer eating veggie-heavy meals.
Part of this is just: Yum, veggies. Part of it is trying to squeeze the most of our garden plots while they’re still producing lots of food and have the sun and the rain (and the nitrogen-fixing power fo the legumes) help keep them recovering and keeping on.
Part of this is: hydro is expensive. The rates just went up again, and the less often I use the oven the better. If I can get the hang of baking bread only once a week (unlikely) or baking it during the same hours that I’m roasting or braising a large cut of meat, that will help use the energy efficiently.
And, yes, some of it is wanting to make the meat last for as long as possible. I’d really like it if, in spite of not buying much meat to suplement it, our half-a-pig lasted the whole year (so until mid/late May).

The Year of the Pig – Part 1: The Garden Accompaniment and Some Formal Disclosure

So, in addition to having half a pig – Francis – in the freezer (minus two pounds of bacon – we sent one with our archivist when she moved, as you do), we also have a back yard garden. Which I’ve been yammering about pretty-much endlessly since we put the raised beds together and got the soil trucked in.
See, the other part of this year-long (or however long Francis lasts) adventure in local critter is local veggies. And, yes, we’ve been doing the “eat local, ideally” bit for quite a few years now. I seem to recall blogging about Give Cabbage a Chance back in, what, 2011? And now here I am growing it. Or, rather, growing its relatives: Red Russian Kale, Rappini and, if my guess about the Mystery Greens is correct, either Mustard Greens or Collards (not sure which, don’t entirely care).
In addition to finding out just how much pork my family of rotating adults can eat in one year without getting desperately sick of shoulder roasts, I’m also trying to find out how much food I can produce (and preserve), in my lackadaisical manner, over the course of one growing season.
 
Now, this is not Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the Blogging Version. Although, I kind of hope I wind up with something like that by the end of this. 😉 We’re not growing the vast majority of our (vegetative) food in two cubic yards of trucked-in garden soil. But I do want to see what I can produce in that two cubic yards, both in terms of how long I can stretch the harvest of those cool-weather leafy greens (currently the only harvestable veggies in the garden) and also how much I can produce, primarily through trellising, in the way of winter squash, pole beans, cucumbers, and zucchini (and tomatoes – but that’s a whole other story).
 
I’ve harvested rappini three times, so far, and snipped the greens off some (perennial) Vietnamese garlic maybe twice. This means we’ve had rappini in dinner three times, and Vietnamese garlic in dinner twice. But it also means I have five cups of blanched rappini already frozen for winter use. It doesn’t sound like much. In reality, it’s not much. But it feels like a really good start.
I’m also – because this is the way of things – trying to use up the last of my 2014 preserves. Having spent the winter feeding our Archivist (who has some food allergies), it’s not surprising that what I’ve got lingering just happens to be stuff she can’t eat without getting sick. Now that she’s off and moved, I’m trying to remember to include things like tomato sauce and salsa in our regular meals (her allergy is not to tomatoes, thank goodness, but it’s going to mean some recipe tweaking in a few places).
 
I want to point out – “for the record”, I guess – that I have a fair number of privileges that let me run this kind of experiment. The main one being that I have a tonne of time on my hands. I work casual hours as a model (think 30-40 hrs/month, rather than per week) and otherwise mostly do freelance work from home. A significant part of my “job” is keeping us fed, by hook or by crook, and being able to do so from a pre-paid stockpile of animal protein plus a vegetable garden that’s been set up in good, clean (trucked in) garden-dirt, rather than from dandelion greens and wild grape leaves growing in the lead-contaminated soil of our freeway-adjacent neighbourhood, is kind of a load off my mind. I get that most people – most people who work one or more day-jobs outside their homes, most people who have a bundle of little kids or sick parents or other family members to look after – don’t have that kind of time. And a great many of us, particularly in urban neighbourhoods, don’t have that kind of space, either. It’s all well and good to talk about window-boxes and making sprouts in a jar on your kitchen counter, but there is a massive difference in what you can grow – without a lot of know-how or bags of Miracle Grow – in two cubic yards of soil versus in pots that are small enough to fit on a balcony. Having done both, the difference is already staggering, and I’ve only harvested cooking greens so far.
 
So that’s my bit of personal disclosure, in relation to what I’m hoping to learn/grow/create/discover (how many more inspirational words can I tack onto this plan?) over the course of the coming year: I have tonnes of time on my hands. Let’s see if I can’t parlay that into having tonnes of (almost free[1]) food on my hands thanks to growing a garden and preserving what I grow.
 
And, with any luck, the food that I grow will go very nicely with the food that I bought, in the form of Francis (and also a monthly bunny from our Rabbit Lady), not so long ago.
That’s the third part of this experiment. Can I (continue to) use a set collection of fairly specific ingredients – pork, rabbit, broad beans, snap beans, snap peas, various cooking greens, various summer and winter squash-type-creatures, tomatoes, and various herbs – to keep a couple of adults in meals without us going bonkers due to lack of variety?
Only time will tell (but I’ve been pretty good at it, so far).
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] If, by “almost free”, I recognize that I’ve dropped probably $50 in seed-starts and seeds, and considerably more than that on garden soil. I’m aware that, for the next year or three, I’m probably making up in “free” food what I lost by diverting hundreds of dollars of grocery money to the Dirt Fund. Like I probably harvested $6-$8 worth of rappini today. Bringing the total up to about $20 of “free food” that we’ve eaten or preserved from the garden so far. That is less than 10% of the cost of the soil in my garden beds. But if I can keep harvesting rappini – and kale, and chard, and tomatoes and zucchini and winter squash – from my garden, and pull 50 harvests of about that size? I’ll have “paid off” my garden start-up costs in one season.

The Year of the Pig – Part 0: The Pre-Game Show

So. Tomorrow I go to pick up my (half of a butchered and pre-frozen) pig. It is a Large Black pig farmed by Barb Schaefer of Upper Canada Heritage Meat. There will be 10lbs or so of bacon + however-much guancale (jowl bacon) a single pig cheek will yield (no clue). There will be liver (I will make an attempt at paté). There will be bones and leaf lard. There may or may not be tongue and heart included in the 6-8lbs of ground pork I can expect. There will be roasts and braising cuts. There will not be sausages – I can get those up the street – but there will be hocks, which I’ve never cooked before but which sound like they’ll braise really well.
My Archivist and I will collect it tomorrow morning (that evening, she and my wife have a date, and I am taking my mom out for Mother’s Day cappuccino – I have jewelry to finish before then) and bring it back to the house and put it in the chest freezer.
 
There is still meat in the over-the-fridge freezer, but the chest freezer is mostly empty and ready to recieve our pig.
I am definitely cheating a little by turning down heart, tongue, and kidneys (unless they can be added to the ground). I feel a bit like I should really be going “Tripe! How do I turn TRIPE into something I actually want to put in my mouth?” (This, in spite of the fact that I eat sausages with Natural Hog Casing (read: intestines) multiple times per week. So I’m aware that a lot of this balking is a strictly head-space kind of thing (why it feels weird to prep a heart that still looks like a heart when it came from a pig but not when it came from a steer, I have no idea, other than the bit where said heart could effectively keep my own blood circulating in a pinch…)
 
So I do feel like I’m only getting my feet wet at this point. None the less, I’m glad of it. I’ve been wanting to do this – buy meat in bulk from a local, reputable farmer – for quite a few years now and it’s frankly about fucking time that I went out and did it. I’m looking forward to seeing how far this half-a-pig can stretch (I may make a point of not actually starting to eat it until June, just so I can keep a bit of a month-by-month tally) and to keeping an eye on how much Other Critter we eat – whether that’s sausages from up the street or duck/chicken/beef/fish from elsewhere around town (probably NOT all that local-sustainable-ethical-organic, to be honest) so that I have a better idea of what we go through in a year.
 
Anyway. The adventure begins!
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.