On Saturday I ventured into new territory. I posted it to facebook to gauge response. I know I have quite a few readers who are vegetarian and have been vegetarian myself at different points in my life. One thing about eating locally which I think of often is that we eat way more meat than we used to.
In part this is because I’ve done a lot of reading about the ill effects soy can have on us, and especially on small children. I won’t go into that, I’ll leave you to come to terms with eating soy. I refuse to eat it and I won’t let me kids eat it. We do eat other legumes and have meatless meals several times a week but having a freezer full of local beef, pork and chicken just begs you to cook it.
Before finding local sources for pork we weren’t really eating any pork. But now that we have local sources and I have two young bacon lovers demanding it, we are going whole hog. And when I say that, I really mean it. This is the point where I advise you to stop reading now if you are vegetarian or at all squeamish. I’m deliberately not posting any images.
Last Saturday I traveled up to Ebey Farms in Everett with a van full of friends for the day. Our mission: shop for pork. By shop I mean choose, off and prepare a pig, hoof to freezer.
Since reading Omnivore’s Dilemma I’ve felt I need to take more responsibility for my food. I want to see where the animals lived and know the kind of life they led. And if that means learning it’s name then so be it. I used to think buying shrink wrapped packages of meat was more humane than hunting a wild animal. As if animals raised in confinement somehow were better equipped to end their lives so that we could eat meat. I know now there is nothing humane about buying a package at the store with no sense for how that animal lived it’s life.
Did it “express it’s pigness” while alive? Did it live naturally and enjoyably? Was it mistreated? Drugged? Confined? What kind of demise did it have? A terrifying drop to the kill floor or something quick and painless in it’s natural environment (something akin to dying in your sleep in your own bed)?
I’m not knocking anyone for buying meat in packages. I just personally feel the need to do more at this point in my life. If I could raise every meat animal we eat I would do that too. But I can’t given my physical location. My neighbors would surely object to that one! So I left that to Ebey Farm.
Ebey Farm is a very unassuming piece of land on Ebey Island. It’s a fairly new hobby farm started by a very dedicated new breed of farmer. An ex-techie, Bruce King has opted out and thrown his hat into the local food ring. He’s raising lamb, heritage turkeys, chickens and specialty pork breeds on pasture. His concern for the animals shines through when he talks about them and it’s evident in the way they are treated.
While we were there he and his partner Andrea were busy tending to a sow giving birth and Andrea later carried newborn baby pigs in her coat to keep them warm. I also watched her help a grateful pig scratch that hard to reach spot on it’s back.
These are the kinds of people I want raising my food. Practical, caring, knowledgeable. They get my food dollars and those from as many other bacon eaters as I can steer their direction.
I scheduled Saturday with some trepidation. I slept fitfully the night before. When I was a kid I collected pigs. Not because I liked bacon. Because I thought they were cute. And once you tell someone you like something you end up with a million replications of it in various guises – stuffed animals, decorated sweatshirts, slippers, banks. My room looked like a pig shrine. I even named my silver 1970 VW Bug the Silver Sow.
I didn’t eat pork for about 10 years because it would have been like eating dog. But gradually the lure of bacon won me back. Could I tough enough? I have a soft spot for animals but a weak spot where my stomach is.
We got there and Bruce had chosen two pigs for us and not fed them in 24 hours to make our job easier. While the pigs rooted around two of my friends took their positions. J used a 22 to shoot the pig in the head and stun it while L immediately used a knife to slit the jugular and quickly end the pig’s life. I opted to remain on the sidelines and I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did. Pigs are very large animals, very strong and very fast when they feel the need to be. Good kickers.
Once the pig was down and the blood done draining Bruce used a length of chain to hook the pig’s ankle up to the tractor and lifted it over the fence so that we could process it. We hosed the pig off as thoroughly as possible and began to skin it from the rear hooves down, being careful to avoid the tale and anus.
Once the skin was down to the neck region J sawed off the head. At that point we sliced very carefully into the belly to expose the organs and intestines. J loosened those while L very carefully cut around the tail and anus, loosening it. I tied off the anus with a sacrificed bit of rain coat and another friend pulled gently on the intestines to pull it through the inside of the pig. At that point the guts, anus and organs spilled out into waiting hands since we had no bucket. The last step was sawing the pig in half before putting the halves in hefty bags which Bruce drove up to Silvana Meats for me.
I could have chosen to put it in coolers and finish the process at home but I felt like I had journeyed far enough for one day and chose to head to the van driver’s house to help him process his whole pig. My pig would be expertly butchered to my specifications for fifty-three cents a pound. I feel like that was a wise investment. In fact, I could have chosen to have someone from the butchers come do what is called a “farm kill” for about $60. Then I wouldn’t have needed to be there at all. I could have simply picked up my bundles of meat from the butcher. I will be doing that next time.
Once we got back to L&J’s we set up assembly lines. L carved up packages of ribs, tenderloin roasts and loin steaks which we wrapped in freezer paper. He set the hams, jowels and bacon into salt brine to begin the curing process and set aside the picnic ham and shoulder for smoking. We pulled as much meat off any bones as possible and filled up 3 bowls of trimmings which would become sausage after cooling overnight. L put the bones on to make broth with them for savory bean soups.
Then he grilled up some loin medallions since none of us had eaten since breakfast and it was now about 5 p.m. The whole ride up I had this fear that I would have a freezer full of pork and lose my desire to eat it after going through the process. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. That pork tasted amazing. And while the whole process was something I likely won’t repeat again for lack of time, it was not the soul wrenching, self loathing, deliverance kind of day I had anticipated.
I’m looking forward to picking up my pig from Silvana Meats later this week so that I can get it home and cure my own ham, Canadian bacon, maple bacon and season and stuff sausages. I’m planning on Teriyaki, Brats, lil’ smokies and Kielbasa if I can bum some other sized casings from Silvana while I’m there. I’ll also be mixing quite a bit of sausage with Italian and breakfast flavors which I won’t stuff since we use those in patties, meatloaf, chili, pasta and on pizzas.
Even with the butcher fees my pig will cost me about $2.43 per pound. For naturally raised, pastured local pork. $2.43 per pound for bacon, ribs, achingly tender smoked pork butt and Christmas ham. And you can bet I’ll think of Bruce, Andrea and Chubby every time I serve my pork.