Friday, November 30, 2012

Bringing Home the Bacon

We recently came into a significant inheritance of sorts - about 200lbs of pork resulting from the harvest of the pigs we raised this past year.  Some of that meat comes in ready-made and recognizable cuts that can be used immediately in the kitchen.  Others portions invite additional processing in order to bring out the best.  What follows are a couple of our recent adventures in curing and smoking.

When a pig is harvested, one of the biggest tasks is to get all of that meat packaged and stored.  Most of it can be vacuum sealed and stored in a freezer until ready to use (one of the great conveniences of pursuing an old task in a modern age).  But other cuts can be preserved using other methods, like curing, which will not only save freezer space but will also produce some of the very tastiest stuff we associate with the noble pig.  The primary text I've been using as a guide to this process is Ruhlman and  Polcyn's Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

The belly is one of those cuts that benefits greatly from various cure treatments.  These large slabs are a wondrous mix of tender meat and silky fat and it is here that we look for bacon.  Yes, bacon....take a moment if you need to.  This past year the world did a collective shudder as it contemplated the mere possibility of a bacon shortage - a truly terrible thing to consider.  To transform the fresh pork into salty, smokey goodness, a slab of belly is first covered with a cure.  This is a mix of salt, sugar, spices, and often (though not always) some special curing agents that protect the meat from developing certain kinds of dangerous bacteria.  The meat is then put into a large ziplock bag and placed in the fridge, where it sits in the resulting brine that leaches out.  After a week and a bit, the slab is removed and rinsed off, then allowed to dry in a fridge for about 24 hours - this preps the meat for smoking.

I prepared four large slabs of belly in basically this manner, although one slab was destined for the garage rather than the smoker (it being turned in to pancetta, the subject of a future post).  When ready, they were put into the smoker and cold-smoked for several hours over smoldering applewood chips, then transferred to the oven where they were cooked to an internal temperature of 150F.  Voila!  Bacon!  We now have more bacon that I know what to do with.....well....actually, I'm pretty sure of what to do with it.

Another great cut for curing is the ham.  This comes from the hind leg quarters and can be a large cut.  This can be cured in several ways, some roads leading to tender, sweet ham, other, longer journeys resulting in prosciutto.  I decided to debone our hams and then submerged them in a brine for about two weeks.  They sat out in our garage, protected by salty brine and cool temperatures, as they underwent a flavorful transformation.  After this, they, too, sat uncovered in the fridge to dry, then off to the smoker where they were exposed to applewood smoke for about 5 hours.  We finished them in the oven to 150F.  These hams make a fantastic feature for a big meal, the smoke flavor is superb.  You can also put them through a slicer, particularly convenient because they are boneless, and turn out your own packages of deli meat.

The quality of the product that can be produced in your own kitchen is really astounding.  The flavors are amazing - this is work that pays dividends on the time and attention given to it.  We are now able to find quality deli meats and gourmet bacon a few steps away from the kitchen, tucked safely in the freezer.  And bacon and ham are just the tip of the porkberg, so to speak.  Pancetta and guanciale are curing in the garage, developing character and flavor.  After those, there will be time to try our hand at sausage making, a product that can also benefit from salt, cure, and smoke.  The pigs just keep on giving!  Stay tuned for more charcuterie updates as time works its magic!        

Monday, November 12, 2012

The End is the Beginning

Autumn arrived in a hurry.  In a matter of days the temperature, which had been unseasonably temperate, plunged into refrigeration range.  Leaves began to fall with frantic intention, and the sky became gray and troubled.  It was time for the harvest.


If you are not interested in the rest of the post, enjoy this picture of our beautiful pigs enjoying a perfect fall day in the Yakima valley (along with their chicken friends).  For the rest of the post, continue scrolling down.

If you are still reading, I will assume that you are along for the whole ride.  The harvest day was so long anticipated, fretted over, planned and plotted that it seemed strange to see it finally arrive.  Our hogs had grown a great deal.  From their small andbutton-cute beginnings back in May, they ballooned to great size and even greater appetite.  We fed them hundreds of pounds of apples and pumpkins over the last several weeks (even getting them a little sloshed on occasion on account of fermented apples).  
Our plan was to do the whole harvest ourselves, from start to finish, slaughter to freezer.  In preparation of this my brother and I did some training at a seminar of sorts put on by the good folks at Farmstead Meatsmith.  My partner in crime, Keith, sketched and salvaged and sparked together steel structures necessary for the tasks ahead.  Knives were sharpened, equipment gathered, volunteers recruited - until in the end there was nothing left but the task itself. 

Harvesting hogs in a traditional manner takes several steps: 1) the kill; 2) scald & scrape; 3) evisceration; 4) butchering (portioning).  Each step has some special tools and set-up to accomplish, and all steps benefit from a lot of helping hands.  In this way the process has built into it the potential for a community that gathers around the shared labor.

After spending the last five months caring for these beautiful creatures, Keith and I spent a great deal of time thinking about this moment.  We were greatly invested in making sure the kill happened in the most humane manner possible.  As with so much of traditional harvesting, pursuing excellence in this arena is not only an ethical consideration but is also a practical one, as stressed animals can potentially taint the meat.  

The ethical and the practical are inextricably intertwined, a connection that becomes immediately apparent when the caretaker is also the executioner.  Our contemporary food systems sever this connection, and we become detached consumers, not invested in the care of the animals nor confronted with their death.  For some, the moment of the kill is the hardest to imagine participating in - for us, we could not imagine handing the task over to anyone else.

The pigs were killed in the paddock that they called home.  They were given a meal of cracked corn and apples which they attended to with great enthusiasm.  Keith then lined up a shot with a .22 rifle at point blank range.  The target is a specific spot on the front of the head, taking advantage of a thin spot in the otherwise impenetrable skull plate.  The shot renders the pig senseless - immediately after the shot a small team rushes in to accomplish two important tasks.  The first is to "stick" the pig, a knife is inserted at the base of the neck, angled up to nick the main arteries and create an impressive flow of blood.  

This blood is collected as it flows, possessing unique culinary potential.  It must be whisked continuously while it cools to avoid turning to one large clot as it hits oxygen.  After cooling it is filtered into jars and refrigerated, so it can be used for blood sausage. Collecting the blood is a part of the commitment to make the most efficient and total use of the animal, an ethos that flows naturally from investment of time, energy and emotion required to raise them.  It is one of the most fetching qualities of the pig - it is almost totally useful as food.  Fergus Henderson's "The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating" is a marvelous introduction to the odd bits that your local butcher may have neglected to tell you about.

After the kill and blood collection the pig is scrubbed relatively clean and then cuts are made at all four feet to open up access to some amazingly strong tendons that will be used to hang the carcass during many of the processes that follow.  What follows next is sort of a watershed event in the harvest process.  There are two schools of thought on preparing the carcass for butchering - to skin or to scald, that is the question.  We opted for the more traditional and certainly more labor intensive scald and scrape, which entails dipping the entire carcass into 145 degree water for 5 minutes and then scraping the hair and top layer of skin off of the entire carcass, nose to tail.  The result is a clean tough surface which is very easy to handle during transfer and butchering, since the skin remains intact.  But the process requires a tank large enough to handle a 380lb hog (that was the size of our largest) and a means of raising and lowering the animal.

Keith scavenged an old water tank that we estimate had a total volume of about 110 gallons.  Being handy with a plasma torch and welder, he was able to create a truly deluxe scalding tank, complete with removable lid and a ball-valve for draining the tank at the end of the day.  A little bit of paint to cover up the rust and our tank was ready for action.  Keith is also handy with a fork lift, which had more than enough capacity to handle the big job we were throwing at it.  The lift allowed us to easily transfer the pigs, hung on gambrels, to the tank for scalding and to the large metal frame that Keith constructed to hold the completed sides.  Did I mention Keith was handy?

The water temp is extremely important to achieve the best scald.  A precise 145 degrees for exactly 5 minutes - there are undoubtedly many other opinions and practices related to scalding, we found that the formula above achieved the very best results.  Mistakes made here create difficulties later, so taking time to get it right is important.  One half of the carcass is scalded at a time, and when it comes out of the tank after it's soak the work must be completed at a brisk pace.  The scurf (the layer of skin that gets removed) gets scraped off, a task made easier by a unique tool called a bell scraper.  Three or four people working quickly can scrape the half down in about 25 minutes, then the pig is flipped and the other half is done.  Final touch-ups can be done with razor-sharp knives, leaving the skin as smooth as possible.

After this the head is removed and taken away to be cleaned up properly.  There are a lot of flaps and folds on the head that have to be attended to with razor and knife in order to render the head ready for roasting or carving.  The carcass is then transferred to the evisceration area for the next steps.

Next the carcasses are opened up, using knife and saw, in order to remove the insides and divide the carcass into halves.  This is detail work requiring a steady hand - one nicked intestine can create a micro-biological mess of your meat.  Better to proceed slowly and carefully than deal with clean-up protocols.  We took few pictures of this process - but it was attended to by my brother Alex and friend Charmaine, who carefully divided the carcasses, harvesting all the usable bits from inside, including heart, livers, caul fat, etc..  The rest of the insides where bagged for disposal.  What results are clean "sides" of pork, looking an awful lot like meat - real, honest to goodness meat.  But that meat needs to be chilled before being portioned into more usable cuts suitable for a family to make use of throughout a year.  This is conveniently accomplished by leaving the sides hanging outdoors overnight, when the temperatures will drop into the upper 20's, chilling the meat to the bone and firming up the skin and fat.

The frame that Keith fabricated using scrap metal was a structure of extreme utility, accommodating all eight sides with ease.  A light dusting of snow greeted us the next morning when we arrived to pack up the sides and take them to Keith's shop for butchering.

There is a great deal of mystery surrounding the butchering of meat.  At grocery stores, technicians in white lab coats pass to and fro through opaque doors, bringing out trays of portioned and plastic-wrapped meat marked with a barcode.  What goes on back there?  We usually aren't given much access to that part of our food production, so it is easy to imagine that a great range of technical skills and specialty tools are required to transform sides of beef, pork, or lamb into usable cuts of meat.  This is not the case.  Traditional butchering utilizes a few simple tools, consisting of a small selection of knives, a cleaver, bone saw, bone scraper and cutting boards.  That's it.  By no means do I intend here to denigrate the butcher's craft - far from it.  One thing that you learn when taking on this task for oneself is that there are cuts in the meat that require skill and understanding that are the result of long training and practice.  Yet the harvest of a family hog used to be realistically in the realm of household competencies and a little imagination, optimism, and a couple of sharp knives can fully equip you for the job of side butchery.

There are great videos at the FarmsteadMeatsmith site on the particulars of side butchery, I encourage you to go check it out if you are considering taking on the task.  We set up the garage with several work stations, a host of bus tubs, vacuum-seal bags, plastic wrap, butcher paper, and enough cutlery to outfit a samurai army.  Over an 8-hour day, all of the sides were slowly transformed into bacon, rib chops, loin roasts, shoulder roasts, hams, hocks, trotters, tenderloins, and oh, so much more.  There is a kind of mysterious multiplication that happens, the amount of meat seems to increase with every cut.  The old-hat, grocery store cuts end up being pretty boring - it is heavily marbled shoulder roasts that fire the imagination, or jowl meat surrounded by silky fat, ready for curing or the grill.

The end result is a freezer full to the brim with meat of a quality that is unmatched by anything available at the local grocer.  Many pounds of pork belly now lie curing in the fridge, on their first steps in a journey that will end in bacon and pancetta.  Hams are suspended serenely in brine buckets, slowly gaining flavor through a mysterious alchemy that will eventually see them transformed into smoked and glazed masterpieces.  Our four pigs have provided enough stores for a small army, and by that provision they have facilitated the function and fellowship of a whole community as we gathered to share in the work and enjoy the fruits of that labor.  There is much, much more benefit incurred in the whole process than simply a harvest of pork...and for that we are so very grateful.  The harvest really is a gift, one to be received with gravitas and grace.

The whole process is a big work, as one might expect.  But it is deeply satisfying work.  We have found that our respect and appreciation for our animals has grown, as has our sense of confidence in our own ability to gain some control over the ways and means of acquiring the food that we feed ourselves, our families, and our community.  The experience of the death/harvest side of the cycle leads one to long for the birth/nurture side of things, and the mind races forward to spring, when young pigs will once again populate their big yard at the farm.  And so the end is the beginning of more plans, more dinners, more food adventures, more farm ambitions, and, of course, more blog posts!

A special thanks to: Keith, Alex, Charmaine, Trent, Nate P., Gabe, Bob, and Nate H. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Primal Cuts

This past Friday I traveled to the far reaches of Whidbey Island, located in the Puget Sound, to take part in an instructional class of a unique kind.  A small number of participants gathered for several days of shared work, taking two pigs from the host farm through the entire process of harvest.  Our own pigs are fast nearing their harvest date, so this was a timely opportunity to gain critical experience.


The class was hosted by the crew at Farmstead Meatsmith.  I have been lurking on their website for the better part of this past year, trying to glean from the excellent and beautiful instructional videos some of the techniques we would need to put to use as we eventually come to the task with our own animals.  Apart from the very practical discussion, you also end up getting a look at some recipes and food treatments that make it clear that those folks are foodies as well as butchers and abattoirs.  And they weave in some of their philosophical commitments that undergird their choice to get this personal with their food experience.  It is no small vision; more than an economic argument and bigger than a nostalgic look back to days past, there is a commitment to community life, to hospitality, to stewardship and to generosity.  The commitment to these values goes beyond a claim on them as the niceties of society - they are seen as vital, necessary, needful....I would say even strategic.  By that, I mean that members of a community practice these values as a way to pursue their ability to survive and thrive - and so the whole interdependent community around them does as well.

That may all sound a bit high-minded for a class on butchering a pig.  But our connections to one another, our connections to food and to the animals that we take it from, to the land that we take it from - these connections have all been weakened in our contemporary culture of commoditization.  The plastic wrapped packages of meat we buy in the store, or the neatly arranged piles of fruits or vegetables soaking under the misters in the produce aisle, these are far removed from their places and processes of origin.  Regaining a connection to our food is a way to not only regain control over the quality and economics of our food, but also a way to explore the reforging of those connective paths between our food and each other.

And now, here is a picture of a philosophical butcher in training - my brother Alex.

Alex is a shareholder in our little herd of pigs and so is also preparing for the big day.  He participated in all three days of the class, which covered topics like slaughter and evisceration, butchery and meat curing.  He also managed to harvest a deer while on the Island, a timely accomplishment considering the number of cutting boards, knives and other processing tools located at the farm site.

Our instructor was Brandon Sheard, who led us through the steps to take full sides of pork and transform them into usable cuts of meat.  The pigs had been processed the day before, so when I arrived on Friday they were already cleaned, divided, and chilled - what was left were four sides of pork.  Alex and I had one side to work with between us, and we first divided it into quarters (two shoulders, loin and side).

All of the traditional pork cuts that you might find in the grocery store can be found in these quarters, and there are some non-traditional cuts hiding in there as well.  What becomes abundantly evident early on is just how much food one pig can produce for a family or community.  Brandon made a comparison to "loaves and fishes"....with each cut, the food seems to multiply.  This abundance is part of what invites and encourages hospitality surrounding the harvest.

That hospitality was well-modeled by our host site - a picturesque farm property hidden in the deep forests of Whidbey Island, the host family provided a beautiful locale for the class.  It is hard to express just how warm the reception was - not only did we accomplish the butchering in the comfort of a large kitchen setting, we were treated to food and drink at every turn.  Homemade cheese, pickled beets and beans, spicy garden salsa, even some very local spirit distilled from apples and aged in oak.

Our quarters turned slowly, cut by cut, into pork chops, tenderloin, boston butt, picnic roasts, leaf fat, back fat and, of course, bacon.  Or at least, belly, which would eventually turn into bacon.  Or cured into pancetta.  Or roasted into delicious.  That's the thing, there are so many possibilities, one side is 150 lbs of potential - a foodie's mother lode.

The instruction was very useful, the best kind of hands-on work that I needed to feel more confident as we approach our big harvest day.  The experience gained will help insure that our own pigs' life ends in as humane and respectful way as they have lived, and that we are able to maximize the ways in which our family...and our community....will be able to benefit by that gift.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Surplus and Stitches

For the past several years I have really enjoyed the upland bird season here in the Yakima Valley.  Chasing quail, chukar, and pheasant through the big landscapes of the mountain west is one of my favorite pastimes.  One of things this kind of hunting has in its favor is the relatively low-maintenance nature of it - there is very little stuff one needs to do it.  A gun, some clothes appropriate for hiking, and a vest that can carry shells, maps, water and the like - and the vest should also be orange enough to make you visible to others in the field.

Now, of course, you can go much, much deeper than that into the gentleman-hunter's rabbit hole.  Many thousands of dollars can be spend on nearly any of the above-listed items.  Specialized clothing suppliers wills happily sell you hunting boots for $500 a pair, and "shooting clothing" made by manufacturers like Filson will ready you for the field shoot and the photo shoot....if you have the green to pay for all that orange.  I appreciate the craftsmanship, but I am not possessed of such limitless funds....there must be another way!

After several seasons of some stop-gap designs (strapping orange to my fishing vest, for example) I had enough experience to settle on some specific needs and wants in whatever would become a more permanent replacement.  I pined over some high-dollar strap-style hunting vests like the ones by Filson, or Browning, but couldn't quite get over the price hurdle.  Tempted many times, I was unable, ultimately, to imagine any version of a conversation about the receipt with my wife that ended well.  Some of those imagined conversations, in fact, ended badly...very badly.

So, armed with some design ideas and a slim budget, I was off to the surplus store.  There I found all manner of old army stuff that, when creatively combined, created the foundation for a vest.  What it lacked was a game bag, a place to keep the birds, and enough orange to make it 'legal' in the field.  A quick stop at the fabric store yielded several small patches of fabric that would do the trick.  Equipped with needle and thread, I got to stitching.

The result is a vest I'm pretty excited about.  It incorporates a lot of small features that I have settled on as useful for some of the particular rigors of chasing chukar up and down the rimrock ridges of central Washington, including a water bottle (although the vest would be compatible with my camelback water system as well), and generous pockets for shells.  I have also added a cell phone pouch, and a document bag, something to hold maps, licenses and the paperwork required for hunting on the land of the Yakima Firing Center (the US Military base located near Yakima....which happens to include great chukar habitat).  The game bag has been made water resistant and, lined with rip-stop nylon, should prove durable as well.

The product, as good as it looks now, remains untested.  October 6 marks opening day for quail and chukar on state lands, so its debut is coming soon.  It may not have the panache of its big-money cousins, but I think this homegrown vest will hold its own.

Big Chickens

The chicken coop, renovated and populated this past spring, is now settled into high productivity.  We have fourteen hens in the 'big house' and they have all finally come into their own as proper layers.  They had started out as three factions: five chicks raised in our garage, five chicks raised in our friends Keith and Ruth's garage, and four layers given to us by someone who just had too many chickens running around.  Those cliques were impenetrable as the chicks grew up into teenagers, the separate groups would band together, eyeing one another suspiciously - a poultry version of Westside Story.

But these days the old animosities have been left behind.  There is reconciliation in the big house, and the hens get along very well.  We haven't had any incidents of them picking on one another, pulling feathers, or that kind of stuff, though we have heard stories of such things becoming a real problem.  With fourteen layers in there we are now getting up to 1 dozen eggs a day.  Usually it's somewhere around 8-9, but occasionally they get fired up and crank out a full dozen.  They are also spending a great deal of time free-ranging these days.  We often leave the coop door open 24 hours a day, and the girls find their way in and out and all around the farm property.  They especially like the peach orchard across the road, and I've had to fetch them out of there on occasion.

One hazard of such a free and easy lifestyle is that the hens can sometimes get a little sassy about where they are laying their eggs.  The other day I was rounding them up from their daytime haunts around the farm, and while chasing several out from under a boat tarp, came upon Red Ranger, Tavish's favorite hen, who had clearly been holding out on us.  She is a new layer, her eggs still on the smaller side, and she had been depositing her eggs each day in a private spot, and was trying, in all earnestness, to hatch those little things.  This task is beyond her, of course, since the eggs are not fertilized.  We have since dissuaded her from this course and she has mended her ways.

Putting all these eggs to use is a challenge, but egg-rich recipes like brioche and lemon curd help make a notch in our supplies.  We give some away, the girls may start selling them by the dozen, and of course the pigs look forward to a score of hard-boiled treats now and then.

Meanwhile - a new flock is being developed on the other side of the farm!  Eleven birds of mysterious parentage, dropped off at a tender age.  Keith and I repurposed one of the horse stalls into a new walk-in coop, opened a door to the outside world and stopped feeding them after several weeks.  These are our wild birds, who free range because they have to!  We make plenty of water available, provide roosting poles and nesting boxes (which they don't make use of quite yet, still being of a tender age....mmmm....tender chicken).  I catch sight of these feral chickens on occasion as they dart in and out of the weed patches around the property.  They like to patrol the pastures where the larger animals graze, so the pigs and the horse each get their company during the day.  They seem to be doing very well, and this experiment in pastured, free-range poultry looks to be a success.  When they get to laying age, we will restrict their movement some in order to get them established in their laying routines, and then they can pursue their vagabond lifestyle once again.    

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Setting Things Up

It has taken a couple of years, frankly, for us to get up to speed on the whole canning thing.  Our first couple of attempts at fruit jams failed, which put an early damper on our experiments.  But, after taking in some more information, after a few more trials and tests, we are up and running and loving the results.

Our pantry is quickly filling up with a colorful variety of jars that contain summer produce in tasty forms.  The first wave was early fruit, and includes blueberry syrup, apricot jam (apricots from a neighbors tree), blackberry jam (from a phenomenal thornless bush growing at the farm), plum jam (a bag of mystery plums left at the church, which yielded a ridiculous product), and recently added to the collection: jalapeño jelly.

Tomatoes are our most recent obsession.  They are now ripe and plentiful, and I regularly bring home several pounds from the church garden.  We are canning these in a variety of ways, including cooking down for tomato sauce, mixing in with other garden goodness for homemade salsa, and chopping and packing just as they are (minus skins and seeds).

There is a strange happiness that arises when one looks into a pantry full of food that is set up for the winter months, food that you have put work into harvesting, food that you know.  This is a skill that many in my generation and younger are rediscovering and taking great pride in.  It can be as easy as buying fresh local fruits or vegetables when they are cheap and available and turning them into tasty products that you can enjoy all year long.  For some great recipes and advice on canning, don't forget to check out the PickYourOwn website, which is full of good information on how to do all this safely.

Pigs, Pork, and Associated Perils


Back in May we welcomed four piglets to the farm, our spring pig project had begun.  It is a five month experiment in raising our own animals, caring for them, and eventually harvesting those animals for food.  There is a lot of rationale for such an endeavor, and many benefits, but I am not here to convince you of the merits of such a thing, only to share our experience in it.  I assume if you are reading this that you have come to terms with your omnivorous nature and won't begrudge me my own.  If you have committed yourself to other ways of feeding the wondrous machine that is your body without animal proteins, then you have my admiration and well-wishes.

Our young pigs back in June, starting to grow.
Pigs are fantastic animals.  And I'm not just talking about their unparalleled superiority in the minds of the culinary world.  It has been a lot of fun to raise our four hogs up on the farm this year.  They started out at about 20-25 lbs each, cute as a button and full of fun. They were pretty skittish upon moving into their new digs in May, but it didn't take more than a week before they had warmed up to their caretakers and their new home.  The kids enjoyed coming by to see them and I liked running the length of paddock with a stampeding porcine herd in pursuit.

Taken in July sometime, I think.....showing a little more size.
Able to feed freely, they have grown rapidly.  These days they are all over the 200lb mark, our big girl is going to finish at 300lbs, I'm convinced.  At this size they are something to reckon with and the pig pasture has been a kid-free zone for some time now.  A curious sow can throw a wheelbarrow with one toss of her head (even if that wheelbarrow is loaded with manure and stacked with rake and shovel....ask me how I know) and their propensity to test things with an exploratory bite means that you don't really want to turn your attention away from them for too long lest you find your boot or your calf in their powerful jaws.  But they remain good-natured and our experience with them has been overall very positive.
Taken in early September, getting big now.
However, harvest time continues to approach.  These four pigs are being divided between six families, providing food for more than 20 people, not including friends and family.  We are going to be handling the whole process ourselves from a to z, snout to tail, slaughter to sausage.  It is a big task, one with no small amount of gravitas in it.  And so we are already starting preparations.

In the information age, there is a great deal of help out there for people interested in taking on work like this for themselves.  And, of course, such a pursuit has a niche community out there that is passionate about such things.  There are the foodies, the hunter-sorts, the homesteaders, paleo-dieters, and a whole crop of people coming to this through the agrarian renaissance.  One such voice comes from the good folks at Farmstead Meatsmith, an amazing resource located here in the Northwest.  They have published a series of beautiful (no really, you should go watch) instructional videos on their site that not only give some of the practical steps to farm butchery but also do a good job of introducing much of the rationale that drives so many of us to seek a different way of life, or perhaps I should say a different way of food.

In mid-October I will be taking part in a hands-on experience in side-butchery with the Farmstead Meatsmith folks over on Whidbey Island.  I have been tooling up for our own harvest, collecting knives and knowledge, and in general getting very excited about the culinary benefits of this process.  I can recommend several books that have helped in the planning, including Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing;  Stéphane Reynaud's Pork and Sons ( a beautifully photographed book about pig harvest and charcuterie in provincial France); and The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, by Fergus Henderson.

Harvest is going to happen sometime around the first week of November.  In the meantime the pigs are eating cull apples and pears, zuchinni and squash, and even the occasional early pumpkin.  They like extra eggs from the chickens when they can get them and nearly took my hand off the other day when I delivered a bag full of over-ripe plums and apricots.  We've liked the experience and are already making plans for next year.  More updates to come as we get to harvest time.....wait until I tell you all about salami!