Category Archives: Pastured Pork

Preserve the Bounty: Peppers Four Ways and an Easy Canning Day Dinner

This is it – Summer’s last huzzah in the form of tomatoes from our bulk buys and peppers from the farmer’s market.

Why peppers? Because when the sun sets in October here in the Pacific Northwest and doesn’t reliably return until early summer, I cling to every thing bright and fiery that I can. That may be a crackling fireplace (burn bans notwithstanding), it may be a hot cuppa joe, and it certainly will be in the form of cheery, zippy peppers that I squirrel away like there is no tomorrow and stuff into every dish I can all winter long. Like a shot of schnapps in sub-zero windchill that warms my soul.

I have many favorite ways to preserve these summer beauties.

Fermented Pepper Sauce.

To make it, simply cut the tops off about 6 pounds of your favorite peppers, place them in a food processor with enough water to process them, and place them in a large jar or crock. Add 1/4 cup of whey, 1/4 cup kosher salt and a chopped head of garlic, cover with a towel and let it get bubbly on the counter for 3-5 days. When the bubbling subsides jar and refrigerate. If you like more acid, add some apple cider vinegar. You could then strain the liquid, or use it as a paste. I like to add the seeds and a bit of the paste to apple jelly or apricot preserves as I make these things, instead of making a separate batch of red pepper jelly. It tastes phenomenal on crackers with Pav’s Annette cheese, or cream cheese, or chevre.

Lactofermented Salsa

Brook introduced me to fermented salsa awhile back and it’s a personal favorite. The salsa lasts in the fridge into mid to late winter (if you’ve made enough). The flavor and color are like fresh salsa because it’s never been cooked and the nutrients and enzymes are intact and loaded with beneficial bacteria.

Quick Pickled Peppers (a Peck)

I pulled out the cherry bomb peppers from my box of mixed peppers and simply put them in mason jars covered with a mixture of equal parts water and apple cider vinegar. This will keep them pickled and perfect for winter pizzas and sandwiches when the tomatoes have run out. They are also great chopped and added to cornbread.

Smoked Jalapeno Peppers

I love these. I’m not sure what more I can say about them to convince you that you simply must try them. I love them on grilled cheese sandwiches, mixed with mayo, on hamburgers, in salsa, on nachos, in beans and bean soups, in mashed winter squash with Beechers, and in carnitas (more on that later.) They require very little active time to make and last for at least a year in the refrigerator.

To make them, simply cut off the stem end, slice the peppers in half and cold smoke for about four hours. Once that is done I dehydrate them until they are about 1/3 of their original mass and store them in the fridge in mason jars.

Try adding them to your favorite salsa recipe to alter the flavor dramatically.

An Easy Canning Day Dinner – Carnitas

In fact, the easiest ever. Cook a pork roast covered with water, a teaspoon of salt and several smoked jalapenos for several hours, until it’s fork tender. Serve with beans, salsa and fresh veg. Pickled pepper cornbread would make a most excellent side dish.

Do you have your summer bottled and ready to dispense yet?

Producer Profile: Abundant Acres

I’ve recently dipped my toes into rabbit as a means of keeping backyard meat but decided to wait a bit.  It’s true you can buy rabbit from Bill the Butcher but what a sham that turned out to be. The Bill the Butcher expose only strengthened my resolve even further to know the person raising my meat animals, know their living conditions, and know the processing method and circumstances around the animal’s death.

I’ve scrutinized farmer Brad for months now about the living conditions and the livestock feed and feel pretty comfortable recommending him. He traveled to Polyface Farms in 2008 and met briefly with Daniel Salatin before starting up his rabbit operation, attempting to make it as sustainable as possible.

A quick blurb about the ideals they strive for on the farm:

Abundant Acres Farms is the result of many years of thought, research and learning. We are committed to providing our family, friends and customers the freshest and finest pastured meats.

Located in Toledo, WA our farm was originally homesteaded in 1935. We purchased the farm from the son of the original homesteaders! At nearly 40 acres, there is plenty of fresh air, grass and water for all the animals to express their natural instincts–a trait we hope to foster and encourage.

We will never be a mass producer, rather a “boutique” for more discriminating folks who care about their family, food origin and nutritional value.

Our logo “Ceres” (pronounced Series) is the ancient Roman goddess of plants. As we are a pasture based farm, grass quality is the foundation of our farm. We seek to use rotational grazing to naturally fertilize the fields, our flock of hens will work in the manure and insure bugs and flies are kept in check.

All animals are brooded on the farm in Toledo, Washington. They begin lives on conventional feed but are moved onto grass and local, unsprayed oats and alfalfa as soon as possible.

Farmer Brad raises chickens, ducks, geese, turkey, rabbits and occasionally pigs. You can email cereshill@yahoo.com for pricing or to reserve meat animals. He also sells breeding rabbits.

We thoroughly enjoyed our rabbits from him and I got a duck for my birthday dinner which I’ll be posting on soon I hope. It was amazing dark meat – the perfect thing for a special occasion. I’m looking forward to a fine Dickensian goose for Christmas and perhaps a steamed pudding to go with it.

Have you thought much about your Thanksgiving meal? Cascade Harvest Coalition always hosts an eat local contest with some pretty nifty prizes. Now is the time to be thinking about stocking your larder and freezer for fall and winter eats and farmer Brad is a great place to start!

Guest Post – How to Cure a Ham by My Friend Mike

I blame this guest poster for getting me into charcuterie in the first place, and into smoking meat.  If there was a master smoker certification (and maybe there is) he would have credentials.  This is despite a meat curer’s handicap of being the only meat eater in a household of vegetarians so while I’ve been trying to get Mike to get 1/2 pig I realize it just doesn’t make sense for him and many others to buy meat in that quantity.  He did, however, kind-heartedly agree to smoke our ham.  That totally saved me since I was maxxed out with fridge and freezer space curing everything else.  I asked him to do a post on how to cure ham since so many of you have expressed interest in doing it yourself this fall so here is Mike’s post.

How to Cure and Smoke a Ham

I’ve enjoyed smoking and curing meats for a while now, but had never attempted a ham.  When Annette recently offered me the opportunity to share a high quality hog’s leg, it sounded like a great opportunity to try something new.  As it turned out, making your own ham is a very simple process that anyone can try, and the results were excellent.  As simple as the process was, I did manage to learn a thing or two along the way that will make it even easier next time.  For this ham I used the “American-Style Brown-Sugar-Glazed Holiday Ham” recipe from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (p. 93).

First off, the ham was huge — 20 pounds.  It required a 5-gallon bucket to fit, and 2.5 gallons of brine.  The size made working with it a bit unwieldy.  I’d go with something smaller next time, if I have a choice. This took up a lot of fridge space, so if you only have one fridge make sure your significant other is aware of what you’re up to ahead of time.

Another thing to consider is how to get the ham fully submerged in the brine – it’s gonna want to float to the top for the first few days or so.  My bucket had a lid, which helped a lot.  I put a pie plate on top of the ham and used a small plastic container as a wedge between the lid and the plate, forcing the ham to the bottom.  The plate listed a bit and took on some brine, but it never slid off the top of the ham and it remained submerged without adjustment for the full 8.5 days.  Wrapping the plate tightly with plastic wrap might have stopped it from listing.  I also tried using the pie plate and a weight, but the plate would tilt and slide off the ham, allowing the ham to float to the top.

Here’s a picture with my lid/plastic container/pie plate setup.  It seemed a little sketchy but worked:

Next, I was so focused on getting the brine together and getting the ham in it (which was done on a weeknight after the kids went to bed, and required a trip to Cash & Carry for the bucket) that I neglected to really trim off all the fat and carve out the aitch-bone.  The ham came to me with the skin removed and a lot of the fat trimmed off, so I didn’t bother trimming it further.  After it was done brining I realized that it needed further trimming and cut off about 2 pounds of fat (and also got a couple glandular-looking bits that you definitely don’t want in there).  Unfortunately, I again forgot the aitch-bone.  Next time I’ll trim it before brining and definitely get the aitch bone out, because carving the finished product was a pain with it in there, and I think the brine would’ve penetrated the interior of the ham a little better without it.

Here’s a fuzzy picture of the little gland bits, which I found at the smaller end (top when serving, bottom while still on the pig) of the ham near the bone:

Next, I brined the ham for 8.5 days, and then rested it in the fridge (uncovered) for 24 hours before smoking.  The rest period is important to allow the salt to redistribute more evenly throughout the ham and to develop a pellicle to aid in smoke absorption.  However, the recipe calls for half a day in the brine per pound, so it should have been in there for 10 full days.  I shortened the brine due to scheduling (I received the ham on a Thursday and smoked it on a Sunday) and because I was afraid of it coming out too salty.  It is definitely not too salty at all.  In addition, the brine didn’t penetrate fully so the color of the finished product varies from a pink ham look near the outside to a very pale color on the inside.  More brine time might have corrected that, and removing the aitch-bone might have helped too.  In the future I might try injecting if I get another ham that size.

I use a Weber Smokey Mountain charcoal smoker.  It has always worked well for me and I’d recommend it to anyone.  Weber recently released a new version with some updates, and also a larger 22.5-inch size.  If you plan to smoke large cuts of meat, the larger smoker is probably the way to go.  For this cook I put a large clay saucer, like you’d use under a clay flowerpot, in the water pan and covered both with foil.  I didn’t think this cut of meat would require any additional moisture, and it was very juicy at the end.  For charcoal I used Trader Joe’s house brand of briquettes, which is repackaged Rancher charcoal from The Original Charcoal Company.  I’m a big fan of this charcoal because it is made of only hard wood and natural binders.  I’ve found it provides more consistent temps for longer cooks than lump (which I often use for high-temp grilling) and is easy to work with.  For smoke wood I used six fist-sized chunks of dry maple.  Maple gives a less aggressive smoke flavor than hickory and provides an excellent aroma and taste.  I always use the “Minion Method” to start my smoker, and did so here with about 20 lit briquettes.  I should’ve used about 30 lit briquettes due to the weather, which was around 55 degrees, windy and rainy.

I took the ham out of the fridge an hour before smoking to allow it to warm up a bit.  When it went in the smoker the internal temp was only 39 degrees Fahrenheit, so that wasn’t so helpful.  Weather conditions made the cook a little tricky, and it took a few hours for the cooker to get to my target temp of 220 degrees Fahrenheit.  After that I allowed it to drift as high as 250.  I pulled the ham out after 7.5 hours when the internal temp hit the mid 150s.  Another half-hour or hour might have helped render off a little more of the internal fat and connective tissue, but the ham turned out so juicy I’m not sure I’d be willing to risk drying it out.

Here’s a pic of the ham in the smoker at the beginning of the cook.  The interior diameter of my smoker is 18.5 inches, and the ham just barely fit:

Another thing I would do differently next time involves the glaze.  I mixed the glaze according to the recipe and applied it to the ham a couple hours before it finished smoking.  The glaze is fine, but I’ll only do that again if I plan to carve and serve it right out of the smoker.  My plan for this one was to split it with Annette and carve up and freeze most of the remainder, so the glaze really just made a tasty mess.

Here’s a picture of the ham when I removed it to apply the glaze.  It would really be delicious just like this, and the smell was amazing:

Here’s a picture with the glaze on:

After glazing the ham went back in the smoker for about two more hours.  When it was done I applied another coat of glaze.  Overall, I think it turned out great.  The flavor is very good, it’s super juicy and I’m pleased with it.  If you’re looking for a holiday ham, I think this is a good recipe.  Brining the ham is as simple as mixing a few ingredients and having the time and space for the meat and the container.  Smoking is equally simple.  The ingredients are pretty standard, other than pink salt, which can be found at Butcher & Packer.  I think next time I need ham (and it’s going to be a while) I might try this recipe with a picnic shoulder, which would be a lot more manageable, size-wise.

Here is a picture of the finished product, prior to carving:

Here’s a picture of a some slices, it’s bright pink near the outside and more the color of regular roasted pork near the interior:

The Recipe from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

The Brine

1 gallon water

1 1/2 cups kosher salt

2 packed cups dark brown sugar

8 teaspoons pink salt (if using -  not necessary for safety sake though, it’s only to improve flavor & color)

1 12 to 15 pound ham, aitch bone removed (ours was closer to 20 pounds)

The Glaze

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

3/4 cup dijon mustard

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Makin’ Bacon

You’ve probably figured out by now this is a not post for the vegetarian reader.

But if you like bacon then I’m talking to you. And if you’ve ever thought even for a second about curing your own bacon then I’m beseeching you. Because this bacon brought tears to my eyes it was so amazing. Without a doubt this was the best bacon I’ve ever eaten. I give 100% of the credit not to the cures or the smoke but to the farmer. He was the one that chose these particular pigs for their meat flavor, pastured them in what sunshine we get here in Seattle, and fed them an all natural diet.

More reading of a slightly more graphic nature on that.

When you get a pig there is but one belly and a whole lot of ham to eat before you can get another pig for more belly. My house is filled with bacon lovers. So I made bacon from non-traditional cuts as well.

Anatomy of a Pig

The primal cuts from a pig are the hams (rear leg and behind), the picnic hams (front leg), the shoulders (also called the Boston Butt), the lower legs (hocks), the belly (bacon), the ribs, the small tenderloin just inside the ribs and the loin which is much larger than the tenderloin and just outside of the ribs. The loin is the section sometimes cut as pork chops when not removed from the ribs. If not handled correctly it can become dry and tough. We found that we aren’t actually that fond of pork chops but we sure do like bacon.

Increasing the Cured Meats

Cured meat is tasty but it’s also very flexible and can make a ho hum dish into an amazing dish simply by the addition of some chopped bacon or ham. It’s also one of the few homemade lunchmeats and makes a mean breakfast sammy. And then what would sun ripened tomatoes be without that first BLT of the year? So rather than cut the loin into steaks I decided to cure it like ham. I’m calling it cottage bacon. Not that we live in a cottage but it sounds more quaint to me than “war box bacon” or “tiny 1 toilet house bacon.” I’m quite pleased with the results and so is the rest of the family.

I cured the Canadian bacon, cottage bacon and breakfast bacon for about a week in the fridge before hot smoking it all on Sunday.

I find it interesting that there were only slight variations in the cures, which were all water with kosher salt and mostly one other ingredient, but the cuts all tasted so different. The Canadian bacon had garlic and thyme in the salt brine. The cottage bacon had brown sugar in the salt brine. The breakfast bacon had a salt and maple syrup rub on it. The ratio of fat to meat in each cut is really the distinguishing factor here, as well as how large the cut was since the flatter cuts absorbed more smoke and brine than the larger ones.

Each one was succulent and flavorful beyond belief in it’s own way. Each one will be the perfect addition to oh so many good meals for us into fall.

When you do your own meat you can choose how much you want to grind up into sausage versus how much you want to leave uncured for later smoking or braising versus how much you want to cure into salted, aged goodness.

I have a feeling we finally have enough bacon in the house to keep Pickle Man happy. And the really nice thing about this is that all of the bacons and ham are hot smoked so I felt completely comfortable using just kosher salt and no nitrates or nitrites or flavorings or preservatives of any kind. I know the conditions the pigs lived in, I know that they were all happy enough to still have curly tails (feedlot pigs do not because they are so stressed out they would chew each others tails off), and I know firsthand that the pig was treated with respect even in death.

All these recipes are from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn which covers not only smoking but salt curing, fresh sausages, dry curing, pates and confits. It makes all this completely approachable for the home cook and I highly recommend this book.

Maple Cured Smoked Bacon

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 – 5 pound pork belly, skin on (mine was off) and cut to fit into 2-1 gallon Ziploc bags

Combine the first 3 ingredients and rub on the pork bellies then place the bellies in the bags in a refrigerator for 7 days, turning to distribute the cure daily until the meat is firm to the touch.

Remove the belly from the brine, rinse and pat dry (I didn’t actually rinse off that maple syrup) and place it on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit to an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate the bacon overnight to firm it up before slicing as thinly as possible. Fry up a taster piece and weep like a girl. Oh wait, that was me.

Canadian Bacon

1 gallon water
1 1/2 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 bunch sage
1 bunch thyme
2 smashed garlic cloves
1 – 4 pound pork loin

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large pot and bring it to a simmer, stirring until all the ingredients have dissolved. Cool the brine then place the pork loin in it and use an overturned plate to keep it submerged in the brine for 48 hours. Remove the loin from the brine, rinse and pat dry and place it on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.

Cottage Bacon

1/2 gallon water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 loin, cut into 2 or 3 pieces

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring until all the ingredients have dissolved. Cool the brine then place the loin pieces in the brine and use an overturned plate to keep them submerged in the brine for 3-4 days. Remove the loins, rinse and pat dry and place them on a rack over a plate in the fridge for 24 hours. Hot smoke at 180 degrees Fahrenheit until they reach an internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.

I’ll leave you with an image of a gargantuan 20 pound bone-in ham which I’m hoping my friend the serious wood smoker will do a post on.  And yes, it fills a full length cookie sheet.

Happy Easter!

For the Love of Bacon

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.